BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 03 OCT 2008


Who doesn’t have an older family member who rarely gets out, and behaves badly when he does? McCain doesn’t like debating, so ho didn’t bother turning up (to debate).

His tactics? Don’t engage, concede anything or be gracious, emphasise personal experience, imply the other guy lacks not just judgement but intelligence: And talk down to him as often as you can. Do you doubt that McCain was out of order on that score? Just imagine Joe Biden behaving like this to Sarah Palin.


Some will argue McCain was authoritative, decisive and presidential: a Commander in Chief. That will be Republicans talking, because he wasn’t: he was patronizing, rude and simplistic. He was also aggressive- and that’s not debating. Personal attacks, even veiled ones, lose you points. Anyone who has ever debated will know that this tactic means you are either a novice, or you are losing and unless the other side rises to the bait, you continue to lose. There is no doubt Obama and his team will be delighted, because turning the heat up with increasing belligerence is just about all McCain has to work with.


McCain set out to hammer home his longevity, experience and judgement while getting under Obama’s skin and hopefully goading him into rising for the bait. He was the Old Man at Christmas dinner, chipping away at his least favourite but most successful son. The barbs fly out at a rate of knots, for everything from the way he pours the wine to the fact that his present was too expensive. McCain offered up simple solutions on spending (freeze it) and international diplomacy (don’t talk to anyone) and was both repetitive and churlish. Obama was mostly expansive and statesmanlike, rebutting McCain’s points and coming up with measured, articulate responses without coming over as self-important (his achillies heel… for blue collar America at least).


On the success of “The Surge”, where McCain had his strongest suit, Obama came out fighting and with an assurance that showed he knew all about strategy, while not withdrawing from his assertion that getting out of Iraq is essential. You can concede McCain scored some points here, but they were too often based on nostalgia.


The big problem for McCain with his tactic- the hatchet rather than the scalpel, to borrow one of Obama’s lines- is that the other guy is gracious (as McCain used to be) seems to have both experience and judgement. And as for intelligence… who would you have on your side when the Trivial Pursuit comes out after Christmas dinner?


In future debates Obama just has to be cool, and keep his cool, without coming across as superior or condescending. Just occasionally there was a smile and a shake of the head at his opponent’s points. The only thing McCain can do is try to goad Obama into going for it, lowering the bar in the process.


Best For McCain: Surprisingly, the humour (though he did the Miss Congeniality line twice)
Worst For McCain: the aggression; too many trite, sugar-coated stories

Best For Obama: Presidential throughout, never rose to the goading of his opponent; occasional trade mark passages of great rhetoric and good sound bites.
Worst For Obama: His condescending smile and shakes of the head when McCain was in full flow


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