Saturday, September 27, 2008

The first presidential debate

I tivo'd the debate last night and just watched it. My initial impression was that Obama won on substance, but McCain's style fit the debate format better. I kept wanting to tell Obama to criticize and respond to McCain more directly (although he did more as the debate continued). Obama has gotten better about this throughout the campaign, but he is fundamentally an Explainer, wanting to "clarify the record" in response to attacks. On the other hand, McCain seemed more schooled in the standard debate tactics: Share a tangential story when you can't answer a question directly (e.g. "the bracelet" in response to a question about Pakistan); Repeat your talking points ad nauseum (e.g., "Obama doesn't understand..."); and Stay on the attack.

So while I personally prefer Obama's style (especially as a president rather than a campaigner), I worry that it doesn't play well to a national audience. Instead of saying, "Let me clarify this point," I think he needs to say, "John, once again you're lying about my record." As Obama Explains, it can make him look Defensive.

But maybe my concern is unfounded. Initial post-debate polls seem to give the advantage to Obama. For example, in the CNN poll, people overwhelmingly thought McCain attacked more (60-23%), but favored Obama on every other measure.

Also, in wanting Obama to be more direct in his criticisms, I wasn't thinking about the very narrow tightrope that he has to walk. In that respect, I think he's doing pretty well.

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