Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blog #55: A Twitteresque View of the Debate

Afterword on the debates: Alessandra Stanley writing in the N.Y. Times summed up Friday night’s debate this way: “Mr. Obama was not particularly warm or amusing; at times he was stiff and almost pedantic. But all he had to do was look presidential, and that was not such a stretch. Mr. McCain had the harder task of persuading leery voters that he can lead the future because he is so much part of the past.

He tried to remind viewers of his greater experience and heroic combat career, while also casting himself as a maverick outsider ready to storm the barricades. Mr. McCain wanted to be the true revolutionary in the room, but his is the Reagan revolution, and for a lot of people right now, it doesn’t look like morning in America.”
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The Huffington Post, one of the web’s most electric news sites, has an excellent post debate analysis from a wide range of contributors, everyone from former secretary of state Madeleine Albright to the likes of Rosanne Barr and Sherryl Crow. I have tried to distill the essence of many of these posts, and have decided to replace most of this week’s blog with this, as I believe it is more timely. I retain only excerpts from Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times which featured Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant piece describing an imaginary meeting between Barack Obama and West Wing president Jed Bartlett, figuring this is in step with the rest of this post.
And now from the Huffington Post:

Anyway, as I say, the impression that McCain had won lasted about a minute, when we began flipping through the stations expecting all our fears to be validated by the dozens of commentators ready to offer their views. To our amazement, the only overlap between our room and the pundits were the boxing references. Obama had won. Even the people who thought McCain had won more rounds than Obama thought Obama had won. McCain had been patronizing. He'd referred to Pakistan as a failed state,which turned out to be untrue. Even Charles Krauthammer thought Obama had done fine. A focus group of undecided voters in Nevada on the Fox Channel (Fox!) had responded more positively to Obama than to McCain.

Could this possibly be true? I don't know. But I decided to do the only thing I could under the circumstances: stop watching the pundits on television for fear it would all change again. They will be on all night discussing the heavyweight championship of the world, but I am going to sleep. • Nora Ephron
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Tonight was a breakthrough for Senator Obama, who showed himself truly ready to be president. He responded knowledgeably, thoughtfully and confidently to the toughest questions on the economy, Iraq, and terror. Meanwhile, Senator McCain spent so much time attacking his opponent, he neglected to show how a McCain-Palin administration would differ from Bush-Cheney. As a result, Obama answered the threshold question about his candidacy; McCain did not. • Madeleine Albright
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It was a good night for Obama because, when 83 percent of the country believe we are on the wrong track, standing toe-to-toe with McCain on foreign policy is all you need to do. And Obama clearly did that – scoring strong points on the lessons of Iraq, where he pointed out all the ways McCain had been wrong on the war. He even landed a zinger: "John, you like to pretend the war began in 2007."

It was a good night for McCain because, after a week in which he'd been bleeding like a hemophiliac in a barbed wire factory, tonight stanched the bleeding. He was able to keep the debate about the economy focused on taxes and cutting spending, as opposed to the crisis brought on by the free market, deregulation religion of which he is a devout follower. • Arianna Huffington
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Trickle down economics is when the rich piss on the poor, and John McCain thinks that's swell. Obama tried to remind Americans of what is morally right and what is morally wrong, and that was fantastic to witness. McCain defends the status quo instead of the moral right. • Rosanne Barr
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Where Senator McCain was unserious and petulant, Senator Obama was forceful, sharp and, at times, magnanimous. Hell, Senator McCain couldn't even look Senator Obama in the eye. Not once. Instead, Senator McCain snickered and smirked during the discussion of very serious issues. Where have we seen that behavior before? • Bob Cesca
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John McCain, celebrating himself as a maverick, reinventing his voting record, and name-dropping world leaders, simultaneously re-exhibited his enduring ignorance of the cultural dynamics that led to his misjudgment on Iraq in the first place. Senator Obama, at least gave a little nuanced oxygen to the conversation in his statement that Ahmadinejad may not be the most powerful man in theocratic Iran – an often mis-advertised political and cultural evaluation. • Sean Penn
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Barack Obama was crisp, reassuring and strong – in short, presidential, as he has been throughout the financial storm of the past two weeks. McCain was not as bad as he has been recently; but much of this debate was fought on what was supposed to be his high ground. As the encounter ended, Obama not only controlled the commanding heights of the economic issue – and he not only held his own on national security – but clearly passed the threshold as a credible commander-in-chief. McCain kept repeating that Obama doesn't "understand." But he clearly did. McCain made up no ground. That's similar to what happened in 1960 when Nixon ran on the slogan "Experience Counts" but found it didn't count that much when voters decided JFK was up to the job after the side by side comparison they saw in the first debate. • Robert Shrum
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I keep trying to figure out why Obama – who I so admire, seems to underwhelm in these debates. All I can come up with is that while everyone else aims up for these events – they aim to score, to excite, to appeal – Obama, who is so brilliant, has such understanding of the issues at play, such insight in how to re-shape where we are and how to proceed where we need to go... it seems like all his energy is spent pushing down: containing his thoughts. Suppressing the 20 sub-thoughts that follow each main thought. Speaking in measured tones lest he be perceived elitist or too academic. Keeping in check his healthy sense of the absurd – like when he kept trying to get a word in with McCain plowing away – actually saying , "John...? Uh John...? Like a guy who's lost the connection then just smiles and hangs up without re-dialing. • Paul Reiser
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Watching the "debate" with the blue, red and green lines rising and falling, it was stunning to watch the lines go flat as voters of all persuasions dozed off. McCain seemed intent on giving us a tour of all the war zones he'd visited and I'm afraid he occasionally dragged Obama down to his snooze-fest level. He mentioned Ronald Reagan almost as much as he mentioned his war-zone visits and everyone fell asleep. He seemed to think "You're wrong!" was a rhetorical flourish.

I wish Barack Obama had lifted himself above Mc Cain's snooze-lines. At times, he seemed infected by McCain's lethargy. But Obama was clearer and cleaner in verbal style than he's ever been. I wish he weren't so generous in acknowledging McCain. Perhaps he is too kind to his mean-spirited rival. He is more gentlemanly than he needs to be. It must be a great burden not to seem "uppity." But his new clarity was certainly welcome. • Erica Jong
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Obama clearly illustrated his in-depth understanding of foreign affairs. While McCain has an immense amount of experience in the military, there was never a moment that I perceived him as a levelheaded peacekeeper but instead looked like the same kind of defensive leader we've had for the last eight years. While Obama was talking about Afghanistan, Senator McCain was still selling the surge and the idea of "winning the war," a war that no one feels can be won. John McCain's entire message revolved around Iraq. He seemed to be in complete denial that our country is in a much less secure status than before 9/11, when it is clear that we have thrown a rock into a beehive. • Sheryl Crow
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I thought Barack was terrific – strong, clear, knowledgeable. I thought McCain, to be fair, showed some of his knowledge in a good way. But he's too old, he's from the 20th century, the country doesn't need him now.

Plus I thought in some ways McCain lost the debate on his face, the way his face turned red and an uncomfortable smile came on him that seemed to cover a lot of anger. This happened many times in the debate; the first one may have been when Barack said strongly but without nastiness that McCain couldn't pretend to be disconnected from the catastrophic economy or the enormous deficits when he had voted 90% of the time with Bush and had voted for every Bush budget. Forced to be quiet while Barack went through his pro-Bush voting record, McCain looked like an angry poached egg, who wanted to scream at him. • Chris Durang
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Accountability was not present in tonight's debate; just the repetitive refrain that the taxpayers have to pay for the mistakes of Wall Street, no matter what the cost might eventually add up to.

On foreign policy, I was getting dizzy with all the places they want to inject our military forces. Both McCain and Obama need to be reminded that our military comes under the Department of Defense, not the Department of Offense. • Bob Barr
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We haven't seen a lot of grace from our government over the past eight years. We haven't had a lot of it in our society in general and we certainly haven't seen much grace in the various campaigns. We're all guilty of it. I'm guilty of it too. But what we saw in the first debate between Barack Obama and John McCain was nothing less than the rebirth of such grace. Unfortunately it was fully embodied by only one candidate, while at the same time we witnessed the sad and profound gracelessness in the decaying integrity of the other.

John McCain displayed himself for all to see as a deeply angry, petty man, locked in a blood-war somewhere deep in the rice paddies of his frustrated and confused mind. He personalizes every conflict to the point that he can't even look at his opponent, as if by ignoring him he might be able to deny the man his dignity. • Michael Seitzman
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Wednesday was truly a Red Letter Day. Maureen Dowd, the columnist for the New York Times, turned over her column to West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin to conjure up an imaginary meeting between Senator Obama and the West Wing’s fictional President Bartlett. Excerpts of it follow, and the URL for the full column lies below.
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BARACK OBAMA knocks on the front door of a 300-year-old New Hampshire farmhouse while his Secret Service detail waits in the driveway. The door opens and OBAMA is standing face to face with former President JED BARTLET.

BARTLET: Senator.

OBAMA: Mr. President.

BARTLET: You seem startled.

OBAMA: I didn’t expect you to answer the door yourself.

BARTLET: I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a Lancôme rep who thinks “The Flintstones” was based on a true story, so let’s call it even.

OBAMA: Yes, sir.
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BARTLET: That was a hell of a convention.

OBAMA: Thank you, I was proud of it.

BARTLET: I meant the Republicans. The Us versus Them-a-thon. As a Democrat I was surprised to learn that I don’t like small towns, God, people with jobs or America. I’ve been a little out of touch but is there a mandate that the vice president be skilled at field dressing a moose —

OBAMA: Look —

BARTLET: — and selling Air Force Two on eBay?

OBAMA: Joke all you want, Mr. President, but it worked.

BARTLET: Imagine my surprise. What can I do for you, kid?

OBAMA: I’m interested in your advice.

BARTLET: I can’t give it to you.

OBAMA: Why not?

BARTLET: I’m supporting McCain.


BARTLET: He’s promised to eradicate evil and that was always on my “to do” list.


BARTLET: And he’s surrounded himself, I think, with the best possible team to get us out of an economic crisis. Why, Sarah Palin just said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had “gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers.” Can you spot the error in that statement?

OBAMA: Yes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac aren’t funded by taxpayers.

BARTLET: Well, at least they are now. Kind of reminds you of the time Bush said that Social Security wasn’t a government program. He was only off by a little — Social Security is the largest government program.

OBAMA: I appreciate your sense of humor, sir, but I really could use your advice.

BARTLET: Well, it seems to me your problem is a lot like the problem I had twice.

OBAMA: Which was?

BARTLET: A huge number of Americans thought I thought I was superior to them.



OBAMA: I mean, how did you overcome that?

BARTLET: I won’t lie to you, being fictional was a big advantage.

OBAMA: What do you mean?

BARTLET: I’m a fictional president. You’re dreaming right now, Senator.

OBAMA: I’m asleep?

BARTLET: Yes, and you’re losing a ton of white women.

OBAMA: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: I mean tons.

OBAMA: I understand.

BARTLET: I didn’t even think there were that many white women.

OBAMA: I see the numbers, sir. What do they want from me?

BARTLET: I’ve been married to a white woman for 40 years and I still don’t know what she wants from me.

OBAMA: How did you do it?

BARTLET: Well, I say I’m sorry a lot.

OBAMA: I don’t mean your marriage, sir. I mean how did you get America on your side?

BARTLET: There again, I didn’t have to be president of America, I just had to be president of the people who watched “The West Wing.”

OBAMA: That would make it easier.
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OBAMA: They pivoted off the argument that I was inexperienced to the criticism that I’m — wait for it — the Messiah, who, by the way, was a community organizer. When I speak I try to lead with inspiration and aptitude. How is that a liability?

BARTLET: Because the idea of American exceptionalism doesn’t extend to Americans being exceptional. If you excelled academically and are able to casually use 690 SAT words then you might as well have the press shoot video of you giving the finger to the Statue of Liberty while the Dixie Chicks sing the University of the Taliban fight song. The people who want English to be the official language of the United States are uncomfortable with their leaders being fluent in it.
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OBAMA: The problem is we can’t appear angry. Bush called us the angry left. Did you see anyone in Denver who was angry?

BARTLET: Well ... let me think. ...We went to war against the wrong country, Osama bin Laden just celebrated his seventh anniversary of not being caught either dead or alive, my family’s less safe than it was eight years ago, we’ve lost trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, thousands of lives and we lost an entire city due to bad weather. So, you know ... I’m a little angry.

OBAMA: What would you do?

BARTLET: GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

OBAMA: Good to get that off your chest?

BARTLET: Am I keeping you from something?

OBAMA: Well, it’s not as if I didn’t know all of that and it took you like 20 minutes to say.

BARTLET: I know, I have a problem, but admitting it is the first step.

OBAMA: What’s the second step?

BARTLET: I don’t care.

OBAMA: So what about hope? Chuck it for outrage and put-downs?

BARTLET: No. You’re elite, you can do both. Four weeks ago you had the best week of your campaign, followed — granted, inexplicably — by the worst week of your campaign. And you’re still in a statistical dead heat. You’re a 47-year-old black man with a foreign-sounding name who went to Harvard and thinks devotion to your country and lapel pins aren’t the same thing and you’re in a statistical tie with a war hero and a Cinemax heroine. To these aged eyes, Senator, that’s what progress looks like. You guys got four debates. Get out of my house and go back to work.
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And so goes life in the busy U. S. A.

The Real Little Eddy

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