Saturday, September 27, 2008

No Country for Grumpy Old Men: My Blog on the First Presidential Debate

I believe that in this campaign Senator John McCain has the best credentials to be President of the United States, but during the first presidential debate last night in Oxford, Mississippi, he looked like a grumpy old man who could only rarely frame a thought into a complete sentence. Senator Barak Obama, whom I don’t support, came across, by contrast, as a thoughtful, intelligent person who looks at America as an ideal and wants to make that ideal better. I think that’s how Americans will view this debate: not as a boxing match, with each candidate scoring points, blow by blow and round by round, but as whole in which one candidate seemed articulate and smooth and the other looked old, tired, and, to put it as nicely as I can, a little bit like your doddering old grandpa who is always haranguing you on his favorite subjects.

The old part? Well, McCain can’t do anything about that one. His white hair and aging, aching body make him look like the senior citizen he is. The doddering part? You could see it right out of the shoot when Senator McCain had the opportunity to explain why he dropped everything and went to Washington on Thursday, and what he would like to see in a bill designed to rescue our beleaguered economy. Not a word on those subjects. What we got instead was this crotchety old guy who kept dwelling on “earmarks:” something no one in his right mind would publicly favor. Alright already, grandpa, let’s move on from this subject (picture the kids here poking each other in the ribs and rolling their eyes.)

On foreign policy, McCain was sharper and more knowledgeable than he was on the economy. But then there was that crack about Putin: “I looked into his eyes and I saw three letters. K. G. B.” I think this was supposed to be a joke, but McCain said it with an expression on his face that made him look like a mad scientist. Eeek! He’s losing it! (I said to myself.) Timing is everything with humor and McCain’s timing wasn’t there. Even his perceptive comment about Obama’s liberalism—“It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left”— was not said with an ounce of good humor toward his opponent.

Obama looked the man he was: taller, thinner, younger, smoother, an ivy leaguer who is more like 21st century America than is McCain and who wears his multiculturalism like an Armani suit. I know his record shows he’s a liberal. But at this first debate he spoke about his country and its voters with great affection and talked about how he might help them. I didn’t hear McCain match this emotion once—okay, that one time when he spoke about veterans. But there are others of us out here too.

McCain harped on “the surge” in Iraq far too much, and kept calling on the name of General David Petraeus as if he had god-like qualities. Obama, on the other hand, spent far too much time crying over the spilt milk of the Iraq war. On that subject, McCain made his best point saying that the next president won’t be dealing with whether we should or should not be there but instead, “How we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind.”

In this debate the advantage went to Barak Obama. McCain will need to relax, be more gracious, finish more of his sentences, and lighten up a bit if he’s going to do well in the next one.

But the next debate on the docket is the Vice Presidential debate and that one should be a hoot and a half. Joe Biden with his hair plugs and his Aunt Blabby mouth is always entertaining and at the other podium we have this peppy little unknown quantity from the Great White North, Governor Sarah Palin. She’s a terrific speaker when she’s scripted and she’ll be facing the original loose cannon. Can she ad lib with the best of them? I can’t wait to see what happens.

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