Tuesday, October 7, 2008

That's Debatable: The Second Presidential Debate

Another big debate tonight for the candidates running for president of the United States and this one is just as important as the first. Things are especially urgent for Republican nominee John McCain who didn’t come across well in the first debate and who’s numbers have been dropping along with the stock market ever since. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen polls turn as quickly as a quarter horse in a rodeo, so for Barak Obama the debate also has significance. As Americans know, it is the vote in each state that counts, not the public opinion polls.

Reporter Liz Sidoti says that Barak Obama has an opportunity tonight to: “… Show some emotion and seal the deal with voters still struggling to see him as president.” If I were coaching him, I’d use the admonition an old news director of mine used to direct at one talented but slow-moving anchor: “Energy! Energy! Energy!” Obama has a tendency to look like Perry Como, as if he’s singing his song while dozing. In the case of John McCain, Sidoti’s analysis is, “When he’s on his game, McCain is witty and charming … when he’s off, McCain can come across cranky, surly and prone to gaffes.” America is not going to elect a grumpy old man. Those guys are only funny in the movies.

For my part I would like to see one or both of the candidates honestly repudiate the truly reprehensible behavior we’ve seen from banking and investment CEOs in the past few years. Honest outrage, that’s what I’m looking for. I’m speaking, for example, of men such as Richard Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, who testified before Congress yesterday. Since the year 2000, Fuld has taken home more than $484 million dollars in compensation, and now his company is bankrupt. How can that be possible, not to mention legal for a firm charged with investing the money of others? I don’t want to hear any more promises tonight about the things my government is going to give me. What the government appears to have given us lately is what’s politely known as the shaft. The one I’m going to root for is the one who shows the most understanding of that and the greatest inclination to make that impossible in the future.

The Associated Press says at least ten percent of the electorate remains undecided and the assumption is that these debates can sway that vote. I don’t know how much the debates help, but I know they can hurt. In the last debate I thought McCain made a pretty poor showing, and I’m inclined to like him. But when Obama spoke, McCain smiled a mean smile and when McCain himself spoke he seemed rattled and inarticulate. We don’t need to hear that McCain didn’t win any “Miss Congeniality” prizes during his years on Capitol Hill. Is that supposed to be a recommendation? John McCain needs to look at old tapes of Ronald Reagan and learn how to be charming even when he’s disagreeing with an opponent. As Winston Churchill put it; “When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite.”

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