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My take on the debate

September 28, 2008

An Obama victory

I finally watched the full debate last night when it was shown on British TV I believe that Obama dominated the segment devoted to the economy. Obama looked more Presidential and explained his views in a sober, serious way, without pandering or resorting to cliche. In contrast, McCain did little to distinguish himself from the generic Republican tax cutting position and kept going on about earmarks – which has become the equivalent of his POW record. This is not to say that either his heroism or his opposition to earmarks are unimportant as a lead into a general debate about waste or character, but on their own they are the equivalent of Giuliani’s ability to bring 9/11 into everything.

Although I agree with McCain on foreign policy, I think Obama performed much better up until the bracelet moment. McCain seemed unable to put forward a rationale for staying in Iraq and seemed too focused on specific details rather than the broader picture. I think for the first half hour McCain seemed to be still suffering the consequences of the crowded Republican primary field which meant that he hadn’t experienced any genuine two-way debates. In contrast, as has been mentioned elsewhere, Obama has been clearly reaping the benefits of having to debate against Hillary Clinton.

McCain’s best moment of the night was the bracelet moment – though at one point in the story he seemed close to tears. In it he finally outlined a rationale for staying in Iraq and characterised himself as part of the wider US Army in Vietnam rather than as an individual hero. Obama’s “I have a bracelet too” retort seemed cheap and unpresidential. From then on McCain started to regain confidence and finally began to outperform Obama. If this had been a purely foreign policy debate then McCain would have won on points – although he should have made his key arguments (such as the link between Iraq and Afghanistan) earlier.

However, the polls suggest that most people in the audience were focused on the economy segment, which was created in response to McCain’s stunt. So, I’m going to say that Obama carried the night overall (though not by much).

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