Let me start by saying that I too am wearing a bracelet. A store clerk gave it to me, and it’s made out of candy. It’s delicious.
First, flag pins on the lapels became a requirement, and now it’s bracelets. Who knew that Talbot’s would end up playing such an important role in presidential politics? I predict that full-knuckle rings saying “U.S.A” will be the next mandatory display of patriotism for the candidates.
The bracelet moment from Friday night’s debate was a microcosm of something that clouded the rest of the discussion. It’s one thing to make sure you have an adequate retort, but it’s another thing when that retort is basically a mirror image of the initial comment—whether it’s Barack Obama comparing bracelets with John McCain, or McCain responding to Obama’s comments with phrases and slogans frequently used and made popular by the Obama campaign. This is one of the reasons why the only way to lose a debate nowadays is to really fuck something up.
Friday night’s debate was what I like to refer to as a “My Guy Won” debate, as in, unless you support a third party candidate, you could probably watch the debate and find a way to say, “My guy won!” It seemed to me that McCain’s strategy was to make Obama look naïve and inexperienced, while Obama’s strategy was to appear poised and confident (or “presidential,” if you prefer that dumb term). In that regard, I think we can agree that McCain’s bar was set a little higher, since making someone appear naïve and inexperienced is tough to do without a “knockout” moment and/or a big mistake by your opponent. Obama’s goal, while less ambitious, was something that was under his control and could be achieved fairly easily, unless McCain out-poised him. But then again, McCain is down in the polls, so he should be setting the bar higher for himself.
But while there was no signature moment in the debate, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t anecdotes that I could ridicule as I got drunk watching it. Here, in no particular order, are a couple of moments that stuck out to me:
McCain: We gotta cut government spending!... what was your question again?
Pretty much every one of McCain’s answers to economic questions contained a reference to his plans to cut government spending. I realize that cutting spending is his big crusade, but considering the current economic situation, did anyone else find this move to be ironic? After all, here we are in the middle of an economic crisis that was caused by private actors who were basically free from government regulation, and the consensus to solve the problem is for the government to step in and spend a crapload of money.
My other problem with the “cutting spending” talking point is that it’s just a simple crowd-pleaser. I always laugh* when I see polls showing that a large majority of people say that the government should reduce spending. Well of course people want the government to spend less money—the answer lies in the wording of the question: asking if you think the government should cut spending implies that they have the ability to do so and simply lack the motivation. I’m sure the same majority of people in favor of cutting spending would be in favor of the government creating more jobs if you asked them.
Several of the analysts after the debate talked about how McCain did a really good job of “framing” the economic discussion by making it about cutting spending. Really? So, let me get this straight: he framed the debate just by repeating something over and over, regardless of whether it answered the question? That’s like saying “Dustin Hoffman really framed the movie Rain Man to be about The People’s Court.”
Obama Sexy Talk
In a response to one of McCain’s fist-clenched lectures about government spending (and getting “those damn kids” off his lawn), Obama used the phrases “orgy of spending” and “hard to swallow.” Yeah, down-home folksy colloquialisms like those should play really well in Ohio: “Whelp, we have a sayin’ ‘round these parts: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t have an orgy with it!” Seriously though, you can’t.
Listen, Barack, we’re already a little worried about the prospect of you being able to nail everyone in Hollywood if you become president, so let’s try to avoid the sexual innuendo as much as possible. Unless of course you were going after the coveted Deliverance vote, in which case, feel free to tell the moderator he/she has a “purty” mouth in the next debate.
The Lesson of the Iraq War
Jim Lehrer stated that we had learned many lessons from the Vietnam War, and he asked McCain what he thought the lessons of the Iraq War are. McCain said, “The lesson of the Iraq War is to not have a failed policy.” Gee, too bad we had to learn that one the hard way, huh guys? And who says Americans don’t pay attention to history? I feel comfortable knowing that with McCain as president, he will never institute a policy that we already know is failed. If one of his advisors encourages a failed policy, McCain will say “Nay, sir. I do not endorse your policy of failure.” He will strike that policy with his trusty pen, he will make it famous and you will know its name.
Obama Cops Out
McCain was pressing Obama about his lack of visits to the Middle East at several points throughout the debate. At one point, Obama’s response was something along the lines of, “I’m very proud of my Vice Presidential selection of Senator Joe Biden who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee…” While most people would agree that Obama did indeed pick Biden to fill the gaps in his foreign policy resume, you never want to straight up admit that as a presidential candidate. Obama was sort of like, “Foreign policy? Yeah, that’s why I got Biden, remember? DONE.” That would be like McCain saying of his running mate, “I’m very proud of my Vice Presidential pick of Sarah Palin: She’s half my age, and I needed someone to show me how my Tivo works.”
Did You Know McCain is Old?
John McCain, like Barack Obama, has several fine lines to walk in this election, and the one that I find most amusing is that he has to cite his involvement in specific historic conflicts in order to emphasize his experience, but he has to do it in a way that doesn’t make you go, “Dude, that was, like, 60 years ago!” So, he ends up saying things like, “My friends, I’ve been involved in every national security conflict since the Lost Colony of Roanoke!” and you’re left with a lukewarm feeling of assurance.
After the debate, I was sober enough to see the ad that the McCain campaign quickly put out, mashing up the clips of Obama agreeing with McCain. I’m not surprised by the tactic, but I was surprised by the words that came across the screen: “Is Barack Obama Ready to Lead? No.” And I thought to myself, “Oh my God, John McCain has lost so much confidence that he’s criticizing Obama for agreeing with him! He’s going after the anti-McCain vote!” I’ve got a new ad idea for the McCain campaign:
“Barack Obama and Joe Biden on John McCain: [cut to clips of Obama and Biden speaking of McCain’s sacrifices for the country]. We can’t afford to be led by two men who speak so highly of John McCain. That’s not the change we need…”
So who won? My guy, obviously.