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Sunday, September 28, 2008

How Obama actually won the debate

Justashotaway, a diarist over at Daily Kos, blogs that mainstream pundits are getting it wrong when assessing who won last Friday's debate. Many of the media heads lament that the debate didn't provide an "oomph" moment or some memorable snippet they can replay for the entertainment of their audiences. I agree that when considered by regular measures, the debate was a toss-up, neither party getting the better of the other. But as Justashotaway notes, we measure it wrong when we approach it as a horserace or fighting match. Basically, this was Obama's debate to win or lose simply by disproving the virulent lies that have been thrown out there and that have created this mythic boogeyman in many undecided voters' minds. In other words, Obama had to appear non-threatening as well as presidential. And on both these measures, Obama more than surpassed expectations.

Foreign relations is supposedly McCain's strongest suit and I'm sure he believed that he was going to pummel the neophyte upstart. But as the debate wore on, you could see that McCain was barely holding himself together, at times trying to pass off a grimace as a smile as Obama dismantled misconceptions and deliberate misdirections that McCain has used to color him as inexperienced. McCain obviously believed that by repeatedly calling Obama "inexperienced" or someone who "doesn't understand," he could refute what people were actually witnessing for themselves, and that is that on every facet of foreign relations, Obama was well-versed and knowledgeable. He also presented himself as cool and even-tempered even as McCain at times looked like he was going to blow a fuse.

So instead of the "empty suit," "radical Christian" and "elitist" many expected to see, America got to see someone who actually seemed to care about the middle-class, who actually engaged them with eye contact before the cameras, which was more than McCain ever did throughout the whole debate. In other words, Obama showed that he cared about struggling Americans, which includes some Republicans. And, according to Justashotaway, this is the true win of the debate.

Justashotaway grew up in Chambersburg, a provincial town in rural Pennsylvania where many of the residents are staunch Republicans and at least one man proudly displays a Confederate flag despite the fact that Chambersburg was one of the northern towns burned down by the Rebs during the Civil War. You wouldn't expect Obama to go over well there, and for most citizens, he hasn't. But last Friday gave them their first real opportunity to face the fears generated by a well-orchestrated GOP smear campaign and see them for what they were, nothing but a lot of lies.

Justashotaway is already seeing the change. Although he no longer lives in Chambersburg, he keeps in touch with many of his former neighbors and friends. One former neighbor, Jeff, 58-years-old and contemplating retirement, previously had doubts about Obama and whether he was fit to lead. After Friday's debate, much of Jeff's resistance had dissipated to the point where he is contemplating voting for Obama. Just don't ask him to advertise that fact to his neighbors, because he still has to live there.

Interestingly enough, quite a few of the diary commenters know people like Jeff, who are obstensibly McCain backers but who have furtively decided to vote for Obama. I say "furtively" because they are basically on the downlow, voting against the expectations of friends, families and even spouses. Some are labelling this the anti-Bradley effect. For those unfamiliar with the Bradley effect, the term stems from the 1982 California gubernatorial election where polls showed strong support among whites for Tom Bradley, an African-American. Ultimately Bradley lost that race despite poll showings. Analysts determined that polled had mislead the pollsters to avoid appearing to be racists. In the end, they opted for the white candidate. What appears to be happening in this presidential race is that some whites are voting "black" although polling "white" as a way of "going along to get along." They know too well that they have to appear to toe the party line in order to maintain peace. And that is a sad commentary that in over twenty years time, it is preferable to go along with reactionary racism than to try to appear progressive.

Only in November will we really know how Obama fared. But for some former gate straddlers, Obama has become the decisive candidate - at least for right now.

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Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 9/28/2008 10:50:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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