Final Presidential Debate

The debate’s not yet over, but unless something absolutely wild happens in the waning minutes, Barack Obama won it — as Dick Cheney would say — big time.

John McCain finally levied his attacks against Obama to his face. He pushed the William Ayers issue and criticized Obama’s links to Acorn. Yet even in finally making these points, his style was off. He spent a lot of time on expressing hurt over John Lewis’s comments¬†before deciding to stand by his campaign’s attacks on Obama. His response to Bob Schiefer’s question reflected a certain ambivalence on McCain’s part. If McCain truly made a conscious decision to go after Obama on these issues prior to the debate, it would be expected that McCain could raise and prosecute the attack in a comprehensible way. If he didn’t want to do it, he should have renounced it. Twenty days to an election is too late for a candidate to demonstrate ambivalence.

As a matter of rhetorical style, I’m a big believer in candidates and public figures knowing what they want to say prior to a big speech or event. They have to know — not just intellectually, but emotionally– what they believe and what they stand for. Handlers and aides are great for helping their principals sharpen their arguments and make their points more clear. But the candidates need to buy into it. If I had been advising McCain, I would have pressed him as far as possible behind-the-scenes. And if McCain really couldn’t do it, I would have recommended that McCain jetison that line of attack.

Half-hearted, backwards criticisms don’t work. For that reason, McCain lost this final debate.

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One Response to “Final Presidential Debate”

  1. Mark Twain Says:

    McCain couldn’t have stumbled more. The final straw: Mischaracterizing his own running mate’s child as autistic. The child has Down’s Syndrome.

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