Obama Debate Watch party, Jack’s Valley, Douglas County, Nevada.
October 7, 2008. Photo by Jon Winet
David Levi Strauss, Aperture magazine contributing editor, noted writer, and current Chair of MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department, School of Visual Arts, shares his unique perspective on the current political landscape.
Acting partly out of desperation and partly out of hubris, John McCain chose to walk into a fair, refereed fight tonight in Nashville and try to go head-to-head on the issues with Barack Obama. This was a reckless, arrogant, possibly fatal mistake.
Granted, this was supposed to be McCain’s format. He’s done hundreds, maybe thousands of these “town meeting” style appearances, and he feels comfortable in this setting. But from the opening coin toss, Obama had the edge in this one, speaking clearly and convincingly about his new policies and about McCain’s failed ones: “He believes in deregulation in every circumstance. That’s what we’ve been going through for the last eight years. It hasn’t worked and we need fundamental change.” McCain revealed his one new proposal (to stabilize home values by buying up bad home loans) in his first minute, and his timing was shot from then on. His jokes fell flat and he couldn’t connect with the questioners in the audience, Tom Brokaw, or Barack Obama. To conceal his reluctance to face his opponent and look him in the eye, McCain retreated to his stool after each speech and pretended to write furiously in a notebook. When Obama wasn’t speaking, he sat confidently, looking directly at McCain. Obama was more aggressive here than in the first debate, but he never hit McCain when he was down. And McCain was down a lot.
This debate made it clear that John McCain and the Republicans are in the same position that John Kerry and the Democrats were in 2004. By accepting the basic terms of Obama’s original message of change, all McCain has to offer now is a watered-down version of what his opponent is proposing. If voters can get the real thing with Obama, why should they choose a less vigorous form of it with McCain?
Outside the debate, McCain and Palin have gone negative with a vengeance, recycling the old Reverend Wright and Bill Ayres guilt-by-association smears against Obama. This race- and radical-baiting is an attempt to resuscitate the old Vietnam War era animosities, to energize the base. The trouble for the Republicans is that the people who are going to put Obama over the top if they come out in force next month weren’t even born in 1968. The time has run out on this tactic, and it is rapidly running out on John McCain.
Filed on Tuesday, October 7, 2008, after the second presidential debate, in Nashville, TN.