Debate Assessment

Picture from Al Rodgers
Picture from Al Rodgers

By Melinda Donahey….

OBAMA WINS

The press will argue who won the debate on points. It’s totally irrelevant. (On points, it was a draw.) Speaking as a former state champion debater and as a former professional campaign organizer on the senior staff of two presidential campaigns in the 80s, I know that it just doesn’t matter.

Based on the results of previous debates going all the way back to Kennedy-Nixon, it’s well known that the American public doesn’t score presidential debates on points. (Nixon won on debate points, Kennedy won over the public and won the election.) I think polls tomorrow and in days to come will show that a majority of Americans believe Obama won, and I’ll be surprised if it turns out otherwise. Here’s why:

1. Expectations. Obama’s the challenger, the outsider. Expectations were lower for him, especially on foreign policy, supposedly McCain’s strong suit. He needed to show that he could stand on the stage with McCain, be credible, be knowledgeable, be forceful, be confident. He did all that extremely well. People could feel comfortable with him. The newbie met or exceeded expectations. Kennedy did this in 1960 and won. Reagan did it in 1980 and won. So Obama wins category one.

2. Body language. McCain looked angry, cranky, was disrespectful; he hunched over and never looked directly at Obama. Barack looked directly at McCain repeatedly (showing no fear), stood up straight, never grew flustered or angry, challenged McCain directly but without showing contempt. (In 1960, Nixon lost this category because he looked tired, wan, and hunched over. Kennedy looked rested, relaxed. In 2000, Gore lost this category because he sighed audibly, made faces and shrugged, showing evident distain for Bush. The American people don’t like contempt openly displayed.) Barack wins category two

3. Non-Partisanship. Obama agreed with McCain on some points. (The right will spin this as a win for McCain. It’s inside baseball, important to the right but not to anybody else. If the press buys this, they’ll demonstrate again that they’re idiots.) Obama’s agreement, like his demeanor in general, demonstrated the willingness to rise above partisanship, something Americans have said in poll after poll they want to see.) McCain talked about reaching across the aisle, but most importantly, HE DIDN’T DEMONSTRATE IT. OBAMA DID. Rule No. One: SHOW, DON’T TELL! Obama wins category three.

4. The Future. Obama talked about the future a lot, McCain about the past. People care about what the next president will DO, not what he did or where he went 25 years ago. A significant segment of the public doesn’t remember most of those events, and another significant segment was born too late to remember them. It’s history book stuff. Policy wonks get caught up in it, but the public doesn’t care. Obama understood it’s about the FUTURE. He wins in category four.

5. Style of Speaking. Obama kept his answers short, straight-forward, easily understandable. He never wandered, his asides and one-liners made sense in context. He talked REPEATEDLY about how the economy affects the middle class and how the policies he will pursue will affect the average person. People care about how the policies of the next president will affect THEM.

McCain’s anecdotes were often discursive, he rambled a bit, he didn’t stay as focused on the points he was making. He made a few asides that didn’t quite make sense or sounded odd (and he didn’t provide the context to make them understandable.) References to Miss Congeniality simply reminded people of beauty queen Sarah Palin, who has turned into a liability and a reminder of McCain’s bad judgement. Above all, he didn’t bring it down to the “how will this affect YOU!!” level. Obama wins category five.

6. Change. McCain didn’t talk about change, which polls show people want this year especially. He talked about being a maverick, but polls show that people are not connecting that with change. Obama talked repeatedly about change. Obama wins category six.

(posted with permission from the author)

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8 thoughts on “Debate Assessment”

  1. Well, if people want change, they should view this and it will give them a real eye-opener into the change that awaits.

    video removed by site monitor… stick with the facts and not quickly viewed string of words taken out of context… it devalues the information

  2. The sub-prime mortgages were proffered by the Republican controlled Congress. It is Republicans that are always demanding de-regulation. Don’t come here blaming Clinton. It’s old, like McCain.

  3. McCain never mentioned the middle class. He never addressed the needs of the average American. He talked about eliminating spending on programs other than the military and medicare. I understood that to mean that he wants to discontinue money for education and other government programs.

    It would be foolish to vote for McCain. He doesn’t bring new ideas to Washington DC. He said that he is not known for being Mr. Congeniality which is something he shouldn’t brag about. We don’t need a hostile president speaking with leaders of other countries.

    And by the way… the US is now a third world country. Other nations own our debt so that means that other nations own the US.

  4. McCain says the Vets know he’s going to take care of them.

    Reeeeeally?

    August, 2001, McCain voted against increasing the amount available for medical care for veterans by $650 million. (S.Amdt. 1218 to S.Amdt. 1214; 8/1/2001, 6:02 pm)

    October, 2003, McCain voted to table an amendment by Senator Dodd (D-CN) that called for an additional $322 million in safety equipment for soldiers in Iraq. (S.Amdt. 1817 to S. 1689; 10/2/2003, 7:36 pm)

    April, 2003, McCain voted to table a senate vote to provide more than $1 billion for National Guard and Reserve equipment in Iraq. (S.Amdt 452 to S. 762; 4/2/2003, 5:35 pm)

    March, 2006, McCain voted against increasing VA medical services funding. (S.Amdt 3007 to S.Con.Res 83; 3/14/2006, 4:22 pm)

    March, 2004, McCain voted against establishing a VA reserve fund to treat veterans. (S.Amdt 2745 to S.Con.Res 95; 3/10/2004, 9:34 pm)

    April, 2006, McCain was one of 13 Republicans to vote against $430 million for VA outpatient care and facilities. (S.Amdt 3642; 4/26/2006, 5:55 pm)

    September, 2007, McCain voted against the Webb amendment that would have provided all troops in Iraq have at least as much time home and in training as in theater. (S.Amdt 2909, 2910, 2910; 9/19/2007, 5:30 pm)

    May, 2006, voted against an amendment that would have provided the VA with an additional $20 million for healthcare facilities. (S.Amdt 3704; 5/4/2006, 11:34 am)

  5. Very good analysis.
    Most viewers know McCain (or think they know) and they got John McCain. The viewers wanted to see if Obama would look presidential and he hit it out of the park.
    I just felt that Obama agreed with McCain a little too much.
    It was hilarious that McCain couldn’t look at Obama. It seemed like he was getting more agitated as the debate progressed.
    And of course he played the POW card on the last question.

    Next up: Biden and Palin. Viewers will see Palin as mean, nasty, incompetent and completely lost. If Biden can keep the passion but speak in a more calming tone he will win huge.

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