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Debating a debate
by Thanos Kalamidas
2008-09-28 09:45:03
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Not live. but waiting for a few hours until the news agencies put it online, I watched the first debate between the two candidates for the US presidency, John McCain and Barack Obama. I hope you don’t ask why did I watch it or, since I don’t live in USA, why do I have an opinion because if you do so you either live on the wrong planet or the wrong century.

But before we get to the debate between the two hopefuls I think the big question is if these debates help. Considering that the US was the first country to have a national televised debate between two candidates – J.F. Kennedy vs. R. Nixon – they somehow have also the tradition organizing debates that somehow can help the undecided voter for his or her choice. Of course from the Kennedy and Nixon days till today there is the distance of over forty-five years and then television was a new thing in the American family, among all that the sense of a voice or a face the average American could see or hear only from far away stepping suddenly in their sitting room made a great difference. A lot have said that if television was discover before and people could watch their candidates talk then Franklin Roosevelt had no chance at all to become president.

Nowadays televised debates are sort of a must thing during elections in all the countries all around the world, after all a television set has become a family member in a lot of households whether we like it or not. During this debate you have the chance to listen not only the words but the tone of voice, you have the chance to feel the insecurities or the fear of the candidate, even when they lie or give false information intentionally or not. You can watch their faces and their body language and see how eager they are and how much faith they have in their own words. The word ‘I will’ has become a synonym to politicians and fake promises but then again when you watch their face and their body language when they say it you can sense if they will become another …politician or a man of will who will at least try to fulfil his or her promise.

The last three decades I had the chance to watch a lot of debates like that in a various countries with last example the debates in Finland between the president and candidate for another term Tarja Halonen and the conservative leader Sauli Niinistö. I watch the whole series of the debates and despite the fact that I didn’t understand most of it, due to my poor knowledge of the language; I thought Tarja Halonen won a lot of votes with the debate due to the confidence and calm power spouting from her voice and body language despite the fact that her opponent often attacked her in personal level.  I think something similar happened in the debates between Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal with Nicolas inspiring confidence and power compared to a nervous and insecure Ségolène doesn’t matter how right she was in everything she said and pointed out.

So these kinds of debates do help and not only the undecided voters but a lot of the ones watching, don’t forget that these debates attract a big number of viewers, I think that has to do with the gladiator feeling television viewers have evolve the last decades. From their side the American candidates are far more comfortable with television cameras than their European colleagues. Sometimes I have the feeling – and I hope you will excuse this weird thought – that part of the US candidates’ job description is how good they look in front the cameras. The young Barack Obama looks like a Hollywood star with his candent smile and the older John McCain reminds an old black & white movie star. Both confident, ready to solve any problem with just one move of their hand and sure for their decisions and words.

Now I have to admit that I have watched a few of their speeches as well including both acceptance speeches in their parties’ meetings. In their speeches sometimes in front of vast crowds for European standards Obama won all the points. He was the star on the stage, inspiring and confident while McCain a lot of times looked old and needed help to finish his phrase. Honestly sometimes watching him I had the feeling that I would finish the sentence he was trying to say. However the other night I saw a totally different picture from both of them. I saw a confident McCain often cunningly trying to trap Obama in words and twists of the past and an Obama nervous and sometimes defensive often falling in the trap McCain had laid for him.

McCain for his part often attacked Obama in a personal level holding to what Obama had promised, never attack McCain on a personal level and McCain has a lot in that level. Not his age, that is not an issue in the beginning of the 21st century and should not be but on his political record as a congressman and his army record as POW things are not exactly clear and is pity that McCain constantly using these two things against Obama, shows that despite all the promises McCain is holding a dirty war often with hits under the belt. In his defence Obama was often nervous but McCain equally often crossed the line, while talking about the past of one of the worst conservative administrations in the US history like it was the opposition and not part of his own political history he’s promising to chance corruption and inefficient spending forgetting that this government existed because of his loyal support.

His army record is remarkable but in the 21st century, in a new world far away from the world of 1960 the Vietnam card can be used as the race-card he was often blaming Obama of using. People are tired of it and last democratic candidate, Kerry used the same card against a candidate who had actually avoided the war and in the end it turned against him. The difference between the Bush’s reaction then and Obama’s today is that he probably reacted while Obama just stands there nervous and sometimes angry trying to control his answer. A small example, McCain kept going on about Obama not visiting Afghanistan. McCain intentionally forgot that the secret service were not allowing Obama to visit Afghanistan, what a trophy his head would have made for any Bin Laden Taleban; he forgot that the battle to help Afghanistan is not in Kabul but most likely in Washington D.C. and the headquarters of NATO and EU. These are the places Obama should be and this is where he was adding that he was a candidate not the president.

Watching the whole debate I had the sense after one point that McCain was winning and that’s something coming from somebody who wants Obama to win for a number of reasons with best the air of change this man brings internationally. But that was the first impression, after taking out the entire make up and the polish from the experts McCain had to give this debate I saw an arrogant man using dirty trick to hysterically cover his lack of arguments and from the other side I saw a young man nervous and angry trapped in his own promises victim of a constant verbal harassment and bulled.

But let’s see, this was the first debate and there are more to come so we will have the time to judge better. One last thing, I was surprised to find out that Palin and Biden will have only one debate. Why that? Was it because people are more interest for the McCain, Obama debates or because Ms Palin has too many ghosts in her closet and she’s afraid of them coming out live in a debate? She shouldn’t because Biden has shown to be a gentleman all the way and respectful to the rules Obama has laid with his example.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-09-28 12:10:18
If I may complement your insightful assessment with a look from the scene of the action, Thanos, traditionally in the US there is only one debate between vice-presidential candidates. Interestingly, public opinion polls indicate that Obama has won the debate by a margin of ten points or so. Actually, given that one hundred million people watched the debate, the minimum that Obama needed to do was to show that he could stand up to a man who has created a myth of military heroism for himself, has a short fuse and a tendency to be condescending, is an erratic “maverick,” and to comes across as a sort of arrogant bully out to win no matter what, despite the softness and monotony of his voice modulation. On that score alone Obama won hands down. I also think he won in showing much better his concern and understanding of the plight of the middle class and the poor in this country. Moreover, a debate expert analyzed the various components of the debate (one of them being body language and the fact that McCain disdainfully never looked at his interlocutor in the eye and never called him by his first name as a colleague should) and came up with a score of B- for McCain and A- for Obama. Considering that the topic of the debate was supposed to be McCain’s forte, and that McCain himself has said that he knows nothing about economic issue, it looks very good for Obama. We can expect that he will do considerably better in the next debates. As far as the Biden Palin debate is concerned no amount of lip-stick will hide the enormous gulf that exists between the two in gravitas, knowledge and sheer humanity. That debate may well turn out into a farce of sort with Palin claiming that Alaska’s proximity to Russia gives her experience in foreign policy and other such inanities. It will probably be an entertaining and humorous debate worthy of a few Saturday Live skits.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-28 13:20:49
P.S. How ironic indeed. Four years ago the Republicans were busy tearing down a Vietnam veteran's record. His name was Kerry. This year they are busy singing the apotheosis of another Vietnam's veteran by the name of McCane. It appears that truth is a convenience for the rationalizations of sophists slanderers and bullies.

Thanos2008-09-28 14:05:00
Thank you for the information, I didn't know that the VP candidates had only one debate to do and I have to admit that I'm looking forward for it.
I didn't want to say anything more about McCain's war experiences but the same time you are right it is strange how much he plays this card especially compared with Kerry who had a very active participation in the Vietnam war. Very unfair i must add if you think all the things said four years ago.

I watched the debate again and more I see I have to admit the more I feel that McCain plays a dirty game and of course I did notice him avoiding eye contact with Obama which was somehow ...hypocritical and as I mentioned in my article his body language says a lot.

Another amazing thing was that during the debate the Republicans were boycotting every effect for the economy even if that was coming from their own president and McCain was talking like he was advising Bush!!! Amazing circus!!!

AP2008-09-28 14:59:29
McCain shrewd, slick, sly and sticky, treating the moderator familiarly "You know, Jim", "Thank you, Jim", "And Jim, I've been not feeling too great about a lot of things lately (...) but I'm feeling a little better tonight, and I'lll tell you why..."!!

"the audience here in the hall has promised to remain silent, no cheers, no applause" (Jim) ??? How judicious!!

AP2008-09-28 16:32:04
In spite of that, in MSNBC survey:
"Who won the presidential debate?" * 898330 responses
John McCain
Barack Obama
Not sure
Not a scientific survey though. Results may not total 100% due to rounding.

AP2008-09-28 16:38:45

"The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey, conducted shortly after the debate ended, showed 51 percent thought Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, did the best job, while 38 percent said Republican opponent Sen. John McCain of Arizona won.

Only people who watched the debate were questioned and the audience included more Democrats than Republicans. Some 524 people were polled by telephone Sept. 26 after the end of the debate.

There were big differences by gender. Men were nearly evenly split, with 46 percent giving the win to McCain and 43 percent to Obama while women voters gave Obama the win, preferring him to McCain 59 percent 31 percent, CNN said. (...) The pollsters said the margin of error for the survey was 4.5 percent."

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