Oct 7, 2008

McCain vs Obama

Tonight was the second of three U.S. presidential debates, in a town hall format. So basically, they are responding to questions, either from the Internet, or from people present at the session. I'm not sure what the rules are, but it seems like they had as much time as they wanted to answer the original question but were allowed only one minute to "discuss" the question.

The moderator was Tom Brokaw, the NBC News anchor, who also acted as timekeeper.

The Good

Obama showed confidence. Once he started talking on issues that he felt comfortable with, he stuttered less and was more assertive in his statements. At one point, Obama even said “During my first term,” signalling that he fully expects to win and to be re-elected.

McCain tried, not always successfully, to inject a little humour in the debate. Yes, this is a serious situation but a little humour is often welcome.

Both candidates got up, got close to the people asking questions and looked them in the eyes when answering. They didn't just sit in their seats and force people to strain their necks to view them as they answered. There were a couple of instances, though, where I found that McCain walked in too closely to the crowd. Yet, after looking closely, it looks like it was a trick of the camera. At the beginning, McCain spent too much time speaking to the person who asked the question and not enough time addressing the audience as a whole. As the debate progressed, he improved that aspect.

Both were gracious enough at the beginning, acknowledging that each had done some good things, and even agreeing on a few issues. As time went by, though, the cordiality slowly went by the wayside.

Obama seemed more at ease than McCain. His movements were more fluid and he was better able to connect with the audience. In fact, I saw more nodding of the heads and smiles in the background when Obama spoke than when McCain spoke, a testament to Obama's greater effectiveness. McCain did not seem as comfortable. Of course, part of it is due to the injuries he suffered in Vietnam. However, it's questionable whether people will look past that when they look at him.

The last question of the evening was an opportunity for both candidates to show a little vulnerability. McCain took it and admitted he didn't know the future. OK, a bit banal, but still he admitted to it. Obama didn't. Yes, he said that his wife Michelle has a list of things he doesn't know, but Obama himself did not admit it. That only adds to his image of being arrogant and over-confident.

The Bad

Not enough stories. A lot of the themes tonight were very emotional for many American people. Yet both candidates failed to deliver compelling stories to illustrate those issues. Obama came close when replying to the "Obama Doctrine" question. In his answer, he posed questions directly to the American people, asking them to give a moral answer. But most of the examples were reduced to attacking the opposing party.

Obama stuttered at crucial times in his answers. They gave the impression that he was either lying, making it up on the spot, or he wasn't convinced about what he was saying.

McCain used the term “my friend” and “my friends” too often. It can be endearing, but as with any colloquialism, when overused it loses its effectiveness and becomes annoying.

McCain, at one point, forgot to use his microphone while answering. Normally, that would only be funny. However, that can be seen as a “brain fart” which is not a good thing for him.

When asked whether medical coverage is a right, a privilege, or a responsibility, McCain said responsibility. I am sure many people who have trouble paying medical bills felt insulted or stunned by that answer. That could play against him during this campaign. Especially since Obama stated it was a right.

The Ugly

Where was the timer? If you have ever been to a Toastmasters meeting, you know that one of the important functions in a meeting is the timekeeper. The timekeeper is the one that reigns in the people who think that their time is more valuable than other people's time. He or she uses (surprise, surprise!) red, yellow, green lights to tell people when to stop talking. And they are punished when they go overtime.

During the discussion period, Obama and McCain paid no mind to the time, and received a small warning from Brokaw. In effect, they were allowed to ignore the rules as they pleased.

McCain was dismissive and disrespectful twice in the debate: when he called Obama “that one” and when he assumed that one person had never heard about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That's a slight on McCain, and one that is not very presidential.

Final word

Overall, it was an interesting debate, as much in its form as in the content. I would have preferred more interaction between the candidates and a bit more dialogue so they could challenge each other more effectively.

The debate itself was closely fought. Obama wins it though, because he came off as more polished, more confident, and he better connected with his audience.

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