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September 26, 2008

First debate 2008
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:41 PM *

Didn’t get home till 9:30 or so.

9:52 PM: Lurking behind every presidential-level discussion of military matters is the unspoken worry about maintaining the self-esteem of our troops. It’s as if the world’s most powerful fighting force were a bunch of sulky grade-schoolers.

9:56 PM: Also, of course, the ridiculous notion that we should be willing to invade any country in the world that fails to take its hat off when we walk into the room.

9:57 PM: McCain really likes to start sentences with “I think Senator Obama fails to understand…”.

10:00 PM: Now they’re talking about their bracelets. Perhaps the debates should include a fashion accessorizing competition?

10:04 PM: John Sidney McCain III, you motherfucker! How dare you invoke the holocaust to justify your goddamn war-loving scare-mongering!

10:06 PM: Obama’s at least got the sense to realize that the Iraq War strengthened Iran. He’s still buying into the nuclear scare-talk.

10:08 PM: When did talking to foreign leaders become such a political football?

10:10 PM: Hey, Obama mentions that Ahmadinejad isn’t actually the leader of Iran!

10:13 PM: Apparently the US president can’t sit at the same table with the president of Iran because the Iranian said something mean about our friend Israel. This really is just high school writ large, isn’t it?

10:19 PM: Russian “aggression” against Georgia. Neither one of them mentions that South Ossetia is nominally independent.

10:24 PM: Nuclear? Obama says we’re going to need to use nuclear energy. That could get interesting.

10:29 PM: Obama says that a suitcase nuke is a more likely threat than a nuclear missile, then turns around and says he supports missile defense.

10:32 PM: Both of them acknowledge that we’re spending too much money. Both of them want to solve our problems by spending more money.

OK, over. My off-the-cuff impression is that McCain probably came off better than Obama, at least from what I saw. I think he did a better job of pushing Obama onto the defensive. I don’t know if this’ll help him in the polls, since he’s already polling as more capable in foreign policy.

Comments on First debate 2008:
#1 ::: jmnlman ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 10:50 PM:

McCain certainly looked cranky..

#2 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 10:51 PM:

I tuned out after an hour. Tedious.

McCain came across better than I expected, but the only new thing he offered was an across the board spending freeze, except for war and what you end up with when you go to war.

#3 ::: Patrick Rennie ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 10:56 PM:

Is it just me, or did McCain smirk way too often?

And Obama mentioned he supported more nuclear and coal energy in his acceptance speech at the convention.

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:01 PM:

McCain came off (to me, anyway) as extraordinarily condescending. I wonder if that turned off anyone else.

#5 ::: Jackie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:02 PM:

Petty here, but I was listening to the debate on NPR and I wish McCain had invested in a more effective brand of denture cement. The wind whistling through what sounds to be his dentures was annoying as all h*ll.

#6 ::: R. Emrys ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:05 PM:

My reaction to the exchange at 10 PM: "Miles, are you trying to one-up my dead?" I was not impressed with either of them there.

#7 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:07 PM:

Lehrer wins, Obama 2nd, McCain 3rd. But McCain's performance wasn't shameful. Some of what went down will come out in the fact-checking wash. McCain started out looking and sounding like a funeral director, but got better.

Obama's most memorable line was when he described Bush administration habits as "an orgy of spending."

I was watching a CNN online broadcast that had reactions from focus groups in wiggly lines along the bottom of the screen. The independents seemed to me to tend to track a lot closer to the democrats than the republicans. No one cares much about what McCain says about "the surge" which he brought up a number of times; judging by the wiggly lines, people seemed to care a lot about US gov treatment of veterans. Big hot button issue.

My favorite moment of the debate was just after McCain tried for a tear-jerker moment saying he had a bracelet on his wrist memorializing a dead soldier and soldier's mommy had told him "don't let my boy have died in vain", Obama said, well, he had a bracelet, too and when his dead soldier's mom had said was . . . Obama's was like something concocted by a really good screen writer.

McCain's insecurity about Palin seeped through and at times it seemed like he was debating her. He used the phrase "Miss Congeniality" a couple of times and kept emphasizing all the exotic places he'd been and foreign leaders he'd met. This emphasis was misplaced when debating Obama, who, while he isn't from the Cretaceous like McCain, has been out and around and met people. Perhaps the idea was to convey that Palin would be OK because Daddy would be home, but what we're worried about is whether Daddy is going to kick the bucket and leave Palin minding the store.

Republicans will say McCain won. Democrats will say Obama won. But the real bottom line is that the debate went OK for both of them, and that isn't what McCain needed for his poll numbers.

#8 ::: Sean P. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:13 PM:

McCain scored rather well with his closing remarks, while Obama seemed scattered in his. I was hoping he'd say something along the lines of "Unlike Senator McCain, who intends to lean on his greater foreign policy experience, I intend to build a team of capable people and lean on them."

#9 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:14 PM:

Did McCain steal a candy striper's uniform from the nursing home to make his tie?

Obama will come out of this with better soundbites, but he also provided McCain's campaign a solid gold set of "I agree with John" least 4-5 if I counted right.

In my opinion Obama should have had just a little more fire if he wanted to blow away McCain in this contest.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:21 PM:

Kathry Cramer @ 7... If Mccain is refering to Palin as Miss Congenialty and means it as a good thing, he obviously never saw the movie. Or he's going after the Sandra Bullock fans.

#11 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:36 PM:

I loved that Obama got to point out his tax plan and contrast it to McCain's. Gold. I thought he did really well being measured and not too nasty, and pointing out that all of McCain's points against him were lies.

I judge these things with the "if I was in his shoes, would I have done better" test, and Obama actually beat me with the calm focus on world opinion etc. Liked his point about how his dad came here because it was the best, and we've lost that.

I listened to the debate on the radio, having found some AM right-wing station seconds before they came on (the DJ was like "Lehrer running it? It's like if Sean Hannity ran it" but then after he was like "Lehrer did a very good job" which, my friend, is why the liberals get to play in these boxes and the radical right doesn't). Was listening on the radio because I had planned to watch it on the big screen at the Parkway Speakeasy, a local second-run movie theater that has couches and dinner and beer... But the line was around the block, and the two theaters filled when it was still around the block. Yes we do love our politics.

#12 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:40 PM:

I read over at another forum that McCain didn't use Obama's name once, avoided looking at him, and gave him a wet fish handshake at the end. Did other folks notice that, or was it easily missed?

#13 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:42 PM:

I live-blogged it too, here (I caught it from the beginning). Something of a snark-fest now that I reread it. I thought Obama came out on top.

#14 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:42 PM:

Lance @ 9

Now I'm captivated by a mental image of John McCain hunched over a table making ties out of his trophies.

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:44 PM:

I think Obama did fine, and that in his final paragraph, my esteemed co-blogger Avram is comprehensively full of shit.



#16 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:47 PM:

NelC @ 12: I noticed that McCain never looked at Obama. McCain seemed pissed off during the last half hour or so.

#17 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:00 AM:

NelC @12:

A *lot* of people noticed McCain not-looking at Obama. I've seen some speculation that it was a tactic to keep his temper under control. I don't think it played at all well with the independents & undecideds -- and they, after all, are the targets, not people like me who are already in the bag.

#18 ::: cap ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:00 AM:

Delurking for a moment, here...

NelC at #12 - I noticed that as well. It seemed like McCain hardly even turned his body toward Obama, let alone made eye contact with the man.

Patrick at #15 - thanks for those numbers. That was my impression, as well, from watching the wiggly lines on CNN, but it's nice to see something a little more concrete.

The pundit folks were worried about Obama's ability to debate well. I'm biased, but I saw, for the most part, a man who was articulate and rational, who did more than hold his own against John McCain. (And was it just me, or did McCain's slow, measured way of speaking annoy anyone else?) I don't know who "won" the debate, but I don't think people will question Obama's ability as much, anymore.

#19 ::: janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:20 AM:

Didn't watch the debate -- we're on the west coast, so it was dinner hour, and we have a little girl to get fed, bathed, and to bed. But the polls seem to indicate that the uncommitted voters preferred Obama. Of course, a lot depends on the spin of the next few days -- the assumption being that people don't know who won the debate until someone in authority tells them.

#20 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:28 AM:

#15: Patrick, surely you meant: "What Co-Blogger Avram doesn't understand is..."

#21 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:32 AM:

Joe Biden is doing some fantastic spinning, post-debate.

Sarah Palin has not been heard from once.

#22 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:52 AM:

Serge, #10, Palin was Miss Congeniality when she competed to be Miss Alaska. Since then, McCain has several times described himself as not being "Miss Congeniality" in the Senate. I'm guessing he's trying to get the phrase associated with him rather than Palin.

#23 ::: Eileen Gunn ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:52 AM:

I watched the debate in a sports-bar in Seattle, filled to the brim with (at a guess) mostly-middle-class liberals, with a median age of about 30, but ranging from 6 months to mid-60s.

People were being serious, without a lot of back-chat, but a lot of McCain's statements drew surprised laughs, especially when they were inappropriate responses to direct questions: the bracelet story, the "when I was captured by the Viet Cong" bit, the multiple Miss Congenialities, etc. The biggest reaction, however, came when he explained how proud he was of cutting a government contract for Boeing. The whole room exploded with jeers, prompting a 9-year-old at our table to ask what the eruption was about. "He just said he put a lot of people out of work," his mother explained.

#24 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:54 AM:

I listened to some of the debate on the radio, watched some on TV with closed captioning (at the gym), and missed a few bits (like the point where the signal got messed up for a few seconds on the TV).

I thought both men held their own okay.

I thought McCain came off a bit better at the beginning, when they were talking about changing their priorities due to the bailout, but of course, they were basically just dodging the question. No way is either man going to talk about serious spending cuts!

Later, they seemed evenly matched. I got a bit tired of the McCain repeated talking points, but his performance sure didn't leave me with big worries about some kind of massive mental decline.

I was dismayed but not surprised to hear McCain use the sunk costs fallacy again and again to justify not leaving Iraq until we have a victory.

Both men seemed to be saying that we ought to be ready to go to war with Russia over it retaking its nearby former colonies. That seemed nuts to me, but it's pretty much what everyone seems to believe in the public world.

I may have missed something from the closed captioning, but when they discussed whether the US should sometimes raid into Pakistan without permission, I didn't notice any reference to the fact that we've been apparently doing just that. This has been in the news lately, along with a recent attempt in which our people were fired on by Pakistani soldiers. Obama did have fun sticking it to McCain on the whole meeting with Spain line, at least.

I don't think this debate resolved much, as far as the campaign goes.

#25 ::: Eileen Gunn ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:59 AM:


Judging by the crowds at 8:30 pm in our down-the-block kid-friendly restaurant, a lot of parents on Capitol Hill delayed dinner time to watch the debate. Isn't Ms. A. getting to the wise old political age of five?

#26 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:16 AM:

Eileen @25:

She'll be three in December. But she's wise beyond her years!

#27 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:20 AM:

McCain said that Pakistan was "a failed state" when Musharaff took over. WTF? Pakistan was in political crisis, yes, but "failed state" is the term you'd use to describe a place like Somalia where central government has completely broken down.

#28 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:21 AM:

Marilee @ 22... Got it.

#29 ::: deCadmus ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:23 AM:

NelC @ 12 (and subsequent comments)

While I suspect that McSame steadfastly avoided looking at Obama as a means of self-prescribed anger management, he (and his campaign) may not have realized how *weak* this behavior made him appear... the net effect was that he gave away all of his status to Obama.

On the other hand, I wonder if the dismissive " just don't understand" line of attack was a very carefully considered tactic to push Obabma's buttons by giving him the brush off, treating him as a child.

All in all, quite revealing.

#30 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:31 AM:

Jeez, Patrick, a bit grumpy?

#31 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:45 AM:

"What blah fails to understand" is classic Flamerspeak. Because it works! Elevates the speaker, speaks to the audience, infuriates the opponent. So far as I could tell from voices in the aether, it didn't work on Obama, though.

Also, Obama's voice is much nicer to listen to than McCain's. McCain's is more nasal.

#32 ::: pixelfish ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:49 AM:

I dunno. I think the line where McCain looked into Putin's eyes and saw three letters: K G, I think I had a spit-take there.

I listened to it on NPR (so I missed the blinky blink action and stiff body language of McCain) but after the first 40 minutes or so, I am afraid I had the same reaction to McCain that I did to Bush. (Or watching Extras, for that matter, when I get so embarrassed for the poor schmuck that I twitch violently and have to stop watching. Which is good, because it dampens the imminent rage that would otherwise accompany such events.) So after a while I would listen to the first minute or so of McCain's talking point and then take my headphones off until I could tell that Lehrer or Obama was talking again.

Apropos of nothing, hi to Eileen at 25. I think I just moved to your neighbourhood. :)

#33 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 02:37 AM:

Linkmeister, #4: I know it turned off at least one person. A friend of mine has been periodically posting his despair about his grandmother, who had apparently swallowed the "Obama is a Muslim" line whole. Tonight, he posted that the bloom came off the McCain rose a bit over his poor handling of the economic crisis, and the disenchantment was clinched by how "mean and nasty" McCain was in the debate. She still won't vote for Obama, but now she probably won't cast a vote for McCain either.

A small victory perhaps, but every little bit helps.

Serge, #10: He's not familiar with the dynamics of beauty contests, either. "Miss Congeniality" is a consolation prize. And you'd better believe a lot of the people in the Republican base are familiar with that.

Stephen, #20: *giggle*

#34 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 02:38 AM:

I'm pretty sure that when McCain said he wasn't awarded Miss Congeniality in the Senate, what he meant was that he wasn't popular because he took on his own party. Presumably that was part of his whole "Barack is a celebrity" thing.

@24 McCain let Lehrer push him into saying he'd freeze all government spending except military, veteran's affairs, and entitlements. Which is nuts on so many different levels.

We were also very impressed (although maybe a bit annoyed) by the way that McCain scrambled to have the last word on every question (aided by Lehrer) whereas Obama would start to respond, then just shrug and let it go. I would have liked to have seen him be a bit more aggressive in response to some of things McCain said, but I think he came off as being a lot more presidential by shrugging it off and trusting the audience to see that McCain was lying and wasn't worth arguing with on those points.

#35 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 02:49 AM:

Lee @ #33, I'll take a formerly yes vote for McCain off the board quite happily.

#36 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 03:27 AM:

Brad DeLong has compiled quite the list of reactions to the debate, and he says he's a little surprised at the one-sidedness of them toward Obama.

#37 ::: fdeblauwe ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 03:36 AM:

I analyzed the words and sentences which Obama, McCain and—why not?—Lehrer used in the debate. Have a look at the bubble graph (no. of words and length of sentences and words). I also made "word clouds." Interesting! Go to my Word Face-Off blog to view.

#38 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 05:06 AM:

Avram @ 30: one of the best-known jokes about us Brits is given its best expression in the film Carry On Up The Khyber, in which the sumptuously-dressed ladies and gentlemen of a far-flung outpost of Empire take dinner and indulge in small talk while the building they're in is demolished by enemy artillery. Reading the responses to this debate have persuaded me that they had the wrong country.

Let's see...McCain has historically agreed with Bush ninety per cent of the time. He's refused to disclose his medical records amid stories that he has a terminal illness. His running mate thinks the Iraq war is a mission from God, and that the purpose of being in an office is to get your own back on people who've inconvenienced you, and has been seen on television turning the answer to a simple straightforward question into a complete train wreck. Their party's incumbent administration has run America into the ground, has not only lost but thrown away the plot on the environment, on economy, and on the separation of powers, and has been moving troops into position within the American mainland in the run-up to an election. And the impression I'm getting from these posts is that that election, even if it's conducted honestly, is going to be a damned close-run thing, rather than the landslide for the Dems that almost everyone else in the world needs it to be.

So, you know...I'm a little grumpy.

#39 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 06:34 AM:

I hope you all TiVo'd it, so you can re-watch it to Lauren of Feministe's Presidential Debate Drinking Game.

In the very tipsy comments thread she calls her drink -- a White Russian made with soy milk -- a White Georgian.

I'll wait for a transcript. I'm going to make crêpes.

#40 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 07:09 AM:

Sean P. @ 8:

I was hoping he'd say something along the lines of "Unlike Senator McCain, who intends to lean on his greater foreign policy experience, I intend to build a team of capable people and lean on them."

Wasn't it only a few years ago that a US president said that?

I had the debate in the background. My impression as a foreigner: With McCain's 250 years of foreign policy experience and having, apparently, travelled the world, he of course had the upper hand going into the foreign policy debate. Obama on the other hand had the upper hand going into the inevitable economy debate. I noticed McCain talking about (and never to) "Senator Obama", while Obama talked to (and about) "John".

I had been hoping for a bare-knuckle fight. McCain got in a few jabs about Obama's not having seen the world, Obama got in a great jab about McCain's not wanting to meet the prime minister of Spain, but other than that they were both insufferably dull, like a pair of clockwork talking-points machines. Neither of them won, but maybe Obama didn't lose.

#41 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 07:15 AM:

Roy, the whole point for a candidate, at this stage, going into the debate, is not to lose. You can't go into such a debate hoping to say something that will cause the opposition voters to say, "hey, I was wrong all along, I've got to swap sides!" All you can do is hope that you look sane and presidential to the undecideds, and hope the other guy slips on a banana skin and makes them think "what a loser!"

Consequently they're micro-orchestrated in advance, right down to the facial tics if the trainers can get them under voluntary control. And so it probably shouldn't come as a surprise to see that they're about as spontaneous as a Politburo 5 year plan announcement during the late 1940s.

#42 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 07:43 AM:

Watched the whole debate; think that Obama held his own with McCain on what I would consider Obama's weakest and McCain's strongest area, foreign policy. I didn't hear anything from either one that hasn't been mentioned earlier except for McCain's "spending freeze" on everything but military.

Of course, he'd quickly find out that line items such as Social Security, debt payments, etc, cannot be stopped, so what he's talking about is a minor % of the budget.

The general opinion I saw was Obama got an A-, McCain a B+, but neither one stomped the other.

#43 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 07:48 AM:

We have a bipartisan household. (Some people are quite shocked to learn that David Hartwell is a registered Republican.) It was interesting to me the extent to which McCain was able to provoke incredulous gasps from David with remarks that I didn't react to at all. (I don't remember exactly what he was reacting to, but it happened four or five times.)

Josh Marshall has published an interesting reader letter from someone who studies monkey behavior. He says

I think people really are missing the point about McCain's failure to look at Obama. McCain was afraid of Obama. It was really clear--look at how much McCain blinked in the first half hour. I study monkey behavior--low ranking monkeys don't look at high ranking monkeys. In a physical, instinctive sense, Obama owned McCain tonight and I think the instant polling reflects that.
I think this is quite astute. Though McCain did OK debatewise, there was something about his performance that struck me as the old alpha male who has been driven away and is standing outside his lost territory making displays at the new head of the troop. During the debate I tried to pin down why he struck me that way. I think Marshall's reader is right: McCain's primate signals say he's already lost.

#44 ::: Erin Underwood ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 07:48 AM:

Don't you think he looks tired?

Pale. Drawn. Hand shaking slightly. Lips pursed. Eyes squinting. He doesn't look well. Luckily for him, McCain could use the excuse of the economic crisis to take a few days off before the debate he tried to postpone.

Bob Herbert published a great Op Ed piece about Sarah Palin in the New York Times. I fail to see why the status of McCain's health isn't being more aggressively pursued by the media. It's clear that something is wrong, and it's clear that his VP should receive presidential scrutiny since chances are we may end up with her as President, if McCain is elected.

Moreover, given the financial crisis, why isn't more attention being drawn to McCain's participation in The Keating Five? He is going to save us during this banking crisis? Really? What about his past experiences with banking? Perhaps he has reformed himself, perhaps not. In any case, I seriously question why his record on this count hasn't been brought up.

Where is the fair and impartial media?

Where is the medical report on McCain?

Where is the intellectual spark in Palin?

Where is the door out of this madhouse?

#45 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 08:01 AM:

#27: Yeah, Max Bergman at the Huffington Post has picked up on the Pakistan failed state remark. I was wondering about that at the time, but didn't look it up. Oddly, I seem to have assumed that McCain would know what he was talking about even if it sounded wrong to me.

Berman says:

Musharraf took power in a military coup in 1999 when he diposed Nawaz Sharif - who recently participated in the latest election. The coup followed the 1999 war in Kashmir with India and was due to a power struggle with Sharif, not due to Pakistan being a "failed state." The United States did not welcome the Musharraf coup. Instead the government of the United States imposed sanctions against this action.

#46 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 08:13 AM:

Polls seem to give the debate to Obama more definitively than I would have.

The poll numbers may be influenced by uncouth questions like What's wrong with McCain's cheeks?. His cheeks did not move naturally, and I saw a lot of discussion of this on the Twitter Election feed.

I wonder in the Nixon-Kennedy effect is in play:

The Great Debates marked television's grand entrance into presidential politics. They afforded the first real opportunity for voters to see their candidates in competition, and the visual contrast was dramatic. In August, Nixon had seriously injured his knee and spent two weeks in the hospital. By the time of the first debate he was still twenty pounds underweight, his pallor still poor. He arrived at the debate in an ill-fitting shirt, and refused make-up to improve his color and lighten his perpetual "5:00 o'clock shadow." Kennedy, by contrast, had spent early September campaigning in California. He was tan and confident and well-rested. "I had never seen him looking so fit," Nixon later wrote.
In contrast to Nixon, who went on without make-up, McCain seemed to have so much on that he could have peeled his whole face off and had another face under there. While this is not an intellectual way of judging a debate, that McCain's appearance had an effect is my explanation for why the post-debate polls tilt so heavily in Obama's direction.

#47 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 08:49 AM:

How dearly I wanted instant fact checking! I'm morose in my certainty that the press coverage won't call McCain out on how many times he lied outright last night.

His oh so heartfelt support for veterans was especially sickening after he voted for VA benefit cuts and against beefing up the GI Bill.

#48 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 08:51 AM:

Kathryn Cramer @ 7: McCain's insecurity about Palin seeped through and at times it seemed like he was debating her.

Yes! I kept thinking all of those should have been prefaced with, "Unlike my running mate, Sarah Palin, I am [well traveled/not a beauty queen/etc.]" which was just... really odd.

I watched the debates with my husband (raging liberal) and mother-in-law (conservative, but anti-McCain/Palin. We avoid specifics in the interest of family harmony, so I don't know, but I think she's abstaining this year.) There was more than once when all three of us, at once, said, "wait, did I miss something?" because the candidates (mostly McCain, but Obama more than once) would start non-sequituring all over the place. Mother-in-law was most insistent that neither candidate had anything useful to say; husband and I thought Obama came off better, although McCain got more than one zinger in. All three of us noticed that Obama was talking to McCain, and McCain was talking to the moderator. (Didn't notice that he never used Obama's name, but it was obvious that he was avoiding interaction with him.) The "what he doesn't understand" bit annoyed all of us, and we all snickered a bit at the Spain bit.

Personally, I thought Obama did a better job of vocally controlling the conversation, and McCain yielded to him more often (although less as the debate went on) but I don't have any evidence, just a feeling.

#49 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 10:12 AM:

Anyone else notice McCains love of Israel? I bet when he starts campaigning in Israel he'll get the PM post easily.

#50 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 10:32 AM:

From New Scientist:

McCain does not seem as adept at using spin to his advantage, and his "straight talk" can make his speeches fall flat from a motivational point of view, according to Branka Zei Pollermann, founder of the Vox Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, who has analysed the candidates' voices for communication consultants Clearwater Advisors, based in London.

"The voice analysis profile for McCain looks very much like someone who is clinically depressed," says Pollermann, a psychologist who uses voice analysis software in her work with patients. Previous research on mirror neurons has shown that listening to depressed voices can make others feel depressed themselves, she says.
#51 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 10:48 AM:

listening to depressed voices can make others feel depressed themselves

I'm suddenly starting to see the past few years in a new light.

#52 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 10:58 AM:

McCain made it quite clear that he knows nothing about economics and is totally insulated from the way 95% of the people in this country live -- he's talking about a spending freeze in the middle of a recession!!! Insane. I thought Obama did what he had to do. He played rope-a-dope. He allowed McCain to expend his energy on looking angry and old, and he himself looked calm, confident, and not at all like a Scary Black Man.

McCain told lies: about Obama's tax and health care plans, and about his own votes. The MSM seems to be talking about them, which suggests to me that McCain has lost his press base, at least temporarily.

I fully expect the Biden-Palin debate to be canceled for some dumb-ass reason.

#53 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 11:06 AM:

@34 - I was overjoyed that Obama didn't take the bait to keep arguing just because he was right. That was one of the main things people didn't like about Gore, and with some reason. If you really try to prove that you're right, anyone that already got it feels like you're talking down to them, and those who don't likely won't anyways.

@52 - At this point, I don't think it matters if the Biden-Palin debate is canceled. There's been enough press dodging that people are complaining, and if she avoids her one debate it'll be the same as a loss to undecided eyes, which is what counts.

#54 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 11:10 AM:

DBratman #27: You are right. Pakistan was undergoing a political crisis, but it was a long, long way from failure. McCain was just lying, as usual.

#55 ::: cathy ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 11:15 AM:

I thought the debate came out to a tie not a decisive victory for either side.

I was happy with Obama's performance. I'd been a little worried because during the democratic primaries, his non-prepared speeches did not impress me and I was concerned about how he'd come across during the debates.

McCain won in he sense that he didn't have an explosive temper melt down. On the other hand, what I assume was a giant tumor on the side of his face was pretty obvious, and it was what I assumed was causing the whistling sound McCain made when he talked. My guess would be that there are people now more concerned about his health than they were before.

Neither candidate made a "I asked my daughter Amy and she said nucular arms daddy" type remark, which is why I put the debate down as a draw. End result, while I hope it shifted people to vote for Obama, I don't think the debate changed anyone's opinion.

#56 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 11:22 AM:

I watched (or listened, while doing crossword puzzles) for over an hour, then gave up in disgust. McCain was trying to sound "Reagan avuncular," when not uttering vicious lies about Obama, and I thought Obama spent a bit too much time agreeing with McCain on some issues. I did come back for NBC's post-debate discussion. Most useful: the "Truth Squad" looking into some statements. Both men did some lying and waffling, but McCain's stance as experienced diplomat was badly damaged when they said he belongs to a committee that has discussed Afghanistan about 30 times (to an Obama committee's three), but he hasn't attended *any* of those meetings!

Overall impression: I still hate debates.

#57 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 11:56 AM:

Well here's my bet, I pay 5 to 1 that if McCain is elected (with Palin as VP), that Palin will be President. I am willing to even bet within a short time line afterwords. What do I base this bet on? That he looks pretty unwell, he is at an advanced age, has suffered bad cancers, and finally it has been seen often in history that when an ill or dying person achieves some major goal they have been striving for, especially if it is a life-long goal, they die soon afterwords.

If McCain wins, Palin will be President - barring something happening to her.

#58 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 11:59 AM:

I'm not surprised that Obama won among independents: McCain was clearly aiming at the Republican base. Half of his comments were regurgitated right-wing shibboleths (government spending will DOOM US ALL, we must "win" in Iraq even if we don't know WTF that even means, and perhaps most egregiously, in his closing statement bringing up the repeatedly-debunked canard about Vietnam vets being mistreated when they came home.)

I was disappointed not to hear anything about the lawless presidency, increasing militarization of police, the Twin Cities crackdown, etc.; doesn't national security begin at home? How can the nation be secure when protesters and journalists are being gassed and tased in the streets, and police can just mistakenly break into your house in the middle of the night and shoot your dog because someone *else* might have been dealing drugs from an address that could be confused with yours? That's not national security I can believe in, regardless of whether there are any external threats or not.

#59 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:21 PM:

Chris @ 58:
McCain was clearly aiming at the Republican base

But why should he do that? The prize for the debates is the independent/undecided/lo-info vote, not the base.

#60 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 12:23 PM:

bryan #57: If McCain wins, Palin will be President

Well, we already had a strong hint of that sort of thing back while Hillary was still in the race when the scandal broke where the news that McCain was going to win the election was released prematurely by a software glitch at Diebold.

#61 ::: Tom Recht ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:54 PM:

I thought I must have misheard Obama referring to Venezuela as a "rogue state", but now that transcripts are online I see he did actually say this. ("That means that we, as one of the biggest consumers of oil -- 25 percent of the world's oil -- have to have an energy strategy not just to deal with Russia, but to deal with many of the rogue states we've talked about, Iran, Venezuela.")

Sometimes I'm glad I can't vote in this election.

#62 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 02:06 PM:

Can you imagine having to live for years hearing the whoosh&whistle of those dentures and girly giggling pageant voice? Talk about getting depressed and depressing everyone around you! Gads, da mav'rik looks unhealthy in every way -- so out of shape, utterly non-fit.

I do wish Obama would have talked about his tax policies as investment into infrastructure and real jobs -- producing real, actual products and services that last, and from which you can launch realistically into a sustainable future, to make real Stuff to counter that stupid notion of da mav'rik's that you can rebuild a destroyed economy with budget cutting, tax cuts and a bigger military. You cannot rebuild or build an economy that way. Any more than you can save a destroyed education system with bake sales.

To me, maybe, the most telling body language was after the lukewarm event was finished and the wives came out on stage. Obama and Michelle were immedidately in physical contact. The only time they weren’t was when she expected da mav’rik to shake hands with her as everyone else was shaking hands — and he didn’t. But the body language between Michelle and Obama was filled with authentic mutual warmth and respect.

Whereas, da mav’rik never even acknowledged his own wife. She tentatively touched him across the shoulders in a distant semi-embrace and he just hunkered and scowled and seemed not to even notice she was there. He never looked at her or touched her once. When they left the platform she trailed a signficant distance behind him.

Michelle and Obama exited the platform side by side, arms around each other. They’d been holding hands previously.

What an ugly piece of work is da mav’rik. Whatever whyfore does the independently wealthy Cindy put up with the old troll? He NEEDS HER money. She doesn’t need him. But then, he already drove her into drug addiction, so she’s probably been broken. Surely he knows all the effective techniques for doing so — since he’s a POW!

Love, C.

#63 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 02:23 PM:

Aw, Constance, I wish you would do that kind of thing. It's been bugging me for awhile. The way you call McCain by increasingly outre things instead of his name, this "he used vietcong psychology to drive her into drug addiction..." It makes you seem like you're not in reality, but instead living in an unpleasant place in your own head. Makes me feel bad for you. Your comments can otherwise be insightful, like the contrast between their percieved warmth towards their wives.

#64 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 02:24 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 41: Consequently they're micro-orchestrated in advance, right down to the facial tics if the trainers can get them under voluntary control. And so it probably shouldn't come as a surprise to see that they're about as spontaneous as a Politburo 5 year plan announcement during the late 1940s.

Yeah, I know they've got it down to an art. It's only about the conservative party and the ultra-ultra-conservative party trying to attract the last few voters they can without offending any of the voters they've already got. But I was still hoping for McCain attacking Obama in a fit of rage or something, not a non-happening that made them both look sedated. Using two separate phone interviews and some clever editing, you might produce a more exciting debate than this.

There's always the Biden/Palin debate though, unless she suddenly gets ill and can't participate. Let's hope he doesn't make her cry.

#65 ::: Rozasharn ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 02:36 PM:

Constance @62 asked: "Whatever whyfore does the independently wealthy Cindy put up with the old troll? He NEEDS HER money. She doesn’t need him."

I don't know much about her personally, but, like his first wife and his running mate, she is a former beauty queen. McCain seems to have a thing for them. And one of the traits beauty-pageant contestants have in common is a willingness to be judged by their looks and performance of femininity. She may feel she needs A Man, especially A High-Status Man, as proof of achievement; and in that game, it's important to lock in your position early (through marriage), and then hold on no matter what, because the older you get the less you can compete with the floods of younger women.

#66 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 02:45 PM:

Chris @ 58: McCain was clearly aiming at the Republican base

Doctor Science @ 59: But why should he do that? The prize for the debates is the independent/undecided/lo-info vote, not the base.

Only if you're sure that the base is already with you. And the Republicans seem to be unaware that they might need votes outside the base anyway.

#67 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 03:05 PM:


There was a profile of Cindy McCain in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago:

I new virtually nothing about her before reading it, so I don't know how revelatory it is, but I found it interesting, and it made me feel a little (only a little) sorry for her.

#68 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 03:09 PM:

#65 ::: Rozasharn

I keep forgetting that about his wives. Is this the, um, platform then for this mcpln ticket?


Here's how the narrative seems to be settling in re last night's event:

On the John Cole's Ballon Juice blog (has both and edited video of last night and text;

Love, C.

#69 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 05:21 PM:

Tom Recht #61: I thought I must have misheard Obama referring to Venezuela as a "rogue state", but now that transcripts are online I see he did actually say this.

Some people think that Hugo Chavez is a saintly Protector of the People, others think of him as Castro's lap dog. As far as I can tell, that's pretty much irrelevant, to the extent that, unless he really screws up the trade relations between Venezuela and the US, we'll probably let him stay in power.

(I haven't been cynical enough lately, so I'm trying to catch up a bit.)

#70 ::: Arachne ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 05:42 PM:

Looking towards the near future: is it possible to never have a vice-presidential debate because the opposing VP is hiding in Alaska?

Or does somebody get to drag her down for a debate?

It's arguable that having a VP debate at all is worse for Republicans party than missing it entirely....

#71 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 05:45 PM:

Arachne @ 70... does somebody get to drag her down for a debate?

Tania of the North Pole might do it. All she needs is a pair of Ursa boots.

#72 ::: Arachne ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 05:45 PM:

PS: Now I'm wondering if a VP debate can be done by proxy.

"Standing in for Ms. Palin, who can't attend because of vital economic matters in Alaska, is Joe Lieberman!"

A sort of bait-and-switch scenario.

#73 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 05:49 PM:

Arachne @ 72...

Having a VP debate using epoxy sounds kinky, but we'd all be glued to our TV sets.
("Serge, it's proxy, not epoxy.")

#74 ::: Shinydan Howells ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 06:16 PM:

Arachne @72:

Only if Jesse "The Body" Ventura is special guest referee chairperson and there's no outside interference from Obama or the Clinton Foundation.

#75 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 06:20 PM:

Dr. Science, #59: I think he still believes that the religious wingnuts can deliver enough votes to put him in office. They certainly still believe they can -- but he had to take their VP candidate in exchange for their support. They're gambling on McCain dying early in the term, and having One Of Their Own in the Oval Office.

#76 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 06:20 PM:

Micah at #53: It's funny how the right wing is filled with people who talk down to us, and not in a nice way either. And it doesn't seem to count against them. Instead we hear how "bold" or "folksy" they are.

What the complaints about Gore really meant was that he was not to be considered a leader, so it wasn't okay for him to talk down. It was a clear signal to all the right-wing authoritarian followers out there. So was the media reporting of the mockery and ridicule of Gore. The real message was not the mockery; it was that he could be mocked, because he was not a leader*. This also connects to the authoritarian rationalization for stealing the election from Gore; in their view, Gore did not have the right to rule, and they did.

There are several reasons why the current narrative is not stacked against Obama as blatantly as it was against Gore. One is that the establishment and the media see a real chance that Obama might win. If they don't play nice, there might be consequences†. Another factor is the confusion and disarray in the authoritarian camp. This doesn't mean the lies and the smears aren't happening, just that they aren't as well coordinated and they aren't being accepted as much.

*It's fascinating how Gore recovered himself. He grew a beard. He took up teaching. He gave lectures. Symbolically he was outside the political hierarchy. The authoritarian attacks on him stopped sticking, because he no longer appeared to be claiming something that wasn't his right. Then he made his film, and he shaved off the beard, and they didn't know what hit them.
†There have been a number of times in the last few years when I said "back off, or the mouse gets it." But ABC did not back off.

#77 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 07:11 PM:

I've been thinking the Repubs know McCain is ill and picked Palin to be the next Charlie McCarthy to perform with Cheney-Rove (thereby allowing them another 8 years as puppetmasters, just like they did with the Shrub).

#78 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 07:41 PM:

Kathryn #46:

I had been wondering what drugs would make McCain blink so much, but from you mention of all the makeup, it occurs to me that it could be way too much mascara.

#79 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 08:01 PM:

Throwmearope @77, see, Dubya always struck me as more of a Mortimer Snerd.

#80 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 08:38 PM:

Serge @ 73: I'm just floored by your comment.

#81 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 08:54 PM:

Throwmearope #77: another 8 years as puppetmasters

Machiavelli's by Proxy Syndrome?

#82 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 09:06 PM:

I didn't bother hooking up the rabbit ears to see it. After all, it's not like there was any chance McCain's performance would make me want to vote for him.

(Hey, McCain, you want my vote? Want to show that you're a maverick and not a lap dog? Here's how -- vote to impeach somebody. Ideally Cheney and Bush. But a couple of cabinet officers would do.)

#83 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 09:18 PM:
It seemed like McCain hardly even turned his body toward Obama, let alone made eye contact with the man.

Holy crap, so McCain can't even keep the US safe from wild things? Is that now too much to ask for in a president?

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 09:24 PM:

ginger @ 80... At least it would force the politicians to stick to their positions.

#85 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 09:32 PM:

In defense of McCain (wait...), I believe the weirdly-smooth paste-face he had going on was due to the new makeup techniques they use for HDTV broadcasts. Lots of news anchors have started falling into the uncanny valley on my old tv - and they're starting from a relatively good-looking base. Try to get McCain to look good on HDTV, and you're going to get... well, what you got last night.

I think the range of reactions to the debate is interesting. I'm also perplexed by the people who called it boring, or thought that they had nothing to say. I'm starting to think it's like baseball - you can understand the rules and follow the game, but the more you understand about it, the more different the experience of watching becomes. Dogwhistles! Code words! Body language! Monkey narrative! It's all fascinating. (Like a trainwreck, but no less fascinating for that.)

#86 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 09:32 PM:

This is how James Fallows sees it at The Atlantic's online site":

Obama would have pleased his base better if he had fought back more harshly in those 90 minutes -- cutting McCain off, delivering a similarly harsh closing judgment, using comparably hostile body language, and in general acting more like a combative House of Commons debater. Those would have been effective tactics minute by minute.

But Obama either figured out, or instinctively understood, that the real battle was to make himself seem comfortable, reasonable, responsible, well-versed, and in all ways "safe" and non-outsiderish to the audience just making up its mind about him. (And yes, of course, his being a young black man challenging an older white man complicated everything he did and said, which is why his most wittily aggressive debate performance was against another black man, Alan Keyes, in his 2004 Senate race.) The evidence of the polls suggests that he achieved exactly this strategic goal. He was the more "likeable," the more knowledgeable, the more temperate, etc. (Update: though from here on out he doesn't have to say "John is right..." anywhere near as often as he did last night.) .

For years and years, Democrats have wondered how their candidates could "win" the debates on logical points -- that is, tactics -- but lose the larger struggle because these seemed too aggressive, supercilious, cold-blooded, or whatever. To put it in tactical/strategic terms, Democrats have gotten used to winning battles and losing wars. Last night, the Democratic candidate showed a far keener grasp of this distinction than did the Republican who accused him of not understanding it.

Love, C.

#87 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 10:10 PM:

Joann @78:

I have a friend who blinks like McCain, or even more often. It's a side effect of Paxil. I haven't paid too much attention to what McCain looks like, because I get most of my news from blogs. And during the debate I mostly looked elsewhere when he was speaking, so I didn't notice myself that he was blinking frequently, but a lot of people have noticed. The blinking from Paxil is an unusual side effect. McCain being on anti-depresssants wouldn't surprise me at all. Half the world I know is on them. As long as he takes him meds on time, I don't see that as a bar from the presidency, though I bet a lot of people would. Too bad we didn't get a full medical report. So many questions.

#88 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 10:20 PM:

Serge @ 84: I think that would resin-ate with the American people.

#89 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 10:34 PM:

Ginger @ 88... Or they might decide it's a caulkamanie idea.

#90 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 11:21 PM:

What I find interesting is that the people I know who are most opposed to McCain think he pulled off a near tie.

The people I know who are most inclined to him say the same thing.

The middle, the undecided seem to think he lost.

I'll take that, any day of the week.

#91 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 01:52 AM:

I don't want to get too much into analyzing McCain's facial expressions, because he might be suffering from a minor disability in that area. In 2000, McCain had a cancerous mole removed from his left temple, and removal of some of the lymph nodes in his neck. It is possible that the lymph node removal damaged some nerves to the face. Also. he had minor facial reconstruction surgery to pull skin over where the mole was removed.

Of course, he's still a liar and a jerk.

#92 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 02:33 AM:

The debate made me think of Lakoff's description of the difference between how liberals think of family and how conservatives think of it. McCain gave off a serious strong-father vibe ("what Mr. Obama does not understand", a lot of reference to how long he's known people or followed issues) with one moment of open sentimentality about veterans - "I love them, and I'll take care of them".

Where Obama was definitely the "convince me I'm wrong" dad - especially the stuff about being prepared but not setting preconditions.

If I had issues with laid-back dad, I would be able to tell you if Obama invoked that all through the speech - but all my issues are with authoritarian Focus on the Family dad, so McCain's stuff really jumped out at me.

#93 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 08:48 AM:

As much as I dislike McCain, I didn't think too much about the stiffness or the blinking, either. I think I just assumed that it was down to the same long-term injuries that keep him from being able to raise his arms.

Good to know that about the facial surgery, though, because at one point I did notice how he seemed to have less muscle control on one side of his face. FWIW, I don't think it was a stellar performance by either, but watching the CNN broadcast did make me think that he didn't resonate with people as much as Obama, and that's what counts in the end.

#94 ::: Tracey S. Rosenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 08:57 AM:

Lizzy L @52: I'm toying with running a pool on a) when and b) for what reason Palin will be yanked out of her debate. Currently I'm thinking 816am on the day, for a family emergency involving her pregnant daughter.

#95 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 09:07 AM:



One important thing to keep in mind is that Obama DOES seem to have a general strategy. And he's fitting what he's doing into that strategy.

(As Howard Wolfson pointed out in his 9/26 blog entry at, McCain in contrast seems to be "chasing news cycles".)

#96 ::: Jim Satterfield ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 12:13 PM:

The Pakistan comment caught my attention. My thought simply was "John McCain just supported a military coup against an elected government in a Presidential debate!". It really floored me at the time and I'm amazed that it still isn't getting any attention.

#97 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 12:30 PM:

Reports rounded up by my friendslist seem to indicate that Obama succeeded in neutralizing a lot of the "scary angry black man" rhetoric in some of the locations where that really matters (i.e. blue-collar working neighborhoods with high levels of socially-acceptable racism). This is likely to bring him more votes than he'd lose from his own base by not being more aggressive.

My personal opinion is that (in Olympic terms) this was supposed to be McCain's best event, and anything other than an overwhelming win is more of a loss than he could afford.

#98 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 12:49 PM:

Tracey @94
Maybe she'll be called away to her daughter's shotgun wedding.

#99 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 12:55 PM:

Michael I@95, "chasing news cycles":

Possible new cycle play: Republican celebrity wedding before the election! ( )

I figured it out. Sarah Palin isn't McCain's nominee for Vice President. She's his nominee for the New American Princess Diana.

#100 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 01:02 PM:

(Heh. My post crossed Janet@98 there. However, I can't imagine that as a reason for Palin to *withdraw* as a nominee.)

(For just once, I am glad that the Republicans don't know how to back down from a position. If McCain had nominated a pile of *mine tailings* as a running mate, the machine would vanish below the waves still broadcasting that mine tailings would make a *terrific* vice president, and were naturally disposed to be pro-working-class too.)

#101 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 01:38 PM:

I waited and waited for Obama to call him on his inability to know who our fellow NATO ally's Spanish prime minister was.

I waited and waited for Obama to make some points re the earmarks and Big Spending about who was the running mate.

It did seem he missed big wide openings to make points -- and do so without being mean or angry -- just by being truthful, and that's not even the vaunted 'truthiness,' that the neoCONS have declared superior to truth, justice and the American Way.

Love, C.

#102 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 02:14 PM:

Terry Karney #90: Many of us watching wished he would pull off his necktie.

#103 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 02:29 PM:

Constance #101: Obama did point out that McCain didn't know that Spain was an ally of the US. McCain, it appears, mumbled 'horseshit'.

#104 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 02:41 PM:

Lydy @87:

"As long as he takes his meds on time, I don't see that as a bar from the presidency"

Welllll... generally in principle I would agree. But if we're talking about Paxil (hypothetically of course, I have no idea if he's on it) there's more of a problem. That drug is notorious for having fairly dramatic withdrawal effects, and also not uncommonly a rapid tolerance effect, so even if you're taking it on time, you may start to feel like it's wearing off unless you keep upping the dose. And "feeling like it's wearing off" includes things like mood swings, the sensation of electric shocks randomly exploding in your head, and extreme irritability, and these do not go away any time soon.

So, yeah, effectively managed depression should not be a disqualifier for the job... but if I knew someone was on that particular drug, I would think really hard before putting them in any position that required emotional stability. Paxil is effective for some people, and gets prescribed a lot because it has a rapid onset of action, but there's a good argument to be made that its FDA approval was premature.

#105 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 03:17 PM:

Fragano -- I missed that. Thank you!

Here we find, perhaps, the source for the seething anger with Obama Friday night.

The anger was ignited by what happened in D.C. earlier that day. He perceives Obama as bolloxing up his game plan to make political hay with the national economic catastrophe. Now, you all can make up your own minds about this, by reading a blow-by-blow, witnessed account of what happened.

Here's a pull:

Boehner was blunt. The plan Paulson laid out would not win the support of the vast majority of House Republicans. It had been improved on the edges, with an oversight board and caps on the compensation of participating executives. But it had to be changed at the core. He did not mention the insurance alternative, but Democrats did. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, pressed Boehner hard, asking him if he really intended to scrap the deal and start again.

No, Boehner replied, he just wanted his members to have a voice. Obama then jumped in to turn the question on his rival: "What do you think of the [insurance] plan, John?" he asked repeatedly. McCain did not answer.

One Republican in the room said it was clear that the Democrats came into the meeting with a "game plan" aimed at forcing McCain to choose between the administration and House Republicans. "They had taken McCain's request for a meeting and trumped it," said this source.

Congressional aides from both parties were standing in the lobby of the West Wing, unaware of the discord inside the Cabinet room, when McCain emerged alone, shook the hands of the Marines at the door and left. The aides were baffled. The plan had been for a bipartisan appearance before the media, featuring McCain, Obama and at least a firm statement in favor of intervention. Now, one of the leading men was gone.

The rest of the actors poured out of the room still highly agitated. Democrats clustered in the hall between the lobby and the Oval Office, pressing Bachus to explain what had happened to the deal. The Democrats discussed whether to go before the cameras waiting in front of the White House, but Obama refused. Without McCain next to him, he said, he would be skewered for using the White House as a backdrop. As the talk grew louder, Obama asked if they could duck into a room, and back they went to the ornate, windowless Roosevelt Room.

Love, C.

#106 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 05:36 PM:

As an index of opinion among old-line conservatives, The Stockton (California) Record endorses Obama.

The last time they endorsed a Democrat was FDR's first reelection campaign- which, I just realized, happened the year John McCain was born.

#107 ::: Arachne ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 06:44 PM:

JESR @106:

The last time they endorsed a Democrat was FDR's first reelection campaign- which, I just realized, happened the year John McCain was born.

Extra irony!

#108 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 09:45 PM:

I'm suprised that nobody here has commented on McCain calling Iran an "existential threat". That was the point at which the entire room I was watching with almost uniformly went "Say what????"

It is possible to use that phrase to mean "a threat to the existence of" but that is not the most likely connotation IME.

#109 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 09:59 PM:

Re McCain's health. I look at his chin and jowls, and they vary between puffy and saggy. And I remember the ass't rabbi of my parents' synagogue, who died of the Big C, how his face looked like that, often puffy, sometimes not, in the last few months. And I worry about President Palin.

Debbie's thought - it could be the Geena Davis series premise - woman becomes president through death of president, but isn't quite up to the job. And that could poison any future woman's chance of becoming president for the next 50 years. Unless, of course, she resigns and nominates one of the other better-qualified Republican women out there - Liddy Dole, Christine T. Whitman, etc.

#110 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Tom @61 and Earl @69

A few days ago, Venezuela expelled its US Ambassador in solidarity with Bolivia (who had just expelled their US ambassador), and the US responded by expelling the Venezuelan Ambassador from the US.

I think this means we no longer have official ties, but I'm not sure. The current US administration has been doing all it can to turn Venezuela into an enemy. Granted, since Chavez has become more and more socialist, and less and less friendly to the US and its interference, this comes as no surprise.

#111 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2008, 10:46 PM:

Tom Whitmore: In foreign policy that's exactly the way it's used. One of the big problems is trying to reconcile the lack of national mobilisation to the cries the "war on terror" is an existential threat, in the way Japan, or Germany were in WW2.

You can find the Goldberg's of the world saying such things, and then explaning why they have, "other priorities" when challenged to step up to the plate and serve.

#112 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 12:29 AM:

Jon, #109: The chance of Palin stepping down under those circumstances is... somewhere between infinitesimal and nonexistent. Full-blown case of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome, exacerbated by the religious fundamentalism. She would be absolutely convinced that God had put HER in that position at this point in history for a Reason; the thought that she might be in over her head wouldn't occur to her for as much as a nanosecond.

#113 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 12:40 AM:

What with Palin's beauty pageant experience and her poor performance in situations where she isn't reading a speech off a teleprompter, is anyone else reminded of that pageant contestant of a few months ago, nattering on about the Iraq and needing to hand out maps?

Or is it just me?

#114 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 01:29 AM:

Maybe I'm mistaken, but I think that "existential threat" business referred to Israel's belief about Iran, not a stated US belief.

#115 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 03:48 AM:

If McCain dies, maybe we could sneak in Tina Fey for Palin. At least she knows how to talk.

#116 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 06:36 AM:

Hob @104: I've got to disagree with you there. Being on Paxil should not be enough to make one a dodgy candidate. Side effects are highly peculiar and variable things -- and Paxil is officially approved, whether you think it was premature or not. If it's a legal drug, they're taking it according to the prescription, and they aren't experiencing disabling side effects -- it shouldn't be a disqualifier.

Jon Baker @109: Kim Campbell did that in Canada, and she got elected herself, fair and square. I remember a nasty attack ad that, intentionally or not, was seen as mocking Jean Chretien's partial facial paralysis.

#117 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 06:48 AM:

Magenta Griffith #110: The withdrawing of ambassadors is a diplomatic tactic. It is far short of formally breaking diplomatic relations.

#118 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:14 AM:


There's a lot of stuff that's gone on with Chavez, most of which seems to get no play at all in the English-language US press, as far as I can see. I don't know enough of the history to untangle it all, but Chavez sure as hell doesn't like us, and has no qualms at all about telling us and the world how he feels. And there's a pretty long history of hostility between us, with Chavez' government involved in a bunch of regional conflicts (generally supporting whichever side we dislike), a briefly successful coup a few years back which was alleged to be linked to us, and some attempts to strengthen ties with Russia as a way to (IMO) buy some insurance against a US invasion. (I suspect this will be about as effective as Georgia's attempt to do buy the same from us.)

My moderately informed sense is that Chavez is something of a thug, and does lots of offensive stuff nationally and internationally. I would be unsurprised (though dismayed) to see us carry out some kind of military action against him. There are all kinds of allegations that we were behind a short-lived coup against him in 2002, and various other alleged assassination and coup plots. That's plausible, but I wouldn't take Chavez' word for it.

I'm sure other people in this discussion know more about it than I do. Can anyone recommend a good, reasonably factually balanced description of Chavez' history with the US? The Wikipedia article in English seemed okay to me, but I am not convinced I know enough to tell if it's really right.

#119 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 01:51 PM:

#118 ::: albatross

There isn't a biography of Hugo Chávez in English, but there is one in Spanish: Hugo Chávez sin uniforme by Alberto Barrera.

There's Hugo Chávez : oil, politics and the challenge to the United States (2006)by Nikolas Kozloff. It focuses almost entirely on oil, so may well not be what you are looking for and need.

This work may come the closest to providing what you want to know, Hugo!: the Hugo Chávez story from mud hut to perpetual revolution by Bart Jones.

This is how PW describes this title:

While opinions of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez vary tremendously on a global scale, there are few defenses of him available in the United States. This biography by Bart Jones, a former AP correspondent from Venezuela, attempts to level the ground. Without taking a political stance, Jones provides a nuanced account of the Venezuelan leader's life, creating a portrait that is, if not sympathetic, certainly more balanced than previous ones. For example, when Chávez characterized President Bush as the devil at the U.N. in 2006, most American news sources presented it as a crude and clownlike gesture. According to Jones, Chávez is hardly just a jester, but uses vulgarity to remind his friends and his enemies of his humble beginnings, as well as to win a tremendous amount of publicity. Jones's precise and entertaining account moves smoothly through Chávez's beginnings up to his current position, making Venezuelan history accessible. (Sept. 4

Love, C.

#120 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 02:23 PM:

Tom @108 - That moment came so early in the debate that it gets easily overshadowed by "I mean--Spain!" and "I have a bracelet, too" and many others.

Certainly, when my husband and I heard "existential threat," our jaws dropped open, and then closed only long enough to form the opening consonant of the exclamation "WHAT?!" We missed the next few McCain sentences due to bursting out with laughter, offering possible interpretations ("This is a threat that may or may not exist!" "Being a threat, what is my purpose in life? Is it simply to threaten, or is there more?") and laughing some more.

But I'd forgotten about that until you mentioned it.

Terry @111 - You mean McCain was using that phrase correctly as a result of being aware of all military traditions? Aw, that makes it much less funny!

#121 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 04:05 PM:

Constance: Thanks!

Nicole: I think this whole existential threat idea is just an extension of the neocons' hatred of the French....

#122 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 07:17 PM:

The fact that McCain didn't invent that usage of existential doesn't relive the fact that it was a mistake to have used that word in the debate in that context. Only a small minority of the voters watching the debate would have recognized without pause that as a correct usage. Some voters wouldn't have recognized the word in the first place. Some would have thought he used it wrong, and some (like me) would stop to check whether he got it wrong. And then a small minority would not have flagged it as a possible mistake.

#123 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 11:10 PM:

McCain is so screwed (IMO) because of his handling of the present crises.

He made all presidential like with the going to DC to fix it, as only he could.

Then he caved, and went to the debate, where he looked, at best, petulant.

Then the deal fell apart and today he went on the radio... with all sort of presumptive language; as though fixing it, and setting the terms of the solution were his job...

And whining that no one listened to him.

Dude... you gotta get someone to tell you this schtick ain't working, because it's just pathetic.

At least I can only hope it seems that way to everyone else who heard/saw it.

#124 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 11:33 PM:

Terry #123:

If Obama can't win given this set of facts, I'm not sure what would be necessary for him to win. What the f--k *other* disasters would be necessary to convince the American people that a change was in order?

#125 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 11:58 PM:

Kathryn: He's been in the game so long he didn't think abot it.

Heck, I've been talking foreign policy so long I didn't blink at it. I don't know that I'd not have thought of my audience in his shoes, but I'm not surprised he said it.

His prep team ought to have caught it.

But his campaign seems less than well managed; the pros being more in Palin's staff than his, which would be handy if they were pasting Obama, but they ain't.

#126 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:27 AM:

albatross @119 My moderately informed sense is that Chavez is something of a thug, and does lots of offensive stuff nationally and internationally.

So, a lot like Dubya, then?

#127 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:33 AM:

Yeah, I've been hearing the term "existential threat" for a while, but I read political blogs that argue about foreign policy and military matters. The first time I heard it, a few years back, it conjured up images of turtleneck- and beret-wearing soldiers armed with the deadly Sartre Bomb.

Part of me wants to see that usage hung around McCain's neck to drag him down; another part dreads the further stupidification of our national discourse.

#128 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:56 AM:


I liked this bit of your original post:

9:52 PM: Lurking behind every presidential-level discussion of military matters is the unspoken worry about maintaining the self-esteem of our troops. It’s as if the world’s most powerful fighting force were a bunch of sulky grade-schoolers.

I've noticed this, many times now. Every discussion of the military must first start with three paragraphs of boilerplate about how the modern US military is the most powerful, bravest, best, kindest, most decent, most dangerous, cleverest, and downright most ass-kicking force the world has ever known, a set of saintly genius Terminators against whom no force can or will stand, from whom no innocent need ever fear harm.

This is silly, of course, but it's the kind of must-be-repeated bullsh-t that we routinely hear, whose purpose is (I guess) to create a kind of reflexive offense when someone dares call any of that BS into question.

One example of this has been the way the policy of torture has been discussed in this country. The torture at Abu Girab simply must be a few bad apples, because Our Boys And Girls In Uniform would never do such a thing. Similar things apply to civilian casualties, whether we're invaders installing a puppet government or friends come to help the Iraqis and Afghans reach a stable democratic system, etc.

ISTM that there is similar boilerplate in many other areas--stuff few people really entirely believe, but which we must all mouth to show we're on the side of the angels, and which then has various unfortunate effects on our abilities to see and discuss reality.

#129 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:42 PM:

Kathryn #122:

And some of us knew what he was saying, did not take it for a mistake, and were even more appalled. "Shit!" I said. "This guy's even more dangerous than I thought, and I already ran out of danger."

#130 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:59 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 108... McCain calling Iran an "existential threat"

I hope the DHS puts Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir on its no-fly list.

#131 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:36 PM:

Serge, sad to say you can fly with any of them, but they have to be checked as cargo.

Although you're now making me wish I was still in university, where I could show up at Halloween parties as Zombie Jean-Paul Sartre and be understood.

#132 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:50 PM:

Thought I'd pass this on:

"The Vice Presidential debate is Thursday. Maverick Sarah Palin will advocate cuts in government waste. If she's elected, the Library of Congress will have a lot fewer books." -- Alan Ray, TeleJoke

#133 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:57 PM:

Serge #130: Why not Martin Heidegger, he was a Nazi after all?

#134 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:32 PM:
9:52 PM: Lurking behind every presidential-level discussion of military matters is the unspoken worry about maintaining the self-esteem of our troops. It’s as if the world’s most powerful fighting force were a bunch of sulky grade-schoolers.

A/K/A 'the Creed,' and 'dogma,' and 'doctrine.'

There have been many a religious obesience of this sort in Our History, including how good for slaves is slavery, how well off they are in their state, how good and kind are their masters, and that they like being slaves. Say anything else, brother-sister and your a$$ is grass. Especially if you said it on it the Hill, where abolition, abolitionist sentiments, ideas, questions, etc. were forced entirely off the table by Tyler and Calhoun. And out of the mails. And even in public gatherings and socities.

Love, C.

#135 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 09:26 AM:

The Holocaust has been reduced to a Bush party buzzword for a while now. (Of course, "the new Hitler" has been around even longer, but that's more cross-party.)

#136 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 09:42 AM:


It seems like a major effect of that is to get people to have an instant, enraged reaction when someone tells the plain truth. It's an enforcement mechanism for keeping some ideas and facts outside of the Overton window, the window of ideas that may be expressed without your being labeled a crank or villain.

How many of these are there today? I suspect this is one of those places where I don't even notice a lot of them, because they're just part of the scenery I've grown up living in.

#137 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 09:49 AM:

"10:19 PM: Russian 'aggression' against Georgia. Neither one of them mentions that South Ossetia is nominally independent."

Well, of course, Georgia doesn't acknowledge that South Ossetia is independent--that's what the whole micro-war was about. More important is that no one in the American commentariat points out that the Georgians started shooting first. (In response to Russian troop movements, admittedly, but Russia has no current interest in invading Georgia as a whole.) Georgia is rattling its saber in the assumption that the US will go to hot war with Russia to protect Georgia, and Nasty McCain is actively encouraging them. Obama + Biden, less so, but not enough less so.

#138 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 11:27 AM:

Kevin J. Maroney #137: Russia has no current interest in invading Georgia as a whole

O rly? Oh, as in "again", because they've succeeded in their short term goals? Well, that could change if Georgia gets any closer to joining NATO.

#139 ::: Schizohedron ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 11:26 PM:

Looks like McCain still can't bring himself to look at Obama any more than he has to, if even that. From the Caucus blog @ the NYT:

"It was Senator Barack Obama who crossed the aisle.

"As the senators gathered to vote on the $700 billion financial rescue package on Wednesday evening, Mr. Obama walked over to the Republican side of the chamber to extend a greeting to Senator John McCain.

"He got a chilly response.

"While it took Mr. Obama several seconds to make his way over to see his rival, Mr. McCain barely pivoted his body as he took Mr. Obama’s hand for a handshake that lasted just a moment. The eye contact was just as brief."

Jeff Zelezny and Michael Cooper, Not-So-Secret Handshake

Other points: Obama had a long discussion on the Senate floor with Hillary Rodham Clinton, and addressed the chamber for 13 minutes. McCain did not speak.

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