Saturday, September 27, 2008

#83 Saturday Matinee--the Debate

Well, it came off, after all. It wasn't very good show-biz though, what with Jim Lehrer's attempts at stage direction: nagging shrilly throughout "Can you address that directly to Mr. Obama?"..."Could you turn to face him on that one?"..."Would you please (I'm trying to) mix it up a little bit here?" Mawkish and undignified. That's one of manifold reasons NOT to watch the live proceedings--sufficient to check excerpts and reviews. (Or best, DVR the thing.) But someone insisted, so I was exposed to all the raggedy edges of what is not, nor ever has been, a debate in the classical sense at all. Did you hear anything like "RESOLVED: A timetable for troop-withdrawal would end in disaster" followed by point-by-point argument (and then rebuttal on the other side: "No it wouldn't and here's why")? Or, RESOLVED: cutting taxes and spending would rescue the economy...and then rebuttal and so on? No. In fact you heard literally a bunch of these from the moderator: "What do you think about that, Senator?" and "What's your response to that?"...back and forth and back again. This inevitably led to to the garbled interruptions and over-talking that loses the audience and the POINT AT ISSUE as well...and fatally. Finally, in Oxford Union tradition perhaps, the audience should have walked their vote, yay or nay, through opposite exits to be counted. The networks did a little bit of this in studio with a gaggle of "Undecideds" after the fact, but....

As to winner and/or loser--the ISSUES won, and they were on Obama's side. I'm trying to be non-partisan as I can here, and I'll prove it by declaring the debate a terms of, I don't know, call it emotional/empathetic dynamics. McCain succeeded in keeping Obama off-guard with his cranky-old-scold demeanor and feisty, schoolmarm-to-upstart-pupil approach, but he lost points for smug sarcasm. Even when on the listening end: watch him do the smirk-and-giggle shtick on split-screen shots. Al Gore lost a couple of his debates with Bush eight long years ago with the "sighing and eye-rolling" routine (can you blame him?--he was debating an idiot), which is equally off-putting for an audience. On the other hand, in the face of that, Obama scored mightily by just being COOL--that will be remembered over and above what was actually being said. At the same time, he lost some points by just being cool, and not getting on the old man HEATEDLY once or twice more than he did (which was really not-at-all to speak of). For example, how about repeating the following 12 or 15 times molto forte: "Listen to me, dammit--Surge-Schmurge...we shouldn't have been in this damn war that you John McCain voted for in the first damn place!!"? Profanity deleted, of course, but insinuated.

No matter. The issues won for Obama. The winning was in the broaching. "OK," says the moderator, "were gonna open up with the ECONOMY." Swish...from the 3-point line off-stage for Obama. "Now we're gonna shift over to THE WAR IN IRAQ." Swish...3 more points. And so on. It was a little disappointing that Obama didn't deliver the "slam-dunk" last night, but with the abysmal Bush/Cheney legacy to shoot against...he can't lose.

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