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The Morning After The Night Before’s Debate


Barack Obama dn John McCain

Living in the Eastern Time zone, it was well after midnight before I got to bed after watching the debate and flipping the dial to see what the Commentariat would pronounce as post-debate truth, wisdom, justice and The American Way.

As usual, all of the pundits got it all wrong: Most called it a draw, at best, but a sampling of five snap polls from media outlets across the political spectrum reveal that actual voters call it a clear Obama win:

Wall Street Journal............58%.................39%
NY Daily News..................68%.................32%

In looking at my notes this morning – handwritten on a tablet of paper, betraying my age; no laptop or BlackBerry’s around here – one of my first observations was that it sure looked as if Obama was getting to McCain.

Right from the start, McCain seemed to be really pissed off and plastered a smarmy grin on his face to disguise seething anger and the barely-beneath-the-surface famous temper that appeared as soon as Obama went after him.

I made this same note several more times: Every time Obama came back with one of his “You’re just wrong, John” retorts, McCain’s grimace got tighter and his eyelids started fluttering faster than an old Navy hand dashing out urgent messages in Morse Code.

While we almost saw a public airing of McCain’s well-known temper, he dug his fingernails into the podium and kept his cool except John’s face kept betraying his emotions.

Grumpy Old Man

As for the debate, the simple matter is McCain needed to land direct blows and leave Obama staggering. He didn’t. Instead, after a horrid two or three weeks on everything from how he handled the economic meltdown to the Sarah Palin interviews to his grandstanding at The White House that blew up in his face, the overriding impression McCain left was of a grumpy old man who’s not the World’s Greatest Foreign Policy Authority Ever he’s been claiming to be; instead, he looked more like the Wizard of Oz by mispronouncing the name of Iran’s president and getting the name of Pakistan’s president completely wrong.

Odd, since he constantly name dropped all of the names of every world leader he’s met, as if proximity bestows knowledge. Well, over the years I’ve met and sometimes even had dinner with world leaders, too, men such as Lech Walesca, Boris Yeltsen, Zhu Rongji, JFK, Nelson Mandela, Bobby Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey and a handful of others. But that doesn’t make me an authority on anything other than their ability to chat amiably with a stranger for an hour or two and, in some cases, their table manners.

Moreover, his dancing around the economy – including at least one brazen lie – only buttressed his YouTube video admission that he knows nothing about economics (see video below). In fact, all he did was keep repeating his Fleece-o-nomic policies, as reader David Ray dubbed it in an e-mail to me.

Even worse, my notes show that there were times when McCain babbled incoherently, mixing thoughts and messages with gleeful abandon. In answering a question about how the Wall St. bailout would help average Americans, he started talking about workers, exports and imports. Huh?

Behind The Lines

I didn’t bother watching the predictable “interviews” with loyalists from either side in Spin City. Instead, to get a read on what the campaign’s are really thinking, I waited until this morning and called friends working on the campaigns to hear what the two campaigns really think about what went right, what went wrong and why.

On Chicago’s North Side, I awaken a one-time colleague who now works for Obama and is part of the group providing insight and information into both campaigns for me. It takes a long time for him to answer because, he tells me in a groggy voice once he fumbles the phone to his head and mumbles, “Huh? What?” there was some serious partying after the debate ended.

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“There was a real sense that Barack got through to people who don’t know much about him,” I learn, hearing his lighter fire up the first morning cigarette in the background.

I tell him about the overnight snap poll results.

“Shit, that’s better than we thought we did!” he exclaims, coming to full alertness now despite what he admits is a viscous hangover. “I left before our own polls came in.”

What about pundits saying Obama was too polite, and agreed too much with McCain, I ask.

“That’s Barack. It’s how he works. If he agrees with someone, he’ll say so. If he disagrees, he spells out why,” adding that the polling I just mentioned confirms that while media bloviators may not really “get” Obama, voters do.

In the Washington suburbs, not far from the Alexandria, Virginia headquarters of the McCain camp, the mood is very different.

“He (John) didn’t get blown away but he didn’t seem to make any headway, which is what he had to do,” is the verdict of another friend who is helping me cover the election for a book I want to write. “Our internals were mixed. Supporters said John won, but only about 58% of them. Independents gave the debate to Obama, 60-40.”

That doesn’t sound good, I observe.

“We needed to level the field last night and we didn’t,” is the somewhat rueful-sounding answer.

After a long silence, he says, “Believe it or not, our next, best hope is Thursday (the night of next week’s vice presidential debate). The expectations of Sarah are so low at this point, it’ll be a good night as long as she doesn’t fart or belch on air.


“And we’re counting on Biden to come across as condescending or make one of his famous gaffes.”

That doesn’t sound to me like very much on which to hang the hopes of a presidential campaign.
Charley James

Charley James is an American journalist, author and essayist who lives in Toronto.

Reprinted with permission from The ProgressiveCurmudgeon.

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