When John McCain suspended his campaign on Wednesday and asked for a postponement of tonight’s debate, Barack Obama’s initial reaction was to hurl an insult, saying that he could handle the Wall Street bailout negotiations and debate at the same time. It was a foreshadowing of the juvenile, petty, and petulant candidate that would show up in Oxford, Mississippi tonight. McCain won this debate on points. But critically, he also won on temperament and likeability, allegedly Obama’s strong points. McCain got under Obama’s skin, and it showed.
The most glaring example of this came when Barack Obama bizarrely challenged McCain to a game of “Who’s Bracelet is Better.” McCain had just spent some time recounting the various U.S. military actions that he has either supported or opposed when he relayed the stories of two mothers who were moved to ask him to honor their sons’ memories by making sure that their missions are completed. Obama’s retort was perhaps his most piddling moment of the debate.
OBAMA: Jim, let me just make a point. I’ve got a bracelet,too, from Sergeant — from the mother of Sergeant Ryan David Jopek,given to me in Green Bay. And she asked me, “Can you please make surethat another mother’s not going through what I’m going through?”
Obama’s small-minded and ham-fisted reference to his bracelet was a calculated and scripted attempt to claim that military families support him just as much as they support McCain. Anyone who is paying attention knows that is simply not true. But worse, by engaging in a lily watering contest with McCain over military family bracelets, Obama was essentially saying that it didn’t matter what military families say. He turned their beliefs on how best to honor their fallen sons and daughters into nothing more than partisan political statements, instead of the honored, important, and earned opinions that they are. It was exactly what one would expect from a candidate who is insecure in his positions, and unable to admit a failing, no matter how small.
McCain needled Obama mercilessly tonight. He repeated that Obama, “doesn’t seem to understand,” nine times, pounding home the point that for all his eloquence and polish, Obama has no depth of worldly understanding upon which to draw. In another strange series of exchanges, McCain challenged Obama’s description of the surge as a tactic and not a strategy. Obama then proceeded inform America that he, “absolutely did know the difference between tactics and strategy,” thank goodness, and underscored the point by using variations of the the word “strategy” the next two times he spoke. Each time he did, he verbally emphasized the word, just to make sure everybody heard him use it correctly. A more mature candidate might have let McCain’s barb roll off his back. But Obama is very, very immature politician.
McCain got under Obama’s skin tonight, and he did it with a smile. Except for when he stepped out to smack Obama down on meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and very effectively, he barely looked at Obama, and never responded directly to him. Obama was on the attack from the very beginning. He sought to link McCain to President Bush in his first response, a tactic he would use over and over again as part of his strategy to debate the outgoing president instead of the man standing on stage next to him. Many of Obama’s answers were nothing more than a noun, a verb, and George Bush. Obama was frustrated by McCain’s refusal to roll over and play dead. That frustration came through in the myriad of interruptions, protestations, and “corrections” that Obama felt compelled to issue while McCain was speaking.
Lastly, McCain showcased his immense depth on foreign policy issues tonight. McCain simply has more voluminous experience in these matters than Obama, whose answers seemed like prepared executive summaries. McCain has been to every hot spot in the world, it seems, and he pointed out that Obama has not travelled even to areas where he should have some interest, like Afghanistan. Obama chairs a Senate subcommittee on NATO, which is fighting alongside our troops in Afghanistan. Yet Obama has yet to hold a hearing in his committee, let alone travel to the region except as part of a political campaign. It was more than clear tonight that on foriegn policy, McCain is Encyclopedia Brittanica and Obama is Reader’s Digest.
There are two more presidential debates to go, and still plenty of time before the election. After a very rough week for McCain due to events largely beyond his control, this performance should get him back to even. It may have sealed Florida for McCain, as Obama’s insistence in talking to Iran, only once mentioning the word “Israel,” and even then only in restating McCain’s position, will not play well with Jewish voters already suspicious of Obama. National polls may not move much on Monday, but the state polls in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio could show a slight uptick for McCain.