With the media so blatantly relishing their self-appointed roles as Obama cheerleaders, it’s quite difficult to get a good enough read on public perception of the debates. So far we have had two debates (McCain/Obama & Palin/Biden), and if we believe the polling data, Obama and Biden are the respective winners. However, I did notice something peculiar in the reaction to both.
In the first debate, McCain hit all the points he needed to in coming down on Obama’s lack of experience and questionable judgment in foreign affairs. Various media analysts conceded this point, as McCain was a very least shown to have competence in this area. However, the polling and some analysts indicated that Obama was the clear winner. Why? The answers trickled in at first as Obama beating the expectations games since foreign policy was his perceived “weak link”, while McCain was supposed to excel in this field. A “tie” would then go to Obama since he needed to show that he was competent in this area. To win McCain would have had to totally humiliate him, which he didn’t. I also heard reasons such as McCain being condescending in not looking at Obama and being “cranky”. Honestly, I didn’t see this at all. In fact, Obama’s smirks, fake smiles, and interruptions were not flattering at all. The media started in on the “presidential look” that Obama seemed to carry. Maybe I was missing something?
The Palin/Biden debate had the roles reversed. After a month of negative media coverage, there were lower expectations for Palin. Biden was a Senate veteran, and was expected to know more than Palin. While Biden seemed to know more and didn’t make any noticeable gaffes, Palin defeated him in the charm department – big time. Since most of the buzz on Obama last time around was the likeability factor and the lowered expectation game, I figured it would translate into a Palin win. Wrong! Snap polls indicated a Biden victory. Shouldn’t it have been a McCain victory as well? Or if Obama won on personality points, shouldn’t the victory have gone to Palin? It seemed the media was playing both sides of the issue in Obama’s favor. What really went on?
The Frank Luntz focus group was indicative. It went overwhelming for Palin, with only few voters thinking differently. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien also had a focus group. When asked by a vote of hands who won, Biden and Palin were evenly split. O’Brien immediately reported that the response for Biden was “overwhelming”, while sees all the right strimingly pretending not to even notice the split decision.
It’s fairly obvious that the media is playing both sides of the issue in favor of Obama. Will they give McCain some slack since they already have anointed the economy issue to Obama just as they did for Obama in the foreign policy debate? Doubtful. What we are seeing here is the bar being raised impossibly high for McCain to be coming out the official “winner” in these debates. If McCain hits all the right strides and nails Obama into a corner, the debate will go down as a “tie”. The spin will be that McCain was “supposed” to do well. As I see it, the media cannot afford to give the illusion that McCain is making any sort of “comeback”. After the Palin scare, polls were cooked to an impossibly high Democratic advantage to make it appear that her star was fading. Once the poor economic news hit, media sources automatically hit McCain on the issue, while inexplicably giving the advantage on the economy to Obama. All this because he does not have an “R” attached to his name?
When seeing the reaction to the last two debates, don’t expect anything but a continuation of the pro-Obama message. Barack Obama will have to light up a cigarette and spit in the face of McCain on stage for them to call the debate for McCain. Although I could imagine Keith Olbermann remarking how “presidential” the smoke rolls from Obama’s lips. In fact, be prepared to hear the following headlines:
McCain fails to change momentum in debate
Obama nails McCain on economy
Obama the clear winner in debate – polls suggest
McCain running out of time – must score knock-out in final debate
Obama looking more presidential, polls say
McCain looking out of touch and irritable, analysts say*
It’s not difficult to see where this is heading. McCain is left with no choice but to go after Obama relentlessly on his weak points. We have already seen analysts who are suggesting that to go “negative” is going to backfire against McCain. I disagree. Keep the facts on your side when going after him, and it should make a difference. Since the media is already trying to scare the McCain camp from bringing up Ayers and Wright, it’s obvious as to how much they fear this. Right now it’s his only chance. Fortunately for McCain, there are many targets on the Obama dartboard.