Scott Cavanagh
Freelance Writing, Editing and Photography

Round One to Obama... Barely

September 27, 2008 

By Scott Cavanagh
Nothing quite spoils the event euphoria of a prize fight more than a draw. The same can be said for the results of last night's first presidential debate. We may have wanted the "Thrilla In Manilla," but what we got was more of a tactical sparring session, with neither fighter scoring anything resembling a haymaker.

In fairness to the combatants, they did do more than spar, and there were plenty of signs that the rematch could be quite bloody.

Obama was clearly the more articulate and polished speaker, but he hardly dominated the affair and was shamefully vague (as was McCain) in his answers concerning the financial bailout.

While McCain was (not-surprisingly in my-book) stronger in the one-on-one exchanges than most pundits had predicted, he still spent much of his time hurling silly "gotcha" accusations at Obama regarding talking-point charges that he knows are baseless and silly. Obama did not vote to deauthorize funding for the troops in Iraq--he simply voted against one plan and for another. Obama never said that he would meet willy-nilly with foreign leaders; he simply stated that he would be willing to talk to anyone if the welfare of the United States was at stake. And yes the Surge was a tactic and not a strategy. The Surge is one tactic in Bush's overall war strategy. Maybe there is a reason McCain finished third from the bottom of his class at Navy.

When he stayed on substance and avoided lame attacks and old jokes (did you know he was not voted Miss Congeniality in the Senate?--guffaw, guffaw) McCain stood his ground well, although he seemed to lose his temper any time Obama made a sustained stand on something, and even interrupted him multiple times. Jim Lehrer seemed to be either unwilling to or uninterested in stopping it. In addition, McCain made a habit a smirking and laughing to himself during much of Obama's air time--something other candidates of both parties have really taken beatings for in the past.

Obama was respectful of McCain in return and that played well for the most part, but he did not take advantage of many opportunities that were virtually teed-up for him by his 72-year-old opponent. McCain's constant contention that any universal health care plan would take away patients' ability to make decisions with their doctors should have been countered with the fact that those decisions are now being made by insurance companies-- not doctors. He also could have really let McCain have it over his decrying a "wasteful" $3.9 million environmental research earmark on the very day the $25 million "Road to Nowhere" opened for business in Alaska.

Obama scored when pointing out the logical disconnect between McCain's concern over $18 billion in earmark spending and his apparent lack of concern over the $380 billion in additional corporate tax breaks he is currently proposing. I think Obama will also do himself a real favor by sticking to his guns and record on the Iraq War. He was against it from the beginning; he was right then and he is right now. To suddenly back down because we have managed to temporarily partition-off the warring parties with walls, tanks and bribes, does not make this trillion-dollar fiasco a success. If McCain wants to run on the Iraq War--let him.

Obama was solid as always, but I'm still not convinced he possesses anywhere near the public speaking/debate skills of either Clinton (William Jefferson) or Kennedy (John Fitzgerald). He is smart and measured, but he has yet to show me the ability to spin on a dime like Bubba and go from offense to defense effortlessly without losing his place and timing. McCain sees this and is trying to bully him. He needs a knockout--like Clinton gave W's Daddy, Perot and Bob Dole. The next debate will not be about foreign policy. The K.O. will come then.

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