Sep 20 2008

Obama should have taken the chance to practice

Category: election 2008,McCain,media,Obama,politics,White Househarmonicminer @ 11:31 pm

Which Obama will show up for presidential debates? – Yahoo! News

Which Barack Obama will show up for the first presidential debate?

It could be the tone-deaf debater who condescendingly told Hillary Rodham Clinton during a Democratic debate that she was “likable enough.”

Or perhaps the confident candidate who absorbed a jab from Clinton about using her husband’s former advisers and responded with a devastating one-liner of his own: “Hillary, I’m looking forward to you advising me as well.”

For a man known as a powerful speaker, Obama has rarely wowed people in political debates. He can come across as lifeless, aloof and windy.

But Obama didn’t make any serious mistakes in the many debates during the Democratic primary, or when he was running for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. He sometimes showed flashes of wit and charm. And, with a couple of exceptions, he got better with time.

“A year ago, he was not nearly as polished,” said Timothy O’Donnell, a professor at the University of Mary Washington and chairman of the collegiate National Debate Tournament. “He equivocates less. He’s quicker with examples.”

Obama nixed the townhall style debates suggested by John McCain months ago. McCain wanted to do at least ten of them, in addition to the more formal, traditionally styled debates.

One can only assume Obama and his advisers thought he would not do well against McCain in such a setting. Speculations include fear of a gaffe, simply failing to connect with diverse audiences (oh, the irony), McCain’s strong command of many issues on which Obama is shaky (especially foreign policy), the simple fact the McCain comes off as an honest man with nothing to hide, and no skill at hiding it, while Obama has many skeletons that we doesn’t want raised in an open forum, and the reputation as being somewhat “slick”.

Nevertheless, I think it was a mistake for Obama to avoid the townhall settings with McCain. He needed the experience at thinking on his feet, and it would have been better for him to get it in situations that were less pressure packed, and less nationally covered, than the townhall debates might have been. The very number of these settings would have led to a certain fatigue on the part of the public, so that any single gaffe might have been drowned out in the mass of coverage over time. And finally, a friendly press would certainly have found a way to highlight Obama’s strengths, and mute his weaknesses in their coverage. Most people would not have watched all of these debates, and might have settled for press summaries, probably written by people favorable to Obama.

But now, in these few debates that will happen, there will be nowhere for Obama to hide. John McCain has shown an ability to come across as honest and straightforward, while Obama comes across as a slick performer.  If Obama isn’t able to control the topics of the debates, any gaffes he makes, and any perspectives he inadvertently reveals, will be front and center, seen by everyone, so that the ability of the press to spin the coverage will be much reduced.

It boils down to this: Obama’s decision to avoid the townhall settings was based on his presumed position of strength. Now that the race is neck and neck, he HAS to do well in the debates, or it may be over for him. In the head on, one on one setting of the debates, John McCain is much more experienced, and has the advantage of not needing to hide what he really thinks from undecided voters.

Obama may have bet wrong in avoiding the townhalls.

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