Despite my initial fears, tonight’s second Presidential debate did not turn into a 21st Century replay of the spectacle we witnessed sixteen years ago when a guy with a ponytail asked the candidates to treat us like children and a naive young woman asked a billionaire, a patrician, and a career politican how the national debt had affected them personally.
No, it wasn’t that bad, it was quite worse than that. This year’s “town hall” debate wasn’t pathetic, but it was incredibly, incredibly boring.
As we approached debate time, there was much anticipation that we would see a different, more aggressive, more negative John McCain and, to some extent, we did. McCain went after Obama, obliquely in a way that only Washington insiders would understand, over his Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac connections and the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Other than that, though, it was pretty much more of the same — McCain claiming that Obama would nationalize health care, raise your taxes, recklessly attack Pakistan, all while selling the Statute of Liberty to Mahmoud Ahmajenidad.
If that’s his best shot, then I think it really came up short.
McCain needed to hit a home run tonight. He needed to punch a hole a mile wide in Barack Obama’s aura and, unless I’m missing it, he completely failed to do it. For that reason alone, I think he’s the one who comes up short.
That’s not to say that Obama was perfect tonight, because he wasn’t. This “town hall” format clearly still isn’t within his comfort zone, and it took him a while to warm up to the crowd in the way that McCain was able to from the beginning.
But, I’m not sure that matters.
Obama came into this race the leader and I don’t think he did anything to jeopardize his lead. McCain, on the other hand, needed to do something tonight to change the debate, and it’s fairly clear that he didn’t do it.
At worst for Obama, this was a tie which means he wins.
The real losers tonight, though, were Tom Brokaw and the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Almost from the beginning Brokaw lost control of the timing of the debate and did almost nothing to keep either candidate on topic, something that would seem to be the most important role of the moderator. More importantly, though, the incredibly restrictive rules set by the CPD (and agreed to by the respective campaigns) pretty much guaranteed that there wouldn’t be a single substantive question asked and that neither candidate would be called to task for failing to address the questions asked. All in all, this was 90 minutes worth of lost opportunity and hopefully the end of the “town hall” debate style for all time.