Saturday, September 27, 2008

McCain in High Def

Even since it became appropriate sometime last spring to anticipate a general election campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain, I've made one point more than any other during many private conversations.

My belief was, and I often emphasized this especially to those most skeptical of Obama's general election chances, was that even if Senator Obama could inly keep it a toss-up until the debates, he'd be fine. Now of course he's performed waaaaay better than that as a candidate and in the polls, already assuaging many of the fears of those feeling anxious after a contentious Democratic primary process but the point remains relevant as we try to understand how the media and voters might differently digest this debate.

My point then, and throughout the summer, was that once you got the two of these candidates side-by-side on television, there would be no mistaking the stronger candidate. Once you put the stoic, tall, young Obama next to the old, short, weathered-not-grizzled McCain, the substance of the debate would be of little consequence. This isn't something that pleases me, because I'd prefer Obama to win purely on the superiority of his policies but it is the reality of the television age of politics.

While most pundits, even Obama supporters like Josh Marshall, have scored the debate as a draw because neither candidate "scored points" or something, early polling data and focus groups indicate a fairly convincing victory for the Senator from Illinois. At this stage of the election, there are few true undecided voters remaining and I could be wrong about this but it is likely that many of these undecideds are not the types that tend evaluate the candidates on their policies. Those that still show no preference between the political agendas of either John McCain or Barack Obama, are either cartoonishly centrist or simply not paying that much attention to policy. Rather, a sizable chunk of undecided voters tend to 'feel' their way to a decision based on an image-based perception of strength, readiness, steadiness, charisma, and consistency.

When you examine CBS's poll of purely "uncommitted voters" Obama is considered the victor by a slightly larger margin.

Getting back to my point about the electoral effect of seeing the two candidates side-by-side, the line I always shot at people skeptical of Obama's chances against the GOP election machine was: Have you seen John McCain in high definition? That line always elicited laughs, and it was meant to be funny, but the larger point was serious. John McCain's age, the wear and tear on his body from several bouts with skin cancer, would speak louder than words. He would 'look' unfit. He would 'look' like the lesser candidate.

And that's precisely how it played out, even if we totally ignore the eye contact/body language miscues that are being emphasized in the media. McCain looked like the weaker man.

How many elections in your lifetime seem to have been decided based on that? Pretty much all of them, right?

Though Jeffrey is dead-on in lamenting the anti-substance fixation on McCain's body language, the reality is that the appearance of the candidates is EXACTLY what people focus on. Save for a major gaffe or transformative moment or line that sticks out, Obama wins all three debates by default.

4 comments:

jeffrey said...

I figured I'd see something like this analysis show up in this space. I'm waiting to read Oyster's version of the same reaction. But in the meantime I'll try and make my point.

Obama gets teased a lot for his rock-star appeal. He's a "celebrity" he's full of "Hope TM" and "Change TM" and this seems to generate a buzz but it also criticized for its apparent hollowness. But politics is a funny thing and sometimes there is indeed a "there" there even if those in the middle of the "there" don't quite comprehend it.

I believe that the mass of Obamaites out there emotionally clamoring for CHANGE whether they truly understand it or not really are channeling a tangible dissatisfaction with the status quo as defined by the gilded American Empire.

I believe that this dissatisfaction has been stoked and... sort of... directed against the Republicans specifically because of the massively tragic Global War On Terror. People are angry... again whether they understand this or not... at the way they have been used by the keepers of the Empire. They are angry at the way their money, their lives, and the lives of others have been spent for the benefit of a corrupt ruling class. Never in my lifetime, have I seen so much pent up restlessness in he American electorate just waiting to explode.

The problem with that kind of energy is that it needs focus in order to be effective. The angry people need to have their anger articulated.... not condescended to or manipulated. The movement needs its leader to articulate the dissatisfaction.

If, however, the balloon is allowed to slowly leak rather than pop, then the anger fades again to apathy and nothing ever really changes.

Obama had an opportunity to pop the balloon... to accuse McCain and the war machine of murder in front of the whole world. The events of the past week even provided a once-in-an-election opportunity to tie the murderers to the criminals their murdering system supports.

Instead, Obama decided it more prudent to argue that he will be a better murderer. It may look like the smart political move to some, but I think it's just more dismal cynicism that eschews righteous leadership in favor of phony manipulation.

Voters are waiting for someone to lead them in substance. Obama chooses to try and sell them in style... to treat them as the ignoramuses all the political pros know that they certainly must be. Frankly I can't think of anything more "elitist" than that.

adrastos said...

The first debate was all about independent, undecided and leaning voters. Obama's job was to convince them that he's a plausible President and he did that. He may pop the balloon in the next two debates BUT it's more important to win than to be pure. The country is drifting to the left but the only way it will move in that direction is a change in the White House.

Anonymous said...

what voters really want to know though, Eli, is which candidate is a Phillies fan

E said...

There will indeed be a 32,000 word Phillies post at some point soon.