Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Great Debaters

I suppose I should have known better than to think the media might be honest.

I'm speaking, of course, about last night's debate - which I suppose I should analyze before I analyze the analysis.

I'm going to step right up and say that Obama knocked it out of the park. Of course, I should preface this by saying he started off with the home team advantage - a little less than half the debate was on the economy, an area where Democrats in general (and Obama in particular) have a decisive lead. To add economic questions to any debate is a coup for the Democratic candidate, but this was supposed to be John McCain's night - it's Foreign Policy, where the Republicans are supposed to be right at home.

Key phrase: supposed to be.

Because John McCain was not at home - he was in the past or out to lunch, constantly harping on the Troop Surge when he wasn't defending himself from accusations of outright falsehood. Obama gets points from me for levelling those accusations, and even more points for sticking to his guns on the current Foreign Policy hot spots: the Iraq War and the possible invasion of Pakistan to capture terrorists. He could very easily have taken a middle road on either one of these issues; that would have been both the default Democratic strategy these days and a complete disaster.

First of all, the mere fact that we're winning the Iraq War is a ridiculous and superficial reason to praise it - too many liberals have fallen into that trap. McCain's attempt to paint the Iraq War as both a military triumph and a political irrelevancy was bold, but ultimately unsuccessful. He's counting on unconditional American love of victory, but the American people are frankly not convinced we've won anything - as well we shouldn't be. Obama was right to declare that our reasons were wrong, right to declare that too many lives were lost, and right to declare that the next President should do it differently. A lot of pundits have been singling out key quotes; one I haven't heard is "No soldier ever dies in vain, obeying the orders of his commander-in-chief." An absolute masterstroke! Our soldiers were noble, but our leaders were wrong!

But if I was pleased at Obama's handling of Iraq, it was nothing compared to the glee I felt at his handling of the Pakistan remarks he made earlier (discussed below, in "The Political System We Deserve"). This was an area where Obama could certainly have justified backing down - indeed, I would be shocked if there was not pressure from the liberal establishment to do so. Now, as it happens, I think he's advocating absolutely the right course of actions - but even if he weren't, to back down last night would have been an unmitigated disaster. As it was, John McCain was placed in the unenviable position of accusing the Democrats of war-mongering; how did he think that would play with his base? Did he really think that giving his opponent the opportunity to say "Osama bin Laden must be killed" was a good idea? "Counseling moderation in our pursuit of terrorists has worked wonders for the Democrats...I think I'll give it a shot!"

So, to recap: Obama won. I know it, McCain knows it, everybody knows it.

But an interesting thing happened while I was watching this debate. CNN, you see, adds a lot of nifty stuff to its debate interface - six Analyst Scorecards line the sides of the screen, while a focus-group line on the bottom tracks audience response by party. Even had I not watched the debate at all, I would have been able to tell just by this machinery that Obama was winning. The focus-group lines reached their highest points of the night while Obama was speaking - even the Republicans never got as high for McCain - and the scorecards gave him a dominant lead in points. Four out of the six analysts gave Obama the higher score - two by a considerable margin - and at the end of the night it was 44 Obama, 21 McCain. A decisive Democratic victory.

Or was it?

After the debate, of course, CNN turned to Anderson Cooper for a special edition of 360 wherein he asked the analysts what they thought. Every single one declared the evening more or less a tie.

Their scorecards were still on the screen!

Paul Begala, Democratic advisor and former "liberal" host of Crossfire, awarded the night to Obama by a margin of - if I remember correctly - 12 points to 2. When it came his turn to give an opinion, he said both candidates had been strong - but that Obama represented himself just a little better. Another analyst - Castellanos, I think - gave it to Obama 14 to 10, as any viewer could confirm, but called the event an outright tie. One of the commentators finally remarked that the focus group line had hardly moved, exhibiting no serious highs or lows, and nobody argued with him. By the time I checked my news sites this morning, the media consensus was in: the debate was a tie.

What in God's name happened between 10 and 10:30 last night? Castellanos is a conservative, as is Bennet - the only CNN commentator to seriously favor McCain - so no surprises there. But which of Paul Begala's kids did the Republicans have at gunpoint? Where are they holding the child? Is he or she okay?

Why, oh why, do they think we're so gullible? Why, oh why, aren't they wrong?

UPDATE: CNN.com's Debate Report Card actually has McCain scoring slightly higher, mostly by virtue of using almost none of the analysts who scored the debate live. Paul Begala gives Barack Obama a B, and John McCain a C. Yep; that's how I'd translate 12 to 2.

(Paul's child: if you are reading this, call the police!)

1 comment:

ashanan said...

Wow. That's absolutely ridiculous. I guess this explains why news commentators continue to ask Jon Stewart if he would prefer that the Democrats lose so that he has more material. They think that way, and they assume he must as well. Sad.