Saturday, September 27, 2008

Newsweek and Chris Matthews: McCain Won the First Debate

I'm continuing to make good on my promise to post interesting reactions to the debate in Mississippi last night. These two reactions certainly qualify as interesting. Both Newsweek (via Andrew Romano) and Chris Matthews--two sources that are very left of center--thought that McCain won.

Romano offers a pretty fair analysis in his Newsweek editorial.
If tonight's presidential face-off between Barack Obama and John McCain were held before, say, the Princeton University Debating Society, it might have been scored a tie. On points, the two contenders were evenly matched. Both spoke clearly, crisply and confidently about the major issues facing the country, rebutting his rival's attacks and launching his own assaults when necessary.
I mostly agree with this analysis. Obama did actually hesitate and stutter a little--forgetting the name of the soldier when delivering the questionable 'I have a bracelet, too' retort made a bad comeback far worse. But in general he was much better than normal off the teleprompter. But Romano continues:
McCain pulled the same trick on foreign policy, focusing the conversation on Obama's opposition to the surge and willingness to meet with unfriendly foreign leaders. Much of what the Illinois senator said on these subjects was smart. It's just that he was reduced to an essentially reactive posture, either defending himself or agreeing with McCain's more assertive remarks over and over again. (Obama muttered the phrases "John's right" or "I agree" about a dozen times tonight; the GOP quickly cut an Web ad.) Simply put, McCain was in control.
On that last point, Romano and I completely agree. While Obama made no huge stumbles, I definitely felt like McCain controlled the tempo. Romano's editorial is entitled "McCain Won. But Will It Be Enough." The second part is an entirely different question and the subject of a future post.

Matthews, true to his abrasive personality, went ballistic on anyone that would listen to him rant. To Linda Douglas, a chief Obama advisor:
Linda, my friend, why did your candidate agree so much, openly and relentlessly, with his opponent tonight?
This theme keeps coming up in post-debate analysis. Obama did keep agreeing with McCain; once or twice can be a debate tactic, making oneself look reasonable. A dozen times and you are begging for a "not a leader" ad--which has already been released.

Matthews also observed:
By the way, you go back to the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960, the first televised debate. Seven or eight times Richard Nixon said "I agree completely in the spirit in which Senator Kennedy addressed that issue." Over and over again. For some reason Barack Obama repeated those words as if he were channeling Richard Nixon tonight!
That is a pretty harsh assessment, especially coming from Matthews.

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