presidental debate the second...a few thoughts

It didn’t take a degree in political science to figure out that last night’s debate wouldn’t be a bloodbath; voters will accept a boxing match, but won’t go for mud wrestling. And of course, as the pundit parade has already discussed ad nauseam, Obama was very cool and calm – presidential – while McCain, with his “that one” comment, endless “my friends,” and painfully lame attempts at humour, was the angry old curmudgeon mired in the quicksand of a campaign falling apart from all the cognitive dissonance. Both spouted the same old, same old – Obama just was more engaging and consistent. Does this mean Obama won? Sure. If winning actually means anything. But it wasn’t a real debate, it wasn’t a discussion, and I didn’t ultimately see the point of this whole “town hall” format fakery.

There was a surprise, however, and it didn’t come from the candidates. Rather, it came from my reaction to Obama: the Senator from Illinois felt like a politician to me, more so than he has in the past. Smart, likeable, accessible, yes, but still he had that politician’s quality, that combination of sales pitch and rhetoric that feels like it’s been carefully crafted to appeal to all people at all times. Granted, he said the right thing when he called healthcare a right – unlike McCain’s weasily “responsibility” answer. But that’s the thing. He said the right thing, just like he hedged his bets when talking about foreign policy in a way that would make him seems as tough as the neocon warmongers, but cuddlier thanks to increased diplomatic efforts. I've always viewed Obama as an establishment candidate, but last night just drove the point home.


Obama proved yet again that he is not the great liberal hope, but is indeed a centrist. This begs the question: how much is political rhetoric necessary in order to wage a successful campaign, and how much is actual policy? To put this in perspective, Obama is running as the candidate of change, but isn’t above negative campaigning – yet with McCain drudging the gutter, political realities dictate aggressive campaigning. The issue: how much talk is talk, and how much talk is walk?

Make no mistake, I still believe Obama is a vastly better choice than McCain, hands down. But maybe I should say that Obama is the vastly lesser evil of the two. That unnerving sucking sound you hear? That’s real hope exhaling its dying breath. It’s the difference between springing to life after a long illness, and merely hanging on for a few more moments of life support. The biggest question of this whole isn’t whether Obama will prevent a further slide into the pit dug by Bush, with McCain eagerly reaching for the shovel. It’s whether Obama can guide a reversal of Bush’s policies.

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