The Multiple Sum Debate

October 3, 2008

After every debate, analysts and commentators always talk about who “won” the debate, but debates are often not zero sum games (I win, you lose) because the debaters are often talking to different consituencies.  That was never more true than the VP debate last night.

VP debates rarely if ever move the needle on the presidential vote; rather, they’re about the relationship the candidate has to his or her own supporters.  In that case, both candidates won: Biden proved he was disciplined and very strong (although he’d proven that even more effectively during the primary debates), and Palin showed she can deliver prepared material, and in the words of Dana Milbank, she passed “what may have been the most public IQ test ever administered.”

But just barely.


Will Smith or Willie Horton

September 27, 2008

Many Democrats are beating their breasts about Obama not taking full advantage of McCain, not pummeling him into the ground, just like they would.  But of course, Obama is black.  He can’t do that.

Most white Americans have limited knowledge or experience of black people, and so are likely to fall back into stereotypes.  White people’s current black stereotypes run in pairs.  So we’ve got the black guy who is (amazingly) “just like us”, and we have the ABM (Angry Black Man).  Obama is not sufficiently individualized to many American voters, especially the undecided, “low information” voters, to risk moving from being a nerdy Will Smith to being Willie Horton in a suit.

Obama can only look substantial, be substantial, and try to maintain an epic graciousness in front of an old narcissist who clearly despises him.

More importantly, although there may have been no knockout blow in the debate (a silly idea until the VP debate), Obama did accomplish what he needed to do: show that he has foreign policy chops and is at least the equal of McCain.  Even more importantly, the restraint that is forced on Obama played extremely well against an angry old man.  In fact, Obama’s restraint was the best counter to McCain.

There’s a great blog entry from McCain’s point of view from John Cole:

Look for the appearance of the following words in days to come: cranky, grumpy, crotchety, angry, mean, rude, sneering, snarling, contemptuous, off-putting, snide, boorish, and worst of all, not Presidential. SNL will probably drive the point home in a skit that will become the dominant narrative tonight, and McCain will become boxed in regarding his behavior in the second debate, much as Gore was unable to be as aggressive as he wanted in the second debate (I remember the running joke was that Gore had been medicated for the second debate). And if McCain does not tone down the contempt, it will simply feed the narrative. Or, if we are really lucky, as someone suggested in another thread, McCain will overcompensate and spend the entire time comically and creepily attempting to make eye contact with Obama (think Al Gore walking across the stage to stand next to Bush, and Bush looking at him as if to think “WTF are you doing?”).

This should be terrifying for the McCain campaign for two reasons. First, the base will not understand it. To them, a sneering, contemptuous jerk is a feature, not a bug.

If you’ll recall the anger and smug contempt from the Republican convention, you’ll know that Cole isn’t kidding.