Last night was the third and final presidential debate of the 2008 race. Who won, in typical debating fashion, depends on the perception of who you talk to. Most people who are strongly behind either candidate will easily think that their candidate won. The only problem is that the majority of voters are reportedly supporting the Democratic nominee and that number of voters appears to grow each and every day.
Last night’s debate was not the game changer most people say Senator John McCain needed to revive his political campaign to a much more competitive level. On the CBS early morning show Up To The Minute it was reported that a poll of uncommitted voters found that Senator Barack Obama won the debate comfortably by a margin well over two to one. Fifty three percent of the pollsters said Mr. Obama won the debate compared to twenty two percent for Mr. McCain and another twenty five percent of respondents thought that the debate was tied.
From what I saw Mr. McCain was very aggressive and very accusatory. Mr. McCain rarely passed an opportunity to remind voters of Mr. Obama’s negatives. Mr. McCain’s one good line was delivered right after Mr. Obama accused a McCain Palin administration as four more years of President George Bush. Mr. McCain turned Mr. Obama, I am not George Bush and if you wanted to run against George Bush you should have run four years ago.
However, I thought a defining point in this debate was when both candidates were asked about the other candidate’s running mate. Talk about loading the dice. Mr. McCain’s and his running mate Governor Sarah Palin is like watching a train wreck in painfully slow motion. Long after the initial impact the entire train continues to collapse upon itself. Ms. Palin is a walking, talking self imploding national political campaign all on her own. Her gaffs have been turned into mountains of fodder for comedians. Her folksy rhetoric at her campaign rallies has incited the Republican faithful to holler back with so many threats against Mr. Obama that the Secret Service will be busy for decades just running checks against the Republican rally attendees. But instead of taking the proffered red meat, Mr. Obama remained graceful and did nothing but praised Ms. Palin on her positives.
But in what has become typical Mr. McCain fashion Mr. McCain launched a typical attack against Mr. Obama. As Mr. Obama said, the attacks against Mr. Obama say more about Mr. McCain and his campaign than what it says about Mr. Obama.
If Mr. McCain’s goal was to try and provoke an emotional response from Mr. Obama, if he was trying to break Mr. Obama’s imperturbable demeanor he was severely disappointed. Sometime ago, during his primary race against Senator Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama made it a point to demonstrate his reaction to negative comments as little more than so much dust or dander being brushed off his shoulder. But last night’s debate did more to drive that point home than any dramatic gesture of shoulder brushing could ever accomplish.
Whenever Mr. Obama was down in the polls he never changed his game. He kept to his plan and worked his way to the top. Mr. Obama never stooped to popular moves like picking a woefully under qualified female running mate in order to bring excitement to his campaign. A political race, especially one for the American presidency, isn’t about excitement but about the issues that affects the majority of Americans. It isn’t about making dramatic gestures and changing your position in order to win points on a poll. It’s about making sound policy decisions that people can stand behind and support and depend on because the people trust that the candidate isn’t going to change his mind and go another direction when things don’t go as well as expected.
The Republican Party faithful will welcome Mr. McCain and feed his ego the next time he makes an appearance. It is all he has left. To the faithful, it would not matter of they were voting for Mr. McCain or for Mr. Magoo. As long as he claimed to be a Republican some people would support and vote for him no matter what. To the faithful, an unfocused Republican candidate is still a candidate.