Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama met on Tuesday night for the second of three scheduled debates before the November elections; this was a “town hall” style format and by all accounts, the type of venue Senator McCain excels at. Unfortunately, the physical appearance of both the candidates served to negate any advantage Mr. McCain might have had in this format before either man spoke a word. At 6 feet tall and slim, Mr. Obama stood a full five inches taller than John McCain- injuries and age have added to this differential as Mr. McCain is also stoop shouldered. It somewhat sadly put one in mind of the Kennedy/Nixon debate in the 1960 election cycle…a handsome, young, energetic man facing off with a worn old man.
Despite the physical differences however, John McCain could have at least been expected to hold his own. If he had portrayed a calm and reasoned demeanor, one that projected wisdom and experience, he could have carried the day. Instead he couldn’t keep his disdain for Senator Obama out of his speech and facial expressions; at one point the even referred to Senator Obama dismissively as “that one.” He blinked apparently uncontrollably throughout the evening and grinned as if he were scoring slam dunks with his answers, no matter how pat or mundane they might have been.
In contrast Barack Obama projected an air of calm capability, and while neither candidate came near to scoring a knockout blow against the other, Mr. Obama certainly appeared to be the more statesmanlike of the two. Each debate that John McCain doesn’t win reinforces Barack Obama’s image of a man that can be president. If John McCain going toe to toe with him can’t expose him as an inexperienced or incapable, then the perception is that he must not be either of those things.
There was (at least for me) a telling moment…two, in fact. Both happened near the end of the debate. A retired Naval Petty Officer asked John McCain a question about military response to an Iranian attack on Israel. John McCain answered much as expected, rightly saying that America would come to the direct support of it’s ally, with or without United Nations approval, although it’s almost inconceivable that even Russia or China would be able to derail UN approval in such a case. The Chief seemed satisfied.
Then Senator Obama went to that same Chief and directly spoke to him, essentially saying our job as America was to never let Iran get into a position where such an attack was feasible. Get world opinion on his side before any attack occurred, negotiate if possible with Iran to defuse the situation, work to diminish Iran’s strength by investing in alternative energy so that their oil is less critical, then, if all else failed, respond militarily.
As he turned and walked away, I saw the Chief nod decisively; whether or not he agreed with Mr. Obama, it was clear he understood his logic.
The last telling thing was how long Barack and Michelle Obama stayed to work the room, long after John and Cindy McCain departed. It was like, even after this nearly two year campaign, Barack Obama was fresh and invigorated, still ready to meet every guest, shake every hand, thank everyone for coming.
I didn’t start out liking this man, but the more I watch him, The more I pin my hopes on him. There may be no shining house on the hill for America anymore, but with Barack Obama, at least there’s a ladder out of this deep and frightening hole.