Some of his chief strengths — his facility with words, his wry detachment, his reasoning skills, his youthful cool — have not always served him well and may pose significant vulnerabilities....He's just too good for these lowly debate-like exercises those feeble Middle Americans depend on to formulate their pathetic little opinions... sayeth the some who deride this awful trivia.
Mr. Obama has a tendency to overintellectualize and to lecture, befitting his training as a lawyer and law professor. He exudes disdain for the quips and sound bites that some deride as trivializing political debates but that have become a central part of scoring them. He tends to the earnest and humorless when audiences seem to crave passion and personality. He frequently rises above the mire of political combat when the battle calls for engagement.
This was seen most starkly at last month’s forum at Saddleback Church, where... Obama gave long, discursive answers to questions on loaded topics like abortion and personal moral failings, while Mr. McCain stole the show with earthy anecdotes and humor.Because you know how deadly dull those discursive butterflies are. If only he could spice things up with a few strong one-liners? I disagree. I think Obama needs to make what is his natural style more coherent. He shouldn't flutter and then sting. He should speak in strong, well-structured sentences that are always comprehensible and devoid of "you know" and "uh" filler. Let Obama be Obama, but make it excellent Obamatude.
“Obama clearly knows how to float like a butterfly,” said Alan Schroeder, who studies media and the presidency at Northeastern University, “but he needs to work on the sting-like-a-bee part.”
Katharine Q. Seelye has the matching piece on John McCain:
He has used fairly consistent techniques during his roughly 30 debates on the national stage: he is an aggressive competitor who scolds his opponents, grins when he scores and is handy with the rhetorical shiv....Pinpricks... bee stings... Will McCain get irascible?
He uses short, active verbs that project strength, and he can connect with audiences on a visceral level using down-to-earth language....
“McCain’s major weakness is looking wooden, and when he’s out of his comfort zone, his sound bites become weaker and his evasions of questions become more obvious,” said David Lanoue, a political scientist at the University of Alabama and an expert in presidential debates.
... [D]epending on his level of contempt for his opponent, he can drip with condescension, even as he sits calmly with his hands folded in front of him, smiling....
David S. Birdsell, who specializes in political communication and presidential debates at Baruch College, said Mr. McCain could be “irascible and pugnacious and clearly stoked by personal animosity.” It will be a challenge for him to keep that side in check, Mr. Birdsell said, especially toward Mr. Obama, who is 25 years Mr. McCain’s junior and who Mr. McCain believes has not paid his dues.
“Can McCain restrain himself?” Mr. Birdsell asked. “And will Obama have the ability to place the pinpricks at the right moment to elicit that negative, slashing, awkwardly grinning McCain?”
It's funny. By these 2 descriptions, both men sound like they're at their worst when they display disdain, and both have a way of trying to smile their way into looking like nice guys in spite of that disdain. That might be quite amusing to watch, and there's a danger that America will tune in to be turned off by both of these men.
Anyway, the articles, taken together, make it seem as though McCain has a big advantage. He only needs to do his usual thing and not act like a jerk. Obama will need to struggle to prove his gravitas without boring us to tears.
Or am I falling prey to a nefarious NYT effort to structure expectations for the benefit of Obama? Does the NYT reach anyone who isn't already for Obama?
IN THE COMMENTS: The wonderful Bissage says:
America craves authenticity.I added the links in service to Bissage's awesome allusiveness.
That’s why McCain and Obama should work fast to perfect the techniques of method acting.
Sure, there might be some off-putting red-faced veiny neck stuff going on.
And maybe some mumbling.
But America doesn’t want a President who will pantomime gravitas to us.
America wants a President who will feel his gravitas at us!