September 23, 2008

In anticipation of Friday's debate, the NYT sizes up Obama and McCain.

John M. Broder on Obama:
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....

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.
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.
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.

“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.”
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.

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....

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?”
Pinpricks... bee stings... Will McCain get irascible?

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.

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!
I added the links in service to Bissage's awesome allusiveness.


ricpic said...


chickelit said...

In view of the measured/polled fact that there is no clear electoral leader/winner/underdog, I think it's fair to call the NYT's effort "nefarious".

Unknown said...

Perhaps they are trying to manage expectations, but given their plummeting readership how much of a difference can they honestly make?

Dark Eden said...

//Does the NYT reach anyone who isn't already for Obama?//


Well you if you're leaning towards McCain but your response here indicates otherwise.

MadisonMan said...

I agree that McCain's post-hit grin is a little too Palpatinian.

Salamandyr said...

You know, I think Obama's less than stellar performance (it was still good) at the Saddleback Forum had less to do with his "high level discursive answers" which weren't all that high level, and not particularly discursive, and more indicative of someone who really didn't have the answers, or at least not the answers he thought the audience wanted to hear. So it seems the adjective the NYT should have used was not "discursive" but "prevaricative".

Bissage said...

America craves authenticity.

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!

Anonymous said...

So according to the NYTimes -

Obama is too smart, too cool, too verbally subtle for America (White trash, semi literate racist dopes) to relate to. He needs to dumb himself down and talk in sound bites for those poor fuckers.

McCain is a bitter old grouch who is always waiting to grab his verbal shotgun and chase the youngsters off his property. He needs to get rid of the gun and pass out some candy.

Peter V. Bella said...

NYT= mendacious+nefarious.

Obama responds well to general questions that require vague answers. These allow him to give his canned response; we have a problem, I hope to change it, hope and change. He gets tongue tied when he needs to give specific answers to policy issues; especially specific solutions to the problems he wants to fix. He keeps saying he has a plan to fix this or that, yet he does not give us the specifics of the plans.

Another fella did that four years ago. He blathered on and on about his grand plans and how they would fix the problems of the country. He never told us what those plans were. His name was John Kerry.

Simon said...

"He uses short, active verbs that project strength, and he can connect with audiences on a visceral level using down-to-earth language...."

Consider McCain's reaction to the "crisis" on Wall Street. He said he would fire the Chairman of the SEC. Does anyone really doubt that the reaction of ordinary Americans to this mess is: "someone ought to be fired for this"? Can't imagine how McCain hopes to connect with an audience when he has similar instincts to America at large!

UWS guy said...

Damn you Ricpic! (I'm waiting for Althouse to publically denegrate you as being self absorbed for saying she hurt my feelings by saying so to me...)

Also...In before some conservative calls Obama an in-articulate black man (which I suppose is progress from the opposite...)

MadisonMan said...

Having seen Wuthering Heights done that way, I'd like to see a debate in semaphore.

UWS guy said...

Woops...peter v. bella beat me to it...

Hoosier Daddy said...

Also...In before some conservative calls Obama an in-articulate black man

There is a difference between being inarticulate and mouthing empty rhetoric.

Bissage said...

America craves authenticity.

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 himself to us.

America wants a President who will feel himself at us!

Bissage said...


(Sometimes I get too fussy about these things.)

Expat(ish) said...

@Simon: Yes, the first thing I'd like to see is people fired. I know we can't start with B-Frank, but I'd like to see the top 6 layers of the bailout houses all summarily fired, shoved onto COBRA, and have their sev pay docked $700B.

It's not like everything they know isn't from the guys in Analysis doing Excel spreadsheets for a buck-twenty a year.


ricpic said...

"Obama, he bright."
"Oh yeah, he duh brightess."
"Not like mean ol' McCain."
"And his butt cute too, ask Titus."

UWS - Sorry if I broke a Der Althouse rule. Couldn't resist, as I assume you couldn't either. It was the first and only time.

Ben (The Tiger in Exile) said...

Well... it goes to show that the liberal papers have finally figured out that Republicans benefited from lowered expectations, over all those years.

That's something...

Roger J. said...

it isnt bad enough these "debates" are significant--they really arent and are a parody of the lincoln douglas debates--I suppose that is what passes as political discourse has come to mean. We will have scores of partisans analysts parsing every word post debate. and now we have the ultimate butt boy of the MSM parsing them BEFORE the debates? Who give a flying f**k what the NYT says.

This isnt politics; this is farce.

Have the frigging election now and save us another six weeks of sturm und drang. Enough already.

Jim said...

Obama's problem is that he doesn't have a core.

The reason for the "uhs" and the "umms" is that he's trying to do lawyerly parsing in his head on the fly, and he's not parsing fast enough to keep up with his mouth.

The conversation goes something like this:

He thinks: "I wait, that's not strong enough...We believe..yeah, that's it..."

He says: "We believe...uh..."

He thinks: "Now what? What do you mean now what? Don't you know? Know what? What was the question? Oh yeah..."

He says "um..."

He thinks "What did Axelrod tell me our position was? He didn't. Wasn't there something about 'Hope' in the answer? I'm sure there was..'

He says "that we are the hope..."

He thinks "Hope for what? Well I can't say anything specific, people would be able to nail me down on one side of the issue or another. Better say something noncommittal and give myself plausible deniability no matter what they say I said. What should I say though?"

He says "uh...uh..."

He thinks "But it was a yes or no question...Shut up...Only a racist would ask a yes or no question. Damn racists, trying to bait me like that..."

He says "umm..."

He thinks "I'll show them who's smarter. I used to organize communities for God's sake. I'll give them the answer I want. What do I want? To not lose, Michelle would be soooo pissed! And she's not that nice when she's in a good mood...Yeah, but I mean besides the obvious..."

He says "err..."

He thinks "Hope and change. Axelrod says that's our message. Forget the policy: if they found out what the policy was they'd never vote for us...Stick with the hope and change, and let 'em chew on that for a while."

He says "and change that we've been waiting for..."

He thinks "HA! Let 'em try to figure that one out...::smug internal grin::"

He says "Next question?"

Trooper York said...

Oh boy, Bissage head is gonna get as swelled up as his testicles.

Bissage said...

(1) Ugh! I should have stayed with gravitas!

**administers dope slap to own puddin’ noggin**

(2) Too late Trooper. It happens every time I let the little head do the thinking for the big head.

Unknown said...

Jim mistakes thoughtfulness for inability to recall a script. Of course, he overlooks the fact that McCain can't be pinpointed to any position whatsoever (it seems to ebb and flow with what votes he can get where) and that Palin sounds like a robot not even really sure of the meaning of the words she's so clearly repeating.

See, bias is fun!

Ron said...

I've often said that the Martin Sheen from Apocalypse Now! is the one who winds up the President in The West Wing... Is this method?

Jim said...

Mixalhs -

You're mistaking "thoughtfulness" with "thinking"...there's a difference...

Unknown said...

I'll be having Mexican food and a Corona at Chilito's. Let me know how it turns out.

Roberto said...

George Will has an interesting slant on McCain today:

McCain Loses His Head

By George F. Will
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"The queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. 'Off with his head!' she said without even looking around."

-- "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high.

It is not Barack Obama.

Roberto said...

mcg said..."...given their plummeting readership..."

Name a print edition of ANY major newspaper that doesn't have "plummeting readership."

The internet has had an impact on all of the newspapers in every major city.

*Which you already know.

ricpic said...

Big man,
Big cock,
Big balls had he,
And he put them front and center for all to see.

When I asked him why he said to me,
"That's what America wants: a President with a Big Fat Trinity."

Roberto said...

SteveR said..."I'll be having Mexican food and a Corona at Chilito's. Let me know how it turns out."

And people wonder how we ended up with George W. Bush...twice.

There's nothing like hearing from an American voter who wants to be fully informed.

*And I'm only assuming you're an American.

Roberto said...

Why can't McCain ever deliver a speech without constantly referring to his file cards?

He's given some of these speeches a hundred times and yesterday I watched him refer to his cards after literally every pause.

Is this a memory problem or is he just getting older by the day?

*Read George Will's column in today's Washington Post.

Unknown said...

Yeah Michael, I'm so freaking stupid that after 20+ years of knowing about John McCain and the 4plus years of knowing about Barack Obama, on top of paying attention to politics since 1964 and with all the dozens of debates and other sources of information about these two. I need to watch a debate to make up my mind and I choose to live life instead. So please genius, just tell me how to vote.

SGT Ted said...

This is just more of the same "The Democrat candidate is just too smart and nuanced to be understood and appreciated by the great unwashed" bullshit we saw in 2004 applied to John F'in Kerrys inability to connect with the people who grow his food and change the oil in his cars.

It's easier than doing actual analysis and makes the libs feel better because theyre like exclusive being soooo smart!

DaLawGiver said...

The wonderful Bissage says:

I don't think Ann has ever used the adjective wonderful to describe one of her commenters.

Bissage must be THE TEACHER'S PET!

I wonder how Mrs Bissage feels about that?

Brian Doyle said...

You're complaining that the Broder piece on Obama in the debates was too positive? What a joke.

Hoosier Daddy said...

And people wonder how we ended up with George W. Bush...twice.

Certainly says a lot more about the quality of the two candidates the Democrats were able to put up doesn't it?

Then again, it seems in the last 25 years we have been voting for the lesser of two incompetents rather than someone who can actually lead. In all fairness, that is pretty much what we're doing in this election.

Roberto said...

Stever, you can vote any way you want, but anybody who says that they're so well informed they needn't hear the two actual candidates debate each other before they make up their mind...has already made up their mind.

So get off the bullshit line that you've been "paying attention to politics since 1964"...and make your decisions based on logic versus...ideology.

You'd vote for George W. Bush again, too.


DaLawGiver said...

”Because you know how deadly dull those discursive butterflies are. If only he could spice things up with a few strong one-liners?

That is just wrong. Muhammad Ali was an elusive, not a discursive butterfly and his sting was more than a few strong one-liners. It feels like you just dissed the greatest boxer of all times.

Obama is elusive enough but his sting has to to come in the form of a face to face fisking of McCain's record done with controlled fire and passion. BO needs to narrow his eyes, glare into the camera and say, "I'm the man dammit!"

Roberto said...

Hoosier, I personally don't see our option as being a choice between "the lesser of two incompetents."

I think both are qualified to be President, but feel McCain would be more like to be a continuation of what we have right now.

I find it disingenuous for many here to say they would not be screaming to high heaven about the state of our country...and placing the blame squarely in their court...if we had had a Democratic administration over the past 8 years.

I understand ideology and I understand those who have and always will vote Republican or Democrat, but what we've seen over this time around is beyond the pale.

Between the Iraqi situation (where, by the way, even in this economic crisis, we're still spending 10 billion a month), our involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, our reputation being tainted via the torture scandal, the U.S. Attorney scandal, the housing meltdown, the overall economic crisis, growing unemployment, etc...I just feel we might want to explore a change o course.

McCain voted 90-95% of the time for everything Bush wanted and there's no reason to believe his policies wouldn't continue in the same manner.

Roger J. said...

Michael: I would suggest thatlogic is not what most voters vote on. Its much more impressionistic. People liked Ike rather than stevenson. and this campaign is starting to look a lot like those campaigns. We will find out on November 5. And whatever the outcome, the country will go forward. so in the grand scheme of things, the country is better than the candidates that are put forward. Either candidate, if elected, will get the job done, and the country will survive either of them. Thats why America is really exceptional.

Unknown said...

Michael, yes, you are right, but it doesn't change my point in the slightest. No matter why, their ability to influence is greatly diminished.

Roberto said...

From George Will's article today:

"For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency.

Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?"

Shanna said...

anybody who says that they're so well informed they needn't hear the two actual candidates debate each other before they make up their mind...has already made up their mind.

And what on earth is wrong with that? If you've been paying attention, you have probably already made up your mind. Then we all watch the debates as the political theater they are, while trying to decide what the "don't pay attention till September" people will decide.

Unknown said...

Where did I say I based my decisions on logic instead of idealogy? Are you saying you might change your mind based on what happens Friday? 90% of Americans (including me and probably you)have made up their minds.

bearbee said...

Comparing the Temperaments of McCain and Obama


Roberto said...

roger says: "...the country will survive either of them..."

Of course, but merely "surviving" isn't much of a goal.

But right now I'm more interested in restoring the luster of America's reputation, getting the economy back on track, discontinuing the policy of interfering in other sovereign nation's business and becoming a "producing" nation versus a "service" oriented nation.

I don't think McCain is up to the task, and without starting another massive row...his choosing of Sarah Palin gives weight to my argument that his decision making abilities are suspect.

Roger J. said...

I have already decided--debates wont do anything to change my opinion. I am ready to vote now, and will cast my ballot via mail in the next week regardless of some TV spectacular that is sound and fury and signifies nothing.

Roberto said...

Stever says: "90% of Americans (including me and probably you)have made up their minds."

That's true.

And that's why we have the head to head debates...for that 10% who make the difference between winning and losing.

*I suggest you forgo the debates.

Roger J. said...

Michael--I recognize what you think are the important issues for you. go ahead and vote for Obama. but please recognize that there are probably a bunch of folks that don't share your view. All I ask you to do is not demonize them. People can disagree, and because they don't line up on your side doesnt make them bad. Politics is about value choices. and a value cannot be right or wrong. I don't agree with you on issues, but that doesnt make you bad. Please give me the same respect.

Roberto said...

bearbee: Exactly.

Rich B said...


Your comment was great.

What Obama was Broder talking about, BO 1.0? There were a lot of bugs in that release. Don't think the fixes have made him any better.

Asante Samuel said...

I agree, I'm not voting for anyone who worries more about their hair than their country.

So I guess Biden, Sam Donaldson and Bob Costas are out. Damn, the Hair Club for Men does a shitty job of rug making. And George Will, please- If he believes his fucking hairpiece looks natural, his beliefs are more fucked up than Mitt the Mormon. Hahahahaha. The glue on Will's head must have run into his ears and paralyzed his monosynaptic cerebellum.

And comb-overs are creepy, too. I'm talking about you, McCain.

The I-don't-give-a-shit hair contest winners are Obama and Palin. I admire that in a person. Makes them appear confident.

Roberto said...

Roger, in what way have I disrespected you?

Roberto said...

dr kill: And don't forget Ronnie.

Never dyed his hair...right?

Roger J. said...

Michael: you havent. did you not understand my basic point? I am asking you not to criticize people who dont share your choices. You are not going to change anyone's mind. Nor am I.

Asante Samuel said...

What I mean to say,
in a mean-spirited way,

How can I be expected to consider seriously an opinion from some guy who seriously thinks his nasty, awful toupee looks good?

George Will's hair looks like the kind of thing we used to drench in fox urine and drag behind the 4-by, back when I was a red-neck gun-clinger.

Roger J. said...

Michael: perhaps I should reiterate my basic point. The country will survive its leaders because the country is more important than its leaders. Clear?
I will rally behind a President Obama just as I would rally behind a President McCain. And if like neither, I have the option of rejecting either at the voting booth in November 2012.

Asante Samuel said...

Michael, when you're right, you're right. Never trust a man who dyes his hair or thinks his skin needs hydrating.

Roberto said...

dr kill: Hair aside, George Will is one of the most respected conservative Republican writers in America.

What does his or anybody's hair have to do with anything?

Or are you merely saying you don't want to hear what he has to say?

Roberto said...

roger, as will I.


Roberto said...

dr kill, by the way, since we're on the "hair" front: I didn't know George Will wore a toupee.

Do you know that for sure?

Roberto said...

"In his early days as a freshman senator, McCain was known for accepting contributions from Charles Keating Jr., flying to the banker's home in the Bahamas on company planes and taking up Keating's cause with U.S. financial regulators as they investigated him."

Why aren't we hearing more about this?

Rich B said...


You left this out from the article you quoted: "The investigation ended in early 1991 with a rebuke that Mr. McCain "exercised poor judgment in intervening with the regulators." But the Senate ethics committee also determined Mr. McCain's actions "were not improper nor attended with gross negligence."

Does that answer your question?
That was a rhetorical question - I know what your answer will be.

Roberto said...

rich, Oh, I'm well aware of the fact that McCain walked with a rebuke, but considering he current state of affairs of the economy, and his potential economic policies...are you saying we shouldn't be more well versed on his involvement in one of the biggest economic scandals in our nation's history?

Do you think if Obama had been in the middle of the Keating pushing for more media scrutiny?

Now be honest...

Asante Samuel said...

I haven't agreed with George Will in years. I don't want to hear what George Will has to say anymore. I suppose that means I'm not conservative.

He told me he has a wig, bought it used from Sam Donaldson. Made of the wool from the subsidized Angora goats on Sam's Arizona ranch.

Roberto said...

Rich, a typo:

Do you think if Obama had been in the middle of the Keating scandal, YOU wouldn't be pushing for more media scrutiny?

Unknown said...

*I suggest you forgo the debates.

Like I said, I'm going to Chilto's, something really important happens, I'll find out.

Roberto said...

dr kill, you say you haven't agreed with George Will in hyears?

Well, then are you saying you're not a conservative or a Republican?

Based on your comments, you're sure as hell not an Independent.

Roberto said...

stever says: "Like I said, I'm going to Chilto's, something really important happens, I'll find out."

You mean...from the MSM?

That's funny.

blake said...

Seems to me if you've already decided and are watching the debates anyway, there's a good chance you're just looking for affirmation--why you're right and everyone else is wrong.

There's a word for doing something non-productive because it feels good.

Jim said...

michael -

1) When YOU start pushing for more scrutiny into all the things that Obama is hiding: his time with Ayers, his actual time at Trinity Church, his academic transcripts, his bar application, his records from the Illinois Senate, full disclosure about his past drug use/abuse, his full medical records, etc. then maybe can start taking you seriously about you "curiosity" about McCain. Your noticeable absence of calls for full and complete disclosure by Obama shows that this is trying to play "gotcha" in order to deflect attention from even worse obfuscations by Obama and his incredibly poor judgment/bought-and-paid-for-corruption when it came to past attempts to make reforms to the mess that is now Fannie and Freddie.

Who did you think you were fooling?

2) When the media puts down its Obama poms poms to do the heavy lifting on the above subjects when it comes to Obama, then we can have a legitimate discussion about McCain. But all the arguments about "we need to vet Palin," (yes, including from you) look absolutely ludicrous when you're trying to hide Obama's past behind your back while you make excuses for your distasteful attacks on her personal life.

3) Once Obama's past is fully revealed, then I would welcome a discussion about who was more faulty regarding the current situation: Obama for accepting all "donations" from Fannie/Freddie, hiring Jim Johnson, etc.. or McCain for something almost 20 years ago which was thoroughly investigated and in which he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Are you ready to call on the Obama campaign to quit hiding their secrets? I didn't think so...

4) If you knew as much about politics as you claim to, then you'd realize how irrelevant your repeated citations of Will's column are. Just because he's a conservative doesn't mean that he has ever liked McCain. There is a long-standing animosity between the two men. Duh! But you don't have any interest in the truth: just your "any means necessary" scorched earth Axelrod-approved AstroTurfing campaign.

Should we respond with all the quotes from all the Hillary Democrats about how completely useless Obama would be? Would that be any more credible to you? Don't bother answering: we already know that they must be racists if they oppose Obama too...

Unknown said...

You mean...from the MSM?

No, the same place you are finding stuff about the Keating 5. BTW why aren't we hearing more about that?

walter neff said...

The Wonderful Bissage?

Christy said...

I've always been a fan of George Will's because he has always been willing to skewer conservative positions he thought were nonsense. Makes him more credible to me. Is there an equivalent on the liberal side? I once thought Michael Kinsley was but then he caught BDS and wasn't worth reading.

Trooper York said...

The wonderful Bissage. Hee hee.