McCain Succumbs To Obama Mojo During Debate

For all the policies and programs and progressiveness Obama might address in his debate appearances, it is the images, more than the rhetoric, that will ultimately decide his fate. Last night, in a debate setting that looked more like the studio of PeeWee's Playhouse than an actual townhall meeting, Obama was able to use his physicality in a way that we haven't really seen before, subliminally reinforcing the theme of youthful vigor with the relaxed and confident ease he displayed while waiting for his turn to answer a question from the audience. Obama's rhetoric is decades old - the logic, centuries old. But it was his image on the screen that stirred the blood of the debate watch group I was with last night.

I watched the last two debates at home. Mindful of the tendency for crowds to be noisy and distracting, that was the best place for me, because I am not above telling someone to be quiet if I can't hear what's being said. But somewhere between looking at Bloomberg's chart of the 500 point drop in the Dow and checking my half dozen email accounts, I came across a reminder yesterday for a watch party that was being held right down the street from us here in John's Creek, Georgia, at a local sports bar called Barnacles. The stars aligned themselves perfectly - an absent teenager and a need to eat dinner - and we found ourselves walking into the sports bar right about 7:30 pm.

I didn't really think about us being in Republican central until we walked into the place. The most interesting thing was the family we passed on the way to the banquet room in the back. The oldest child, a blonde-haired, animated girl who looked like she was in the third or fourth grade was standing by her mother's shoulder, talking into her ear as she pointed at the t-shirts the line of people dribbling into the room were wearing, explaining to her mother that the symbol on them matched the symbol on the posters tacked to the wall. Her mother was nodding her head, listening and eating at the same time. The most interesting thing about the whole scene was the fact that they were the only family sitting in this area - this restaurant was normally pretty busy, especially around family dinner time, every day of the week.

We originally sat in a booth, but ended up switching to a table closer to the middle of the room. There were two huge projection screens at either end of the room, showing four fifteen foot tall shots of Lou Dobbs' head as he railed against something while Republican ex-contender Romney smiled. Sixty TV's lined the connecting walls, 30 on each side, all of them perched on a narrow ledge just above the booths, all of them showing Lou Dobbs. For some reason, Max Headroom came to mind.

Many of the people there were regulars, folks who had come to know each other from the previous parties that had been held at the same location. Even though we were in a bar, there was a forthright earnestness in many of the people that reminded me of church. Sitting at a table for six out in the open seemed to function as a unofficial signal that we were open for company. We met a lot of people, including a couple that we already knew, between eight and nine. A lot of them seemed to repeat the same story - the turnout was lighter than usual, probably because there had just been a debate a few days ago.

A young guy told us about his next Youtube video he was planning. A woman joined us - her husband, she said, had just been here last week, and was playing tennis tonight. Several women came over to say hello to her, relating the same tale - "my husband said he was just here last week". But between the looking for work woes, the high school exit exam horror stories, and the recent gas shortage tales, political trivia and rumor weaved in and out of the ever-changing conversation at every turn.

I looked at S. and our new friends. "This place is like an opium den for political junkies." As I said that, I pictured the internet in my mind as a ghost town, the pathways to The Drudge Report, Huffington Post, Jack and Jill Politics, Daily Kos, Salon, Slate and Black Planet all gone slack with excess capacity as we all trained our eyes on the candidates walking across the stage.

The room went silent as Brokaw spoke. I was impressed. The only real difference between watching the debate there instead of at home, at least at first, was the audience applause whenever Obama made an especially crisp point, and their sighs whenever McCain said "I can fix it". A Syrian couple I'd run into earlier on the way to the bathroom sat down at our table about fifteen minutes after it started. These two were too wound up. The husband could not be quiet, fidgeting, gesticulating, distorting his handsome face in disgust - it was like watching an interpreter for the hearing-impaired.

The crowd quickly tired of McCain's stump speech standards, hissing whenever he said "my friends", or asserted "I can fix it". The longer the debate went on the more I thought of the famous Nixon/Kennedy debate in 1960 that many felt was one of the keys to Kennedy's victory that year because the TV cameras seemed to work against Nixon. McCain didn't just sound recycled - he looked old.

In the last half an hour, before he seemed to gather himself for a final push, he sounded like a doddering old man, grasping at the tail end of sentences, looking a little unsure of himself as he pointed that finger again and again, still insisting, as if we hadn't been listening, that "I can fix it". His jokes were absolutely horrible, with a wooden delivery that seemed more like they were launched at pre-determined times rather than the spontaneous zingers we all have seen him spout. And when he pointed at Obama, referring to him as "that one", you had to wonder whether it was past McCain's bedtime.

Obama looked like he had had a very good night's sleep, and moved quickly, surely, and confidently around the stage. His biggest bugabear, the professorial stammer, was mostly kept in check, only rearing its head a lot near the end of the debate. After a tough two weeks and a Dow that closed down another 500 points yesterday, it was hard for him to get his inspirational mojo going, but you could feel it, right there under the surface, sitting right next to the sense of self satisfaction that his campaign plan was coming together. There is no doubt that McCain could feel it, could sense it, but couldn't combat it.

EVERYBODY in the room seemed to know the early voting statistics for Georgia, and one guy just flat out declared that Obama was "winning Georgia right now". As I watched the big screen antics being multiplied along the rows of TV's along the walls, I was simply amazed at how big a part electrons had played in this election, from the Obama website to radio to phone banking to internet donations. I was glad it was coming to an end - the background color had gone from jarring to irritating.

Back at home, we watched the recap by the CNN gang. Jeffrey Toobin could not let go of the idea that "that one" would be hung around McCain's neck for the rest of the campaign, much as the dead albatross hung around the neck of the Ancient Mariner. Nobody, from Castellanos on down, seemed to be particularly impressed with McCain, but none of them were blown away by Obama either.

Something tells me, though, that in the bizarro world that this campaign season has become, Sarah Palin will be snarling "that one" at her campaign rallies before the sun sets tonight, even as we watch the Dow Jones Industrial Average falter lower during today's trading, as if name calling will obscure the financial crisis America is facing.

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Mocha Dad said...

Did you notice that Cindy McCain kept her hands behind her back and refused to shake hands with audience members?

Brown Man said...

We actually had to leave about 10:22 - we heard the end of it on the car radio in the garage, so I didn't see that part.

But I can certainly imagine how it looked.

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Black Political Analysis said...

If you're an Obama supporter, it's hard not to feel confident right. The stories coming out of Georgia make me optimistic, but I'm too jaded in past election victories snatched away on Election Night (or the day/months after) that I'm keeping my guard up.

Freeman Press said...

Well I'm not confident, what looks good on paper might not be good in practice. Right now we are celebrating a lead in the 3rd quarter but we have the biggest whammy of all that we cannot account for. The Bradley Effect!

Monroe Anderson said...

Great post. As for you who are worried about the Bradley Effect or victory snatchers--not this time. Thanks to the mess W. and his posse have put us in, Obama may well be on his way to a landslide.

Check out

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

I want that pin! Really! When Barack wins, it rub it in their faces that that one won. Heh-heh-heh!

And he will win, unless they succeed in stealing the election again.

water filters said...

well why would anyone refuse to shake hand?

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