September 27, 2008 | The picture tells you all you need to know about last night's debate between presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. McCain played the part of grouchy old man, resentful about being forced to share the stage with a young whippersnapper who thinks he can run the country better than McCain can.
McCain refused to look Obama in the eye — or even in his general direction. He fidgeted. He scribbled. He grinned at random, inappropriate moments. And whenever he got the slightest chance, he condescendingly noted that Obama just doesn't "understand" — as if Obama were mentally retarded, not a graduate of Harvard Law. Before the next debate, Obama needs to come up with a response to curb that kind of arrogance. He had the right idea when McCain said Obama didn't know the difference between a strategy and a tactic — Obama came back with a full-force response that worked.
Some of it was quite silly, as when Obama tried to refute McCain by invoking Henry Kissinger, a move that quickly degenerated into a childish "did," "did not," "did so," "did not" back-and-forth.
On the substance, the debate presented a stark contrast between two temperaments and two world views. Nowhere was this more clear than in the discussion (if you can call it that) about Iraq. McCain's record player got stuck on the groove with "surge worked," "succeed," "win," "with victory," "with honor." While McCain obsessed about the surge Obama tried to move up a level and show how the obsession with Iraq prevented and is preventing the defeat of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Unfortunately, they might as well have been in separate rooms talking to their respective walls.
I kept waiting for Obama to turn to McCain and say, "OK, John, the surge worked to reduce violence. Now what?"
During the spin cycle after the debate, McCain's spokesman Tucker Bounds continued the obsession, decrying the fact that "Barack Obama failed to utter the word 'victory' a single time during last night's debate on foreign policy.... And that's failing the commander in chief test by any standard" (The Caucus: NY Times political blog, Sept 27, 2008).
Never mind that "the great general David Petraeus" himself has said the word "victory" doesn't apply Iraq.
McCain is obviously stuck on using the model of national armies pitted against each other, ending when one surrenders and the other proclaims victory. As the saying goes, "When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." It's not that McCain is out of touch with the times, he's still living in a different time.
Next up: Sarah Palin vs Joe Biden. She can skin a moose, but can she withstand 90 minutes of unscripted debate without self-destructing?
Last updated on Sep 8, 2016