Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

John McCain still doesn’t know these debates are on television

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Originally published on on Wed, 10/08/2008 – 10:57am

Televised debates are supposed to be TV shows, first and foremost. Usually, a presidential candidate has some idea of having to be on television and in the public eye. And after the first two presidential debates, one candidate understands he is on TV, and one doesn’t.

Yes, John McCain once again proves he isn’t ready for prime time.

After the first debate, where McCain wouldn’t look at Obama, you would think the McCain campaign would say, “Senator, you need to look at your opponent.” I will go out on a limb and say that McCain was informed of this, and promptly blew it off. Or said something like, “I know what I’m doing, you jackass.”

But last night in Nashville, McCain wouldn’t look at Obama. He referred to the junior senator from Illinois as “that one.” McCain also refused to shake Obama’s hand after the debate. Memo to McCain: the cameras are still on you two after the debate is over.

Obama wasn’t the only target. When moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC News asked the candidates who their Treasury Secretary would be, McCain said, “Not you, Tom.” Awkward laughter followed, then Brokaw responded, “With good reason.” What had Brokaw done to inspire such negative energy?

Also Sen. McCain, unless you had late dinner reservations in Nashville, your quick exit was extremely odd. After 10:36 p.m. Eastern, you weren’t seen on the stage. Again, you might think that you only pissed off C-SPAN viewers. But Keith Olbermann, among others, noticed your early exit as did The Tennessean, Nashville’s primary daily newspaper.

And right at the end, McCain walked into Brokaw’s shot. Brokaw had been reading off a teleprompter located behind the candidates. The teleprompter was needed only in the beginning and in the end, but Obama knew to wait until Brokaw was done to cross into the center; McCain wasn’t paying attention.

Now Barack Obama did know he was on TV. In fact, Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, have developed a strategy in reaction shots: they smile. Jason Sudeikis of “Saturday Night Live” mocked Biden’s excessive smiling on the program.

The smile comes across as an effective method on television. They aren’t smug, but clearly amused by what McCain and Palin say in the debate. The worse McCain and Palin have done, the more Obama and Biden have smiled (which explains Biden almost constant smiling).

The smiling also has a legacy, given that the MSM won’t beat you up over smiling the way they thrashed Al Gore over “sighing” in 2000. Whatever makes the MSM happy is better for your campaign.

Viewers who learn a lot from the debates watch the candidates to see how they do under pressure. On that account, Obama is wiping the floor over McCain. The viewers can see that Obama has respect for McCain, is cool under pressure (despite the ranting of one MSM reporter), and is there to tell what he will do. These viewers also see that McCain has no respect for Obama, isn’t cool under pressure, and is there to distort the impression of Obama.

Now, McCain did one cool thing to show he was on TV last night. When Terry from the audience asked McCain toward the end about having served, and if Iran were to attack Israel, McCain went over and patted Terry on the shoulder. Then the two shook hands.

Since John McCain is unfamiliar with the “Internets,” he might not realize that every little nuance of his performance is on YouTube within hours if not sooner. The Internet age allows people to see over and over again your attitude toward Sen. Obama.

It was at that moment that maybe you thought McCain just doesn’t do well on television. But this is a television world. The MSM are looking for shining moments, such as sighing or missed handshakes or leaving the stage quickly. You might argue that this is shallow, but it matters to viewers, potential voters, and the MSM.

The Democrats haven’t always had the more congenial candidate in the race (e.g., John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale). Clearly in 2008, Obama has a huge advantage over McCain. But McCain is making this much harder on himself than it has to be. Oh, and Sen. McCain, a bit of warning: the last debate on October 15 with Bob Schieffer – this one will be on television, too.


Written by democracysoup

October 8, 2008 at 10:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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