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September 27, 2008

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When Hilzoy and retired Col. Pat Lang agree, you know the world has moved.

They had a big brawl in the cabinet room, I read. Johnny started it. I think Bush hid behind the curtain.

http://www.balloon-juice.com/?p=11437>John Cole at Balloon Juice has a great analysis of Obama's 'agreements' with McCain. Simply put, Obama debates like a gentleman, being respectful but still hitting hard. He 'agrees' only to draw contrast. But you should really just let John explain it, he's way better than me.

John Cole absolutely nails it on this topic

Obama is clearly not agreeing with him on substance- this is Obama’s style. He works from a point of agreement, and then moves to differentiate himself and or to attack. Everything is”You are right, but…”

I know that this bothers some of you, but it is one of the things I like about Obama. I think it is a graceful and gentlemanly way of debating. Additionally, it works really well in the type of format they had last night, where they are allowed to provide lengthy comments and responses. It may not be as effective in a different type of format, where it really may seem that all Obama does is agree with someone and then get cut off by the buzzer before supplying the “yes, but.” Last night, though, it was exceptional. Obama was able to come across as a decent, earnest, and honest fellow of integrity who was confident enough to point out when his opponent was right before contrasting the differences between the two of them, while McCain sat hunched over the podium grimacing and unable to look his opponent in the eye.

I must say that, present company excepted, having John Cole on the side of the angels and being able to read commentary like this is the best consolation I have for not having Molly Ivins and Hunter S. Thompson around anymore to help steer us through the madness of this campaign.

MeDrewNotYou,

OK, is this what it feels like when two women show up at a party both wearing the same dress?

It could be worse. We could've both shown up naked or something. ^.^;

Not that he isn't an oaf, but Matthews does seem to be pretty negative on McCain for not looking at Obama.

I'm just glad you guys found Cole's post so I didn't have to write it up myself. He said exactly what I tried to say on another blog -- one where righties were calling Obama's "you're right" moments errors.

No, not errors at all.

Off to link to both this post and Cole's.

Also, the McCain web ad makes no sense. So because Obama agrees with McCain sometimes and acknowledges those agreements, he's not ready to lead? Well, McCain agrees with McCain even more of the time, so he must be really unready to lead

"When Hilzoy and retired Col. Pat Lang agree, you know the world has moved."

Well, I think it moved years ago. As best I can tell from occasional visits, Col. Lang is a conservative, but a real one with actual principles that he believes in, so it's not surprising that he and hilzoy see eye-to-eye when it comes to people like Bush, McCain, and Palin.

I agree with all of John Cole's points, and I'd like to add another.

In a debate, conceding a point your opponent makes can be a simple way to move the discussion from that point, to one that you prefer to discuss. It effectively ends the discussion on your opponent's point.

McCain says the problem in the financial markets is a lack of responsibility. Does Obama want to argue that point? No, so he simply concedes it, and moves on to the issue of lax regulation.

McCain says the earmark process has been abused. Does Obama want to argue against that? No, so he concedes it, and moves on point out that there are bigger fish to fry.

Etc.

It's rhetorical judo. The force is strong in this one.

Thanks -

I noticed the difference between the two candidates quickly and so starting a count: how many times did each candidate say something denigratory or dismissive about the other; and how many times did each candidate say something conciliatory or complimentary towards the other. Mr. McCain got six hash marks in the denigratory column and none in the conciliatory column. Mr. Obama got six hash marks in the conciliatory column and none in the denigratory column. I was surprised at the starkness of the difference. But it clearly shows who really will be able to reach across the aisle to the other side and work something out.

Long ago, I came across a New Yorker cartoon from the 1920s or 30s. I wish I could post it or link to it; let me just describe it, poorly.

1st panel -- An empty stage, a podium on each side, with an easel in the middle displaying a big sign announcing "Debate tonight: Mozart greater than Beethoven. Pro:Doctor Drednich. Con:Professor Himmelsein."

2nd panel -- Goateed Doctor D. at left podium harangues and gesticulates; monocled Prof. H. rubs chin.

3rd panel -- Prof. H. expounds; Doctor D. looks deeply thoughtful.

4th panel -- reprise of the first panel, with the names reversed.

Well, ya hadda be there. But the proposition that debaters can be so persuasive as to simlutaneously convince each other struck me as funny at the time. And, of course, the notion that the point of a "debate" is to persuade your opponent is meta-absurd.

Still, we like to think that reason has something to do with debate. If our opponent is "wrong" about his conclusion, it may be due to faulty logic, not faulty premises. Granting that he has the premises right ("John is correct that 2+2=4") and then showing where his logic goes wrong ("But he divides by zero in step two") is the way sane people explain to other sane people that the opponent's conclusion (e.g. "2=1" or "Tax cuts increase government revenues") is mistaken. Mentally unhealthy debaters try to carry the day by claiming their opponent is "naive", or "unready".

Truly despicable people pretend that argument is merely a forceful statement of premises masquerading as conclusions, so if their opponent accepts their premises he has lost the argument. "Obama concedes that both Mozart and Beethoven were great composers! What a wimp!!" Now that's funny.

--TP

Also note that if all the armchair psychoanalysis of McCain is right, he may have found reasonableness from Obama more aggravating than undiluted disagreement. But yeah, this was a weird thing for the R's to try to exploit or the D's to lament. Given how much time McCain spent throwing out flurries of accusations, so many that Obama could never have replied to them all effectively in the time alotted even if he'd been so inclined, I'd have thought some of that action would be seen as the most potentially damaging. Or, alternatively, that Kissinger would be hauled out to all available venues to do what he has long been known to do best: lie, and lie gravely using his deep voice. Although as I haven't seen much news maybe the latter is indeed happening.

Also, the McCain web ad makes no sense. So because Obama agrees with McCain sometimes and acknowledges those agreements, he's not ready to lead?

I agree, it seems like a minor thing, but the fact that the McCain camp has jumped on the "I agree" issue as their main follow-up to the debate suggests to me that they have really lost their bearings. Who on Earth is going to be swayed by that? It's an entirely pointless ad that might at best give people who are already solid McCain fans something to chuckle over.

Also during the debate, McCain pushing his anti-earmark theme so hard was another huge waste of time for him. Nobody really cares, especially when there are much more pressing economic/governance issues at hand. Even when Obama disarmed that attack, he pressed on, and seemed gratified that he was making his point even though it surely gained him little at all and made him seem well out of touch with current economic concerns.

I also though his "no preconditions to talk to teh evil" obsession was self-defeating. There was surely a dishonest point to be scored there, but by persevering on ramming it home he simply pulled the curtain back on the contrived game that is the presidential foreign policy debate, and made himself look cheap.

Obama seems to have scored better than I thought from the event in any case, which restores my faith a little bit in the public and bolsters even more my faith that he and his team have a solid game plan and always know what demographic they are targeting even when the point is lost on me.

McCain indulged in an orgy of self-love, probably losing women and swing voters for good in the process, but thinks he did ok because the people who were already going to vote for him loved it. We'll see if the polls in the next few days bear this out, but he might have squandered his last chance here.

No matter what, it is still a weak debate technique, and certainly not useful to the extent Obama did it.

For everyone of those "I agree" moments, I could write a better script for Obama -- hell, a better script that still makes use of an "I agree" type logic.

What is true is that it is not an "error" or "gaffe," and it does have some mild positives as noted above. Its negative is that done too often, it projects weakness. There is still no reason for Obama to do it as often and as casually as he did it during the debate.

For example -- "I agree with John on the problem, but what we disagree on, and what matters, is the right solution."

As another point, what was without a doubt the most effective moment during the debate was Obama's litany of "You were wrong" concerning Iraq. But consider this -- it has more power because Obama is more reserved about how and when he fires that cannon. But it still does not require gratuitous "I agrees" -- there are simply better verbal techniques for doing the same thing.

dmbeaster, I strongly disagree. It was the combination of agreement and disagreement that made Obama seem moderate and thoughtful, and McCain look disagreeable and impulsive.

The tactic is especially useful in the context of the FP debate, which is perhaps more removed from substance than any of the other issues. Whatever the question, "Iran" is your prompt to swear to sacrifice your first born for Israel if asked. "Afghanistan" is your prompt to hunt down Bin Laden. Sadly, "Russia" now seems to be your prompt to swear undying fealty to that Norway of the Caucasus, Georgia, and for bonus points, you should point out how reprehensible it is that oil rich states like Russia and the Middle Eastern countries dare demand payment for their natural resources.

Thus, when your opponent has just paid homage to whatever the trap issue in question is, you agree unambiguously before anything else you say, because any degree of nuance will be pounced on as cowardice in the face of Mordor.

CNN's poll has Obama with a big win on the debate. The only point McCain really won on willingness to attack his opponent. By hammering Obama on the Surge, which is small fry compared to the decision to go to war, Obama has actually moved into the lead on whom people think will be better on Iraq. People, including independents and moderates, thought Obama was just plain more likeable.

I would add that this is a subpart of a larger tactic used throughout the Obama campaign, and with which I disagree. This is the constant refrain that "he is honorable, but..." Or the phraseology from the convention speech,

I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know.

* * *

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

There is absolutely no reason to use the set-up line in this manner, and it does not make the conclusion stronger. The point is that when words come out of your mouth that needlessly commend your opponent, its build him up no matter what else you say. It has the effect of suggesting an admission that McCain does care, he just has it temporarily wrong. It undercuts the whole argument that McCain is tempermentally less suited to be president -- how can you effectively make that argument when your own rhetoric suggests he cares? Far better is to make the point he does not get it, and you genuinely don't know why he does not get it. Don't intentionally exclude "not caring" from the possible reasons that the listener may accept.

You can make the same point and not be overly harsh with a phrase such as "sadly, John McCain just does not get it." Your message should be clear that he is out of touch, not that he is a good guy but just temporarily got it wrong. You cannot afford your own precious time with your audience to do anything that builds up your opponent in this gratuitous manner.

bryninghman:

My point is NOT that it is never effective, or that every time Obama did it was bad. My point is that he overuses it and also uses it needlessly. Can it be effective to agree and then counterattack? Without question, but if you were to list all of the moments he did this, and then think about how effective it was overall, I argue that he is not doing his best. He is better off using better judgment about when to premise an argument around an admission.

Frankly, I was a little surprised that his debate speech techniques were significantly weaker than his convention speech. I had not watched the primary debates much, so apparently this is nothing new.

People, including independents and moderates, thought Obama was just plain more likeable.

And in an electorate where "who is more likable" is generally more important than issues, that's no small thing.

I was also pleased to hear Obama speak not only in complete sentences, but in compound sentences. He sounded like an aware, thinking adult.

McCain... didn't. He sounded like someone who kept losing track of the point he wanted to make. He sounded, at times, like a failing stand-up comic floundering to find the sure laugh-line. And when he criticized Obama for not supporting the surge, or for not going to Afghanistan, using that high-pitched incredulous tone of voice, he reminded me of nothing so much as an angry parent trying to publicly humiliate a child.

I, too, would have liked to see Obama land a few more hard shots. But I agree that Obama wasn't trying to reach people like me, who are absolutely going to vote for him, but people who are still making up their minds.

So he came across as reasonable, reachable, and likable. Looks like win to me.

I'd just like to say that Byrningman's 4:18 comment was awesome.

John Cole makes the point that I would have about these "points of agreement"; I'd only add that conceding an opponent's point in order to set up an argument against him has a name in rhetoric: synchoresis. It's kind of the rhetorical equivalent of the rope-a-dope, and it's singularly appropriate that Obama uses it. After all, he is the Muhammad Ali of American politics; maneuvering his opponent into beating him- (or her-)self up is his specialty, remember?

I don't know who this Pat Lang is but Chris Matthews takes enough flak without bloggers writing untruths.

Matthews thought the outward contempt McCain showed for Obama was rude, ignorant and wrong. He said this many, many times last night.

Matthews also thought Obama won the debate.

He thought McCain lost it.

It's easy to take swipes at crazy Chris Matthews but I'd say he is just as objective as your average blogger, if not more so.

Hilzoy: "Think about it: McCain couldn't even bring himself to look at Obama."

In fact, Chris Matthews was the only person I've seen so far who noted that McCain basically used the same technique in the primary debates against Mitt Romney.

McCain showed real contempt for Romney. He showed real contempt for Obama.

As Matthews said, his style of debating, campaigning, fighting is to make it personal against such an adversary.

Like Matthews, I think it makes McCain look petty and juvenile. But I think it's good analysis from the MSNBC whack-job.

Oh, no. Here comes the Serious Analysis' spin. Finneman: "On debating points--and if campaigns are boxing--McCain won. He was the sneering aggressor. He had Obama backpedaling for much of the night on foreign policy. Obama, for his part, missed several chances to counterattack, especially on the economy. Obama’s answers were strewn with annoying “ums” and “ahs” as he played for time to calibrate the least-damaging response." To the heavily invested MSM, Obama was a the weak newcomer defeated in hand to hand combat by the experienced fighter pilot jock top gun knife fighter POW war hero. Fineman approves of "sneering aggressors" as president. They're more fun.

To his great credit, Matthews also made the point that getting more soldiers killed in order to "honor" the ones already dead is obscene. And Matthews made clear that it's McCain who pushes that obscenity.

Matthews drives me nuts half the time, but he makes up for it once in a while.

--TP

Pat Lang's point was also picked up in a post last week by Teresa Hill, Ky Trip Report: That black man, somebody raised him right:

my sometimes racist father, who for reasons I will never understand watches Fox News all day... of Obama, said, "That black man...somebody raised him right. You can tell. Somebody took some time with him, and they raised him right."

Which is the 2nd highest compliment my father can give: Raised right.

(the highest compliment is "hard worker", and only manual laborers need apply.)

I'm going to also cite chiri, in Ok, I got it, decency is the core foundation:

It is the sense of decency that we need to recover more than anything ... [Obama] showed me how hypocritical I can be by wanting those qualities in a leader, but then judge that leader for not just humiliating his oponent...Yak.

McCain showed real contempt for Romney. He showed real contempt for Obama.

The difference is that no one likes Mitt Romney, so it was effective then.

I also think that dmbeaster hasn't been watching the whole campaign. He may not like Obama's tactics, but all the evidence suggests that they work. Don't project what you want to see onto the rest of the electorate. My guess is that Obama and his people have a lot better idea what that is than you do.

On debating points--and if campaigns are boxing--McCain won. He was the sneering aggressor. He had Obama backpedaling for much of the night on foreign policy

What that analysis doesn't consider is that McCain failed to land a killing blow. McCain would have been forgiven for being a jerk if he'd nailed Obama on something, but he didn't, so he was just a jerk. And there is a great opportunity cost for him for not spending that time weaving his own narrative other than implying he saw the War of 1812 coming, which is probably self-defeating.

Obama's was the easier task - not to get skewered - but at the same time any perceived errors would be hugely exaggerated. Imagine Obama had spoken about Spain the way McCain did, example.

In fact, Obama did much better than just not making a big error, and his surprisingly good reviews I think reflect the fact that you could hear the punditry waiting with baited breath to fall off the trapeze.

I'd just like to say that Byrningman's 4:18 comment was awesome.

Cheers! I'd just like to say that your comment of 4:44 was very insightful!

I think we've revealed something fundamental about people in their reactions to Mr. Obama's "Senator McCain is absolutely right..." comments. One group (including McCain and the conservatives) regard this as a sign of weakness. The other group sees it as a sign of mental maturity. Obviously, I'm in the latter group. But the notion that people would respect a man for being aggressive and chide a man for being agreeable is frightening to me. It suggests that these people approach the entire world as a battleground. And when all you see is war, that's what you end up getting.

Chris Crawford: yeah.

When I was writing this, I thought of the year I went on the job market, when the professor who was advising us said: Remember, the idea is not to score points. It's to convince people that you'd be a great person to be around for seven years.

And that really struck me. -- Job interviews in philosophy involve a lot of philosophy questions, in which people probe to see how you argue, and what you think. As I thought about it, I realized that I knew a lot of people who assumed that they should approach this as though they were hockey goalies: trying not to let a single puck in the goal, no matter what, even if the padding and masks it took to do this made them look inhuman. Don't let a single point be scored against you!

I had always felt that there was something all wrong about this, and when this professor said what he did, I suddenly got it. The objective is not to win debating points. It's certainly not (in phil. job interviews) never ever to admit uncertainty, etc. It's to convince people that they want to hire you.

Some people might want to hire the most hyperaggressive person, or the one who most resembles a hockey goalie. But most people are looking for something else.

Likewise here, I think. But just as it's easy to assume that job interviews are about points, it's easy to assume that debates are. But it's wrong, I think.

I thought of the year I went on the job market, when the professor who was advising us said: Remember, the idea is not to score points. It's to convince people that you'd be a great person to be around for seven years.

That's incredibly useful advice to me right now - I'm going to channel Obama, not McCain, in my interviews (if I have any). When stumped, I'll fall back on my call for change in the academy...

Hilzoy: McCain claims that he can truly reach out to his opponents and work with them, while Obama cannot. It's hard for me to think that his performance in this debate didn't seriously undermine that claim.
--------

This is a wonderful example of why I love this site; the understatement here is a zen masterpiece.


Slightly off topic, Hilzoy's insight about the debate as a job interview reminds me of watching the 2004 primary debates while in my first job search in decades.

After going through some coaching sessions and recognizing them as really a form of interviews, I was fast-forwarding through one debate on my VCR. This made it very easy to read the body language, especially the canned gestures learned in debate prep sessions. In its own way, this is almost as much fun as reading a Bobblespeak Translation of a debate.

Greetings all,
@BedtimeForBonzo: How can a man who said (as Chris Mathews did) that he feels a thrill go up his leg when he looks at Obama be mistaken for objective? Question: Did any one else see body English of Mr.& Mrs. Obama at the end? Seemed defeated and seeking consolation, and dispensing it, respectively? I think Mr. Obama felt beaten and beat up at the end, whether he was or not is another story. The McCain eye avoidance thing was weird and perhaps tactical, but it backfired. (Unless it was to avoid getting angry, after the DC meeting where BO did the talking points thing that lit a fire under Barney Frank). Weirdly, various times at the beginning Barack Obama looking up from under his brows straight into the eye of the camera, (but with a 1,000 mile stare), reminded me of the Kennedy-Nixon footage with Obama as Nixon. Wierd, huh?

Hilzoy - I think you've got it right, both in the post and in your 6:40. The Obama campaign saw the first debate as a presentation rather than a competition; and in that sense, he did very well. He "came off" well - and that's what the general, non-political public thinks about most.

Re leadership: The pundits will tend to talk about things like "You're right, John", but people's judgements about things like "leadership qualities" have a big unconscious component that the pundits don't consider. Our tendency to elect tall people is one example of that.

Check out the parts of the debate where all three people are talking at once (usually when time is up). Who's the one that "takes control" of the situation and tells Lehrer to go ahead with the next question? Things like that register with people.

The Republicans are having fun with it, but I think the "You're right, John" thing also registers with people unconsciously. For most people, graciousness in a competitive situation is a leadership quality. Powerful people can afford to be gracious.

"I wasn't sure whether McCain would come off this way to anyone other than myself, but he seems to have."

It's also subjective; look at all the right-wing blogs/commentators asserting that Obama came off as arrogant, smug, etc., such as this.

"When Hilzoy and retired Col. Pat Lang agree, you know the world has moved."

Um, why? That seems completely unsurprising to me.

That Obama was not afraid to agree with a small percentage of McCain's views shows strength and much needed wisdom. It is time for the majority to speak out.

This tired point of view is the male heterosexual roaring his lion's roar yet again and may we yawn collectively. It's time for the 60% of women and gay people (and yes, combined we are 60% of the population) to take back power from the 40% who have almost exclusively exerted their power for far too long.

To highlight what we have in common is nothing more than sanity. To do otherwise is just watching a Discovery Channel documentary of dominant males locking horns. Can't we just get past that in 2000 and friggin 8? How long do we have to stand with our pants around our ankles to show the old ways do not work anymore? Europe has figured this out yet we still stand mired in this culture's "boyz-on-steroids narcissim". McCain is mired in the 20th Century, Obama thank goodness represents the 21st and it's about damned time someone did.

I like the job interview analogy, but realize how this is different. It is as if you are in an joint interview directly competing with the other applicant -- that the two of your are interviewing for only one job, and know that they will pick between you for one job based on your joint interview. A lot has to do with how you compare yourself to the other.

It is risky to be giving gratuitous points to your competitor. It is not about scoring or not scoring points, but needlessly burnishing the other's star.

dmb: the thing is, I think that this is a way of burnishing both stars, in different ways. Obama burnishes McCain's a little, in that he concedes McCain to be right on something. But this is not very burnish-y: it would be pretty odd if McCain were not right on something. He burnishes his own insofar as he acts the way you want a leader to act.

I think it would be different if he had never challenged McCain, or if he didn't have a kind of natural self-assurance. (E.g., if the best description were something like: "You're right, John, Obama mumbled, staring at his feet and grinning nervously.") But neither of those things is true. As it is, I thought it worked to Obama's advantage.

Especially since one of McCain's tactics was to make it seem as though he, McCain, disagreed with Obama about something totally non-controversial, like accountability being a good thing. Saying: yeah, of course accountability is a good thing, but here's where we differ ... is a natural way to deal with that.

Byrningman: good luck. That bit of advice was the best I ever got, at least as far as the job market is concerned. It puts things like admitting that you don't know something in a new light: of course it's OK, if you are generally competent and knowledgeable. People get themselves into a lot of trouble by not recognizing that. (As I now recognize, having been on the other side of job interviews.)

After I started my first job, it turned out that one of the things they had liked about me was that when they asked whether I would be able to teach symbolic logic, I said that while if it were absolutely necessary I would of course do my best, it would be a real stretch: it was nowhere near my field, and I didn't feel I had enough background knowledge on the subject to be really comfortable. At the time, I was wincing inwardly when I said that. It turned out to give them more confidence in the stuff I had said I could teach. Who knew? But it made sense, once I thought about it.

By hammering Obama on the Surge, which is small fry compared to the decision to go to war, Obama has actually moved into the lead on whom people think will be better on Iraq.

I thought McCain scored some points with the surge narrative, but only because Obama seemed to want to avoid it.

To be honest, I'd like to see Obama concede on the success of the surge, and then move on.

It would be simple to do:

"Yes, John, the surge was more successful than I, and many people, thought it would be.

But we're still in Iraq, where we should never have been in the first place. Let's talk about how to move on from there and focus on our real enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

That would be the last time McCain could really bring it up.

Thanks -

The interview analogy is interesting, but there is a further angle, I think. Republicans have been able to win elections basically by depressing the turnout and they getting their base fired up to go to the polls. So the analogy is that the company has a job he has to fill, and the Republican ensures that he has a clique who will support him fervently and then wants to have the rest of the people so disgusted by the process, they don't express an opinion. In a situation like that, the two options are to make the Republican candidate so toxic that it encourages the relatively large majority to be actively against him, or to not turn off that large majority and have them actually express an opinion on the process. When viewed this way, it seems much more likely to do the latter strategy than it is to do the former.

But the notion that people would respect a man for being aggressive and chide a man for being agreeable is frightening to me. It suggests that these people approach the entire world as a battleground. And when all you see is war, that's what you end up getting.

Right-wing politics has been a zero-sum game for a while now.

I'll join the back seat driving: I think that obama should respnd to McCain's surge line by saying, "Yes john, since the surge there has been less violence in Iraq but that is a reason to stgartg outr departure, not a reason to saty. As you know Maliki has endorxe my idea that we begin tgropps with drawals withth goal of being out in x number of months. Why on earth should we stgay i Iraq if their government leaders think that it is time for us to go? How can you say we are fighting fo victory if the Iraaqis and their govenment don't want us in their country any more?"

Except you know I'd say it all Presidentially which is his style not mine.

I like the job interview analogy, but realize how this is different. It is as if you are in an joint interview directly competing with the other applicant -- that the two of your are interviewing for only one job, and know that they will pick between you for one job based on your joint interview.

An even better analogy would be two people already employed in the same organization competing for a leadership position. The person who gets the leadership position is still going to need to work with the other applicant. And in that light, McCain's ill tempered behavior is simply toxic and totally unacceptable. He, if he wins, is going to be asking Obama to vote to fund programs he proposes. His job will be, in part, to execute on plans that Obama drafts. They are going to have to work together. McCain came across as someone with a physical age of 72 and the mental maturity of a 2.7 year old. He's unfit for the presidency, unfit for the Senate. It's time for him to call it quits.

This whole idea that admitting where your opponent is right while also telling where you and your opponent differ, that this is a sign of weakness....absurd. Some people are just fundamentally unserious people. Check out Gary's last link for an example.

[...] There is absolutely no reason to use the set-up line in this manner, and it does not make the conclusion stronger. The point is that when words come out of your mouth that needlessly commend your opponent, its build him up no matter what else you say. It has the effect of suggesting an admission that McCain does care, he just has it temporarily wrong. It undercuts the whole argument that McCain is tempermentally less suited to be president -- how can you effectively make that argument when your own rhetoric suggests he cares? Far better is to make the point he does not get it, and you genuinely don't know why he does not get it. Don't intentionally exclude "not caring" from the possible reasons that the listener may accept.
But consider that the aim is not to somehow flip people who right now are undecided between McCain and Obama into suddenly, somehow, completely despising McCain, but to flip these people, who by definition think it reasonably likely that McCain does care, might be right, etc., into considering that maybe even though he maybe does care and might be right about part of the problem, is wrong on the crucial part that matters.

When you consider the audience one needs to address in these debates -- which ain't me and thee, and isn't anyone who has a strong belief in either the general worthiness of Senators Obama or McCain, but who are people who are undecided -- then I think your argument is worth reconsidering.

It's hard for folks like us who have such clear views and have been following all this for so long to get inside the heads of people who are, right now, genuinely undecided as to who they should vote for, but that's what it's all about now, along with Getting Out The Vote.

"It's easy to take swipes at crazy Chris Matthews but I'd say he is just as objective as your average blogger, if not more so."

Well, if you actually mean "average" in any real sense, then you're saying that Matthews is an idiot, which I'll agree with.

"That's incredibly useful advice to me right now - I'm going to channel Obama, not McCain, in my interviews (if I have any). When stumped, I'll fall back on my call for change in the academy..."

Don't forget to mention that you were a P.O.W.

See also James Fallows here.

dmbeaster: What hilzoy said. In your job interview scenario... say the job is for manager of a coffee shop... McCain would be the guy who tries to convince you to hire him because he's worked at a lot of coffee shops, and he knows that "coffee is made from beans," and therefore "you can make burritos out of it." Obama is the guy saying "Well yes, coffee is made out of beans -- very good. However..." and then going on to say some reasonable things about managing a coffee shop. This is not "needlessly burnishing the other's star"; it's just showing that you are not a total idiot, and that you're able to keep your eye on what's important even when someone else is being a total idiot.

If Obama instead says "Beans?! Good god, surely you don't want to trust your shop to someone who thinks coffee is made out of 'beans', ha ha etc." then all he's telling me is that he really wants this job and that he's able to make fun of idiots. Assuming I, as the boss doing the hiring, have some idea what I'm doing (which, come to think of it, may be where this analogy breaks down if the boss is the voting public), that wouldn't be terribly impressive.

Dmbeaster, I think you like I are coming from the same place - we want revenge, we want lightning and fury from the hilltops as we, in our righteous rage, launch wave of attack after attack firmly rooted in the real world, in the truth of the world as it is, and not as we wish it to be.

So yeah, I understand your aggravation, I was there too Friday night. But the election is not the time for vengeance, victory not vengeance - and the polls seems to go with this style. Why? Because we want someone we like to be the #1 guy. When a "sigh" is enough for you to lose the debate discussion you have to be pleasant.

McCain claims that he can truly reach out to his opponents and work with them...

As a legislator he really has done so on some occasions (though not IMO more than a score of others). The trouble is that the more he's in the spotlight, the more strongly he cleaves to the maverick stance. Perhaps because the POW experience was so central to his political rise, he gets off on "Here I am, taking hits from both sides, bloody but unbowed."

I want a president who can forge boring, nuts & bolts compromises -- not one who needs so badly to be a lone hero, in a flight suit or otherwise.

What hilzoy said. In your job interview scenario... say the job is for manager of a coffee shop... McCain would be the guy who tries to convince you to hire him because he's worked at a lot of coffee shops, and he knows that "coffee is made from beans," and therefore "you can make burritos out of it." Obama is the guy saying "Well yes, coffee is made out of beans -- very good. However..." and then going on to say some reasonable things about managing a coffee shop. This is not "needlessly burnishing the other's star"; it's just showing that you are not a total idiot, and that you're able to keep your eye on what's important even when someone else is being a total idiot.

Hob wins at analogy.

Also, to reinforce a theme Hilzoy and others have hammered: one of the common attacks that the McCain campaign has used against Obama is accusing him of not reaching across the aisle in a bipartisan fashion--whereas McCain is the Original Maverick who of course works with Democrats.

Their ad mocking Obama for using synchoresis (my new favorite word this week) completely destroys that narrative. Anyone with half a brain and a shred of integrity watching this debate recognized that Obama was being gracious and a bigger man by making these small concessions. To make fun of him for it implicitly says that the McCain campaign has nothing but contempt for bipartisanship and politeness, regardless of what they actually say.

Their ad mocking Obama for using synchoresis (my new favorite word this week)

Catsy, if you like synchoresis, you'll love this site (if you don't have it bookmarked already)

Next debate:

McCain: "My opponent (insert three lies and assorted bullsh$t) and has blah, blah blah."

Obama: "Senator, if you're going to lie about my record, the least you could do is have the common human decency to look me in the eye when you lie about me."

"Anyone with half a brain and a shred of integrity...."

That gets Obama to maybe 46%, in a dead heat with McCain. There are undecideds, of course, but they're holding to see how deeply taxes can be cut.

"Anyone with half a brain and a shred of integrity...."

The way the McCain campaign is running their integrity through a mulcher, the shreds of integrity should be raining down like confetti...


I want a president who can forge boring, nuts & bolts compromises -- not one who needs so badly to be a lone hero, in a flight suit or otherwise.

The new nickname for McCain that I've seen in circulation (e.g. at John Cole's blog) puts a spotlight on this problem:

"Johnny Drama"

and note that it was back in the last stages of the primaries that Al Giordano put up a terrific post (IIRC it was one of his last at RuralVotes before he was evicted from that site and TheField moved over to narcosphere.narconews) describing some the internal ethos of the Obama campaign and pointing out that one of their primary principles was "No drama".

The contrast between these campaigns and candidates is really striking, and to me it seems obvious that even if there were not any other differences between the candidates and their policies, that the one I would want to govern the country would be the no drama candidate, not the drama queen.

Anyone with half a brain and a shred of integrity watching this debate recognized that Obama was being gracious and a bigger man by making these small concessions.

While of course I agree with the sentiment, I quibble with the word "concessions". It's not a concession to say, "John is right that 2+2=4."
Gracious, yes. A less gracious man than Obama would have left out the "John is right" part.

To me, it's more of a concession to allow McCain to say things like "I know how to win wars, my friends" without rebuttal. Maybe it's politically smart to avoid pointing out that there's no evidence whatever for that claim, but Obama could at least point out that winning wars is good, but avoiding stupid wars is better. Which response works better with "undecided" voters is a question way above my pay grade: I'm not remotely able to fathom what any voter could still be undecided about.

--TP

JT: Obama: "Senator, if you're going to lie about my record, the least you could do is have the common human decency to look me in the eye when you lie about me."

John: I wonder why all of these high-paid campaign consultants often do not give such simple advice.

Obama was a the weak newcomer defeated in hand to hand combat by the experienced fighter pilot jock top gun knife fighter POW war hero. Fineman approves of "sneering aggressors" as president. They're more fun.

(EL | September 27, 2008 at 05:31 PM)

Typical bully-mind. The POW not-really-a-fighter pilot but still a fighter, hoo boy, one tough sumb*tch; it proves how tough he is, that he can tell bald-faced lies from both sides of the fence, changing with the news cycle and keep a straight face and not blush. Not blushing is key for bullying.
And here we thought there was a bottom; but no, they just keep going deeper.

It is a black-and-white choice, between the American virtues of respect, civility, and fairness, and the American vices of puffery, bullying, and bull-headed solipcism. Oh, and especially (trumpets, flourish) self-righteous elitist xenophobia.

Related to what david kilmer said (closing with the "You're right, John" thing also registers with people unconsciously. For most people, graciousness in a competitive situation is a leadership quality. Powerful people can afford to be gracious. Yes) about subliminal influential cues:
Watching the TPM segment,">http://talkingpointsmemo.com/">segment, I was struck by Obama’s way of interrupting. It was firm and forceful (used his deep voice, very effective) but crucially, not abrasive.
I’m a regular watcher, as regulars here know, of bhtv, often formatted with a right and a left in dispute, so I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur of ways of interrupting; there are ways that hold the flow and ways that disrupt, even shatter, it.
Solid interest versus noisy distraction.

Obama was solid.
Presidential.
That’s what people need to see.

I meant to mention earlier that, in addition to Obama's public persona probably being designed to avoid the scary black man bias, I think it possible that one consideration in his team's decision to take a noticeably gentleman demeanour in this debate was the Rev Wright/Ayers attacks that are inevitably coming (I expect this week in fact, both to counter the debate, and to shore up Palin by underscoring her white 'Americaness'). Seemingly nearly 60 million people just saw Obama be very measured, some say to a fault. That's going to make the crazy black radical flag very hard to pin on him.

byrni— entirely agreed.

For the record, we actually have polling on how Obama's approach did, and I tend to think it settles the argument as to whether he had the right approach or not.

"John: I wonder why all of these high-paid campaign consultants often do not give such simple advice."

Because it would be terrible advice. It would come off like Nixon's "last press conference" after his loss to Pat Brown.

(Don't miss the final 'graph of the 1962 Time article.)

"...so I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur of ways of interrupting; there are ways that hold the flow and ways that disrupt, even shatter, it."

So what are some good ways?

"John: I wonder why all of these high-paid campaign consultants often do not give such simple advice."

Because it would be terrible advice. It would come off like Nixon's "last press conference" after his loss to Pat Brown.

I'm really not sure this is an apt comparison. Nixon's "final" press conference was petulant, vindictive, catty, defeatist, and far too much of each. Delivered in Obama's confident tones and with a firm gaze, the line Thullen wrote doesn't strike me as any of the above. It succinctly and efficiently calls McCain out on two points of disrespect while asserting a dominant role in the exchange. It doesn't belabor either or come across as as weak.

Regardless of the tone or gaze, I don't think it would be possible to say that without having it depicted in the press as Bob Dole's similar statement was in 1988:

Dole's mood darkened as soon as the New Hampshire outcome became clear. Just as victory had seemed to liberate him, defeat sent him reverting to his old caustic persona. During a television hookup with Bush Tuesday night, Dole was asked by NBC's Tom Brokaw whether he had anything to say to the Vice President. "Yeah," Dole snarled as he glowered into the camera. "Stop lying about my record."
Regardless of the tone or gaze, I don't think it would be possible to say that without having it depicted in the press as Bob Dole's similar statement was in 1988:

I have to strongly disagree. Obviously we're not likely to ever know for sure, but there are a few key phrases in your quote that break the analogy for me:

"reverting to his old caustic persona"

"snarled as he glowered into the camera"

And then of course there's the fact, alluded to in here, that Dole had a well-known and well-deserved reputation for abrasiveness. Obama has practically the opposite reputation.

Nevertheless, as others have noted, the overwhelming public reaction to Obama in the first debate strongly suggests that his approach was the correct one, or at least a correct one.

I doubt it's possible to tell someone not to "lie" about one's self -- no matter how utterly justified the complaint is -- without coming off, or at the very least being portrayed by some, as rather harsh.

It's not fair, but that's how it tends to work, by my observation.

By the way, Dole's statement is fresh in my mind because over the weekend I saw the video of it in the new documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story. I recommend getting to a screening if there's one near you.

I doubt it's possible to tell someone not to "lie" about one's self -- no matter how utterly justified the complaint is -- without coming off, or at the very least being portrayed by some, as rather harsh.

It's an inherently harsh statement. My point is that context matters: tone, posture, expression, and in my mind most importantly: reputation. If you have a well-defined reputation for being harsh, anything you say is going to be viewed through that lens. If your reputation is that of calm, measured, gracious civility, that will color the reception.

What that means specifically is that while uttering something that is uncharacteristically blunt will usually increase the immediate force and impact of it by virtue of contrast, a reputation like Obama's will inoculate him against the longer-term harm that would result if that were part of an established pattern or narrative.

The real risk in saying something like that is that it would become a dominant thread in the news cycle, with that statement being played and replayed. That's a risk that cuts both ways, though: it raises the visibility of McCain's lies, and forces the McCain campaign to repeatedly and publicly defend their lies if they want to attack Obama for calling them lies.

I would even argue that Obama had just such a moment in the first debate: his epistrophe* of "X. You were wrong. Y. You were wrong. Z. You were wrong." This was uncharacteristically blunt for Obama, empirically truthful, and devastatingly effective. Part of what made it effective was that Obama rarely attacks that directly. The moment was played, replayed and YouTubed, but it doesn't seem to have dragged Obama down.

For my money, the risk/benefit ratio comes out overwhelmingly in favor of using the line more or less as Thullen wrote it. But again, we'll never know, and by every relevant metric Obama's present strategy of remaining polite and unflappable is working.

Meant to footnote the word "epistrophe" with a thank-you to LJ for the link to Silva Rhetoricae. :)

Oh, and at the risk of pulling a kowalski, it occurs to me that Obama did in fact call McCain out for lying during the debate, albeit without using the word "lie" or any of its cognates. I believe what he said was, "that's a complete mischaracterization of my record", or something along those lines.

"Oh, and at the risk of pulling a kowalski"

How's that?

Something I picked up from Redstate, of all places. There's a veteran commenter there named Kowalski, and he's known for replying repeatedly to his own comments to add more.

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