On One Hand

April 16, 2008

Philadelphia Debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:31 pm
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ABC made an interesting judgment call by choosing former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos to moderate the Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The appearence of a conflict of interest is frowned upon in journalism even if that person can assure neutrality – ABC is the real loser of Wednesday’s media spectacle. If the debate itself seemed neutral or favorable to Obama it wouldn’t be any real issue, but the debate did seem like a piling-on, and many Democrats are going to be offended by the way it was run.

The debate’s real winner is John McCain; both Democrats missed opportunities to make themselves moderate or appealing, and the tone between the two candidates was viscious. Their supporters increasingly hate each other and independents who want to vote for someone who seems fresh and positive will be put off by the bitterness.

The pundits’ early reaction to the Pennsylvania debate says that both candidates performed poorly and were hurt by the negativity – but since they are running against each other for now, one must be hurt more than the other. That will appear to be Barack Obama, who was pummeled for the first 45 minutes with questions about his gaffes and personality. His response to the unfavorable environment was unfortunate; he seemed exhasperated most of the time, which doesn’t look good even if it’s understandable.

Wednesday won’t be remebered as a great day for Obama, but Thursday might. Some superdelegates who leaned towards Obama and were waiting to endorse could jump on board early tomorrow morning to neutralize the debate’s coverage. If those delegates are big names, they will push the debate to page two.

Obama probably shouldn’t complain about Stephanopoulos – bickering about the media makes any candidate look bad – but if a few pundits pick up on ABC’s weird choice, the debate will seem more like a gang-up on Obama than a fair match, which will buffer some of the negatives.

This will almost certainly lead to a boost in fundraising for Obama since his supporters will be angered and empassioned by what they saw. But fundraising won’t do Obama any good; he’s already raising twice as much money as Clinton and outspending her 5 to 1, so the market for his TV commercials is saturated. For Obama to bounce back after this, he needs to get some superdelegates to endorse in the next two days.

Obama needs to come up with some better explanations for his Jeremiah Wright associations and his “bitterness” comment than he gave on Wednesday. My excuse so far has been that he hasn’t had a good platform to make new statements; one epic speech per 6-month period is enough to saturate the market for that. But at Wednesday’s debate, he had a platform to at least roll out some new lines, and didn’t do it. The fact that columnists can come up with more effective lines in his defense than he can make for himself is a problem. He may not want to be a say-anything candidate like Hillary, but he has to be at least a little political, and do it in a smooth and a prepared way. The next best excuse for his failure to generate new material is that he’s exhausted – which is a reasonable explanation, but not something that voters consider in a voting booth.

Clinton’s biggest downfall is that her ring of advisors are so partial to her and so entrenched after backing her in well over a decade in politics that they’ve lost their objectivity – they’ve pushed her into being overly defensive, overly viscious against Democratic colleagues, and far too negative to be appealing. Could Obama be similarly suffering from his campaigns one-sidedness?

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