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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Obama and McCain Face Off

    The first presidential debate of 2008 had all the hype and drama one could hope for. After it was confirmed that all parties involved would be physically present, the floor was set for an evening of intense discourse between senators Barack Obama and John McCain.

    By the end of the program, opinions were already swirling on the major media channels over whom may have “won” the war of words. The overall consensus seemed to conclude that there was tie, however, any given news source could rightfully credit one candidate a “win” over the other based on varying columns of criteria.

    What I think is most important in judging who emerged as the victor from this whole thing is to look at the status of each man going into the debate, analyzing what was at stake and what they needed to accomplish, and deciding how successfully they ended up achieving their goals.

    I think it’s safe to say that John McCain had much more on the line going into this debate than Barack Obama did. Since his convention bump at the beginning of the month, McCain has seen his favor falling among voting Americans in various national polls.

    McCain led by six percentage points according to Gallup’s Sept. 6 poll. That number nearly flipped in a Sept. 26 Gallup poll, where Obama led with 49 percent and McCain behind five points with 44 percent.

    Granted, something like a convention bump was bound to deflate, especially once the shock of Sarah Palin for vice president receded and people began to shift their focuses back onto the man at the head of the ticket. This coupled with McCain’s image of not being able to handle an economic crisis only further added to huge hole that he would have to dig himself out of.

    Barack Obama had a distinct advantage in the fact that national polls showed him ahead of McCain on various issues going into the debate. The true reason behind his regaining of the lead could be anything from his continuous promises of change in a time when Americans are greatly distressed with their current government’s failure to help them, to some of McCain’s recent gaffes on the campaign trail. Whatever the case, the numbers clearly showed that prior to their first exchange, Obama was the leading preference for the 2008 presidential election.

    McCain’s had several goals going into the debate. Probably his broadest and most critical objective was to pose himself as a wise leader — a man of courage, knowledge, and understanding, while simultaneously presenting his rival Barack Obama as an immature product of popularity. Only through this kind of characterization could he hope to win the emotions of millions of Americans watching at home on their TVs.

    Another goal was to avoid offering any real solutions to some of the nation’s biggest concerns, particularly regarding domestic issues such as the economy, education, and reducing health care costs. His most important job was to keep as far away from internal worries as possible and keep the focus on national security, foreign policy, and oil.

    Obama went into this debate with the vague hope of shutting McCain out of the picture for serious contention for the remainder of this election campaign. That was his reach goal, his safe goal of course being not slipping out of the lead in the national polls. Pretty much all he needed to do was to make sure to avoid any traps or gaffes and keep calm and consistent when reinforcing his plans and strategies. Obama needed to present his points and try to pitch his case through the specific details of how and why his plan is the best and right one for America.

    So who had the best execution then? If I were judging on pure debating technique, I might call it a tie. Obama absolutely destroyed McCain in the first five minutes while focusing all about the economy. Listing his ideas and following them up with numbered explanations left McCain’s “we’re in crisis, the American worker, blah, blah,” counter spiel in the dust.

    As the debate wore on, however, particularly by the middle, it was clear that the cool and collected McCain was getting underneath the skin of Obama. Obama interrupted his opponent at various points, McCain usually waiting until the end of his opponent’s speech to raise his objection. This was especially successful later on when the talk turned specifically onto foreign policy.

    Furthermore, Obama repeated several times that McCain was “right” in regards to certain topics. I don’t remember hearing McCain mention that about his counterpart once, although I do clearly recall him saying that Obama “doesn’t understand” several times.

    Of course, there’s a lot more deeply woven within the words of each candidate, but I think the overall theme was thus: McCain kept his rhetoric crisp and concise in order to captivate American hearts, while Obama’s explanations were detailed and drawn out in order to convince American minds.

    At the end of the day, I might award the edge to McCain, simply because Obama failed to shut the door on his fledgling rival. This said, however, Obama was impressive for holding his own in a one-on-one debate with a Republican, but I’m still more lauding to McCain’s cool demeanor despite being down in the polls, than by Obama’s sometimes bumbling attempts to list every last policy he wishes to enact as president of the United States.

    Whoever the winner, this debate was a success in highlighting the stark political differences between both candidates and showing America what they have to look forward to for the next four years. That’s what it’s all about anyway, illustrating to the American people the two choices they have for the next ruler of one of the most powerful and influential countries in the history of the world.

    So who will it be, then? There are two more debates remaining that’s sure to impress. It seems to me like the fun, and deciding, has only just begun.

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