Missed Opportunities at the Debate

The debate in Austin last night did not fundamentally change the dynamic of the race, a dynamic that so far favors Barack Obama and so the perceived "tie" goes down as a win for him. Additionally, his performance was his best yet in a format that is not particularly suited to his speaking style. As Donna Brazile opined after the event, he looked presidential. Clinton was her usual on-point self, deftly providing detailed answers to any and all questions. Her one swipe at Barack about his using words similar to Deval Patrick’s earned her boos from the crowd. She recovered with closing remarks that clearly connected with the audience but they seemed to draw their emotional strength from their valedictory quality. She was gracious, but hers was the graciousness of someone who has lost. Barack, however, missed two key opportunities. There is widespread concern that he has not been vetted, that even an innocuous event in his past might be Swift-Boated into a major campaign problem. During 2004, I worked on a congressional campaign in Connecticut. Years earlier, our candidate had not received a bill for his garbage pick-up, and so it had gone unpaid for a few months. Because the bill came from the city, this was deemed a tax by our opponent who ran a series of ads around the theme – "This guy will raise your taxes when he doesn’t even pay his own." It was a fraudulent charge but no less effective for its ridiculousness. Barack has to worry about such things. And, so whatever the first question posed to him last night, he should have answered "Before I get to that, I want to say a word about Sen. McCain. We have different views about how America should deal with health care, with the war in Iraq and with the economy. But this campaign should not be about charges from years ago that have no bearing on his fitness for office." It would have cost Barack nothing to say this, and it might have inoculated him against whatever charges will soon be leveled at him. His other missed opportunity was to more explicitly detail the problem with Clinton’s confused campaign message. She touts her 35 years experience fighting for things like universal health insurance. And, she promises to be an agent of change. Barack came close to articulating the difficulty in combining these two, but he did not hit the ball out of the park. He needed to say, "Senator, we admire your 35 years of fighting for universal health care, but we still don’t have it. However sincere your efforts, something isn’t working, it has not been working for a long time, and I think it is time to let somebody new take a whack at getting this accomplished finally." Hillary’s missed opportunity was to simply say what she has been trying to imply: she doesn’t think Barack has the requisite experience to be commander-in-chief. Saying so explicitly would give he GOP a mean soundbite for the autumn, but the fact is that Hillary’s campaign is in the fourth quarter and they are down by two touchdowns. She needed to hit Barack hard, and not on the silly issue of the provenance of his speeches, but on a substantive issue like military readiness or force capabilities. Instead, she pulled back. Time is running out. Michael Sean Winters
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
11 years ago
Comments by Eleanor Lunn are the exact words I would use , because it is exactly how I feel. Thank you very much for saying it.
11 years ago
Mr. Winters said a mouthful when he admitted that Sen. Obama has not been vetted..We don't know very much about this candidate who came out of left field 13 months ago. He makes Americans feel good! This is the result of a nation of couch potatoes trying to wrestle with complicated world situations. We want someone to take care of it for us so we can feel good. Mr Winters is correct that the debate is not Obama's strong point. He can't rely on big ideas. He needs to focus, get down to the nitty gritty. He will not be a good administrator. I resent this man. He should wait until his turn comes. If a 46 year old woman, who was an orator, announced for the presidency as Sen. Obama did she would not be taken seriously. Once again a man gets the respect because he is male. It is time for a woman to be president of the U.S. Sen. Clinton speaks to her audience as if they are able to grapple with the issues. She states the problem and specifically cites solutions. Sen. Clinton is eminently qualified, she is a known entity; certainly not perfect but very capable. We don't need a messiah! We need a leader. I


The latest from america

Even when events are messy and motives are questionable and hardships abound, we must trust that God’s unknowable power is at work.
“Walk together, work together, love each other.” That is how Pope Francis described the journey of building Christian unity in the 21st century. Michael Rudzena is walking that path as part of the John 17 Movement, an ecumenical group dedicated to responding to the prayer of Jesus that “all who
Ashley McKinlessMarch 22, 2019
For the first time, the inside story of the election of Pope Francis, excerpted from a new book by America's Vatican correspondent.
Gerard O’ConnellMarch 22, 2019
Protracted and opaque processes only reinforce the fear that the church is still more invested in protecting itself than in protecting those who suffer from abuse, the editors write.
The EditorsMarch 21, 2019