No One Really Needs More Debate Blather But…

Here are my only two thoughts after last night’s farrago.  It felt rather like the twelfth round of the third or fourth rematch between two heavyweights who know each other much too well.  I was tired for them by about minute fifteen.

But two things struck me.

First, Senator McCain has had what are for me many disqualifying moments in this campaign — the relatively minor, like his relentless pandering defense of his gas tax holiday; the overwhelmingly dangerous, like the selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate — but there was one moment last night that distilled the combination of policy and moral character defects that should bar John McCain from the office he seeks: this one.

Many others have picked up on McCain’s crude disdain for the health of pregnant women, but the transcript or the retelling does not capture the real shock of seeing McCain sneer the word “health” with his hands forming scare quotes around the sound.

Certainly, Americans disagree deeply on the issue of abortion — which is precisely the argument Senator Obama made about the necessity for the political system to allow that deep argument to be answered by individuals and their own families and networks of community.  McCain’s policy/philosophy of government deficit is revealed by his willingness to use the power of government to pick winners and losers in that contentious debate.  Does anyone out there, especially given the experience of the last eight years, believe that he would restrict that intrusive extension of government coercion merely to the realm of women’s autonomy?

His moral hollowness is revealed at the same moment.  McCain essentially said that it does not matter whether an actual person’s life is at risk; rather, he would treat that other human as a means to his own ends, the his own moral satisfaction or political advantage.  There is a lot of writing and thinking that has gone on around this kind of subordination of others to one’s own desires — for now, let me just refer you to the John Dewey quote I posted here, in anticipation of just this kind of moment last night.*

My other thought is true punditry without a license; ignore it as you should all those faffings of better dressed and better paid opinion mongers.  But I was struck (and pleased) by the overwhelming results of the snap polls and focus groups after the debate, all of them showing a strong victory for Obama.  I thought he did better too — but (a) I’m partisan and I would and (b) I thought the whole evening had a kind of deja vu quality, with arguments and cross claims that have been beaten into my brain over the last several weeks.  How could such a derivative event have such a striking impact on those surveyed?

Well, without any data to back me up, I wonder if the real purpose of last night’s debate for those still trying to choose their candidate was really to confirm an inclination that had not yet hardened into a commitment.

According to many polls by now, Obama has already won the argument on the economy; survey after survey has shown that the electorate by a substantial margin believe him better suited to respond to the problems we face now than his opponent.  In that context, there would seem to me to be a fair number of people who think they ought to vote for the new kid on the block…but could plausibly have felt the need to kick the tires (mixed metaphor alert!) one last time before settling into that decision.

The snap polls would thus reflect not a judgment on who won each point raised and answered in ninety minutes, but on whether or not someone who has already established the formal case for his candidacy satisfying the last big question:  should someone so relatively young and unfamiliar be trusted with the job.  If I’m right, then a substantial number of the overtly uncommitted voter pool went into the debate with a covert lean-Obama tilt, needing comfort in that conclusion, found it in Obama’s cool and calm performance, and came out much more ready to state explicitly that the senator from Illinois is ready to be President of the United States.

And that, my friends (h/t John McCain III), is analysis worth exactly what you paid for it.

(FWIW — Greg Sargent makes an overlapping, and certainly complementary argument here.)

*My wife points out that one of the most troubling aspects of McCain’s dismissing of the mother’s  health in this instance is the disdain it shows not just for her, but for any children she might  have.  McCain’s view advances the case of the gestating fetus over that of both the mother and the rest of her family.  You can pretty quickly render a wide range of moral/ethical arguments against this view, and in any event, it seems like a choice of this import and intimacy would hardly be one that most people would want to leave to that stranger to their daily lives, John McCain (or any other person, sitting far away, passing judgment).

Image (a repeat, I’m afraid):  William Hogarth, “The Polling” from The Humours of an Election series, 1754-1755.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

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One Comment on “No One Really Needs More Debate Blather But…”

  1. budi Says:

    this is a good blog bro.


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