September 29, 2008 by Marc Lamont Hill
On Friday, John McCain and Barack Obama squared off in their first debate. Here are a few quick thoughts:
• Although I wasn’t surprised, I was nonetheless disappointed that no one acknowledged James Meredith, the first African American to attend University of Mississippi. If not for Meredith’s courageous fight against state-sponsored terrorism 46 years ago, Obama would not have been able to debate there last Friday. At the very least, he should have been an invited guest.
• By far, this was Obama’s strongest performance. Cleary mindful of critiques that he is too esoteric and longwinded –some of us would say thoughtful and complex– Obama came out of the gate with high energy and succinct points. Also, he appeared more confident than normal (which is no small feat for a man who makes his own presidential seals) and didn’t appear frustrated when McCain applied pressure.
• Neither candidate did an effective job explaining the consequences of the bailout plan for their social agendas. While this is virtually a moot point with respect to McCain, who wants to shrink every sector of government except for military, it raised a few questions about the viability of Obama’s proposed plans.
• Is it really necessary for candidates to give Israel a shout-out at every debate?
• John McCain repeated some variation of the phrase “Obama doesn’t understand” seven times during the debate. Most likely, he was attempted to speak to undecided voters, many of whom have lingering doubts about Obama’s experience and intelligence. While this scripted tactic may have been an effective political move, though post-debate polls suggest otherwise, it amounted to one of the most pejorative and condescending gestures in recent memory.
• In his post-debate speeches, Obama keeps pointing out that McCain’s failure to say “middle-class” during the debate is an index of his indifference to their struggles. Based on this logic, how should I interpret his failure to say “poor people” or “black people” in the same debates?
• Overall, Obama did a better job of explaining his points and challenging his opponents. Nevertheless, he found himself playing defense and conceding unnecessary points to John McCain. If he wants to convince undecided voters that he’s the better choice, he’ll have to refine his strategy for the next debate.
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