A new addition to the pantheon of memorable moments in debate history

If you’re like me, the second the debate ended, you got on your computer to check whether the consensus in the blogosphere jived with your own impressions of the first Presidential debate. I discovered that the general consensus (from both liberal and conservative bloggers) was that McCain scored on points. He held his own on the economy, and came into his own on foreign policy, an area in which Obama distinguished himself as a complete ignoramus. To see him try to argue his way out of his “no preconditions” statements was amusing.

I happen to be somewhat concerned, though, that the average American doesn’t react to the debates in the same way as we internet/political junkies do. When we watch the debates, we know the facts and arguments as well as the candidates do. When Obama lies, we recognize those lies for what they are. When McCain begins a good argument and then gets lost in elliptical phrasing or jargon, we still understand precisely what it is he actually meant to say, and are able to applaud the thought.

The average American, though, sees things a little differently. Obama has the lawyer’s practiced skill of being able to keep his lips moving and sound coming out, even as his brain his empty. Although his eyes looked a bit panicky, he kept emitting subjects, and verbs, and objects. You and I knew that what he was saying was nonsense, or canned, or irrelevant, or dishonest, but the average, less informed viewer heard only a smooth flow of subject and verb and object.

The opposite was true with McCain. McCain, like Bush 41 before him, can lapse into a telegraphic style of speech, where he starts a thought, pauses, and then abandons that thought to go on to a new one. In his own mind, he’s fully conveyed what he wished to say. The auditor, however, feels as if he is left hanging. You and I can fill in those blanks, because we know the facts, but the average listener may be waiting for the object that should have been attached to that subject, verb formulation.

This means that I’m a little less sanguine than blogosphere commenters who, focusing on substance, awarded more points to McCain than to Obama. Still, I’m not completely down-hearted, and that’s because I think Obama may have destroyed himself with a single statement. Those single statements can be killers. Sometimes they kill the person at whom they’re directed; and sometimes they kill the person speaking. You recall all of these, don’t you?

“Who am I? Why am I here?” Meant to be rhetorical, but sounding inept and bewildered, it was the start of the debacle that was poor Admiral Stockdale’s VP debate, and contributed significantly to the meaninglessness of Ross Perot’s presidential run.

“There you go again.” With that one statement, Ronald Reagan made Jimmy Carter sound like a fool. And it was delivered so sweetly. It wasn’t angry. Instead, it was the sort of fond exasperation a parent feels for the child who just can’t get it right.

“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” The pundits loved it. Lloyd Bentsen decimated the boyish looking (and Republican) Dan Quayle by putting him firmly in his place for having the temerity to compare himself to that Democratic icon, Jack Kennedy. It didn’t matter that, if he ran today, Kennedy’s policies would more closely align him with the Republicans. The insult was enough.

And from yesterday’s debate: “I’ve got a bracelet too.” A lot of conservatives want to give Obama heat for the fact that he couldn’t remember the name on his bracelet, but I actually find that forgivable. Obama was in the hot seat and, at moments like that (at least if you’re me), names are the first thing to go. The sin wasn’t the memory failure, the sin was that he made the statement in the first place.

Let’s start with some context: In connection with his belief that there is no peace and honor without victory, John McCain told the moving story of the moment Matthew Stanley’s mother gave McCain Matthew’s bracelet and asked him to wear it and, more importantly, to honor and give meaning to Matthew’s death by making the Iraq War an American defeat, not an American victory.

Obama, had he wanted to, could have scored some substantive points by immediately saying that we don’t honor one man’s death by creating more dead, or some such argument. That seemed to be where he was heading, but I tuned out because I was so overwhelmed by his actual response: “I’ve got a bracelet too.”

What is this? Kindergarten? Could anything show more clearly what a selfish, self-centered, shallow man Obama is? McCain is talking about real people, and he’s talking about how the beliefs he shares with those real people drive him to his understanding that, both for the good of the nation and for the honor of her troops, America must leave Iraq as a strong, viable nation. It breaks faith with both America and her troops to slink away as Obama so wants to do. This is a deep substantive argument. The bracelet wasn’t the central point. It was simply a human-interest lead-in to that point.

And what does Obama say? “I’ve got a bracelet too.” What that means, translated, is “I can’t think of an original argument, I don’t have a deep emotional story, I don’t have sound policy justifications for abandoning Iraq now that we’re trembling on the verge of actual and complete success but, ‘Nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah — I’ve got a bracelet too.'” The attitude and ignorance behind the statement was appalling.

If this was just one example, it would be bad enough, but we’ve seen this before. When Hillary, the darling of huge chunks of American women, self-deprecatingly (and rather charmingly) acknowledges that she grates on some people, Obama snaps back with the condescending “You’re likable enough.” If I’d been Hillary, I would have marched across the stage and bitten him. So, I suspect, would all of her female followers.

And then when Palin comes on the scene, this man of Indonesia, Hawaii and Chicago suddenly discovers his inner Southerner and, when speaking of Republican policies, comes out with an old Southern expression: “You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.” At that moment, the remaining chunk of American women who aren’t Obama acolytes lunged for their TV screens, teeth bared.

The MSM, no doubt recognizing how damaging this statement, is going to downplay “I’ve got a bracelet too” in the hope that it doesn’t enter the pantheon of memorable moments in debate history. It’s therefore our responsibility to make sure that this telling moment into Obama’s character does not vanish into the abyss.

(Cross-posted at Right Wing News.)

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  • Mike Devx

    A dream: All conservatives buy or make a few T-Shirts that simply say, “I’ve got a bracelet too”. And wear them.

    Those voters who don’t have a clue start asking “What in the heck are those T-Shirts about?”

    Many of them hear the story: “At the first debate, Senator McCain talked about the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq. She gave him a bracelet with her son’s name on it, and asked McCain to never forget about her son, who loved his country.” And he told her, “I’ll never forget him, never.”

    And then Obama said, “Hey, I’ve got a bracelet, too.”

    And slowly the story spreads.

  • http://lookingforlissa.wordpress.com lookingforlissa

    You may want to update and/or bump this post, Bookworm. Turns out the soldier’s family didn’t want him using the bracelet/name that way . . .
    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/warner-todd-huston/2008/09/28/family-told-obama-not-wear-soldier-sons-bracelet-where-media

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    It’s more complicated than that, Lissa. The father didn’t want Obama to use the bracelet, the mother did: http://www.marinij.com/election2008/ci_10584171. It looks as if there is a Cindy Sheehan-esque schism in that family. (As you may recall, with the exception of Cindy Sheehan herself, the whole family supported Casey’s decision to enlist and then to reenlist, and has supported the War effort.)

  • Mike Devx

    I still think the main point is Obama’s “Hey, I’ve got a bracelet, too” callousness.

    I believe that slips such as this reveal character.

    Hopefully McCain can continue to apply the pressure during the debates. The more Obama’s handlers try to program him to not let slip such shallow, immature comments, the more frozen and hesitant he will become.

    The stutters and uh…uh…eh…uh will become more frequent. Then he will either continue to freeze, or he will let his words flow, and hopefully several times will let the mask slip again.

    But we have a leeetle ol’ Vice Presidential debate to watch first, on Thursday!

    I hope the McCain campaign has a good strategy. Her instincts and authenticity are so very excellent.

    Her ability to speak persuasively on recently-crammed foreign policy details are not. When she does that, it severely diminishes her amazing authenticity and deeply integrated conservative outlook on life. Hopefully they’ll have a successful strategy in place.

  • Ymarsakar

    I read a comment on Blackfive that said something about the mother emailing Obama to stop mentioning the bracelet and wearing it in public, after the debate.

  • Mike Devx

    My die-hard Democrat family all watched the debate. They all thought McCain was both horrible and evil during the debate. :-) Some of them have been saying they were on the fence, but are now solidly for Obama. Oh, well.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    That’s funny, Mike, because that was precisely my husband’s attitude. He never misses an opportunity to bash Bush or McCain or Palin, yet insists that he’s one of those undecided independents. Unsurprisingly, this particular “undecided” thought McCain did a terrible job at the debate.

    I think some of the so-called “undecideds” are embarrassed to be supporting a candidate as miserably unprepared and badly connected as Obama, so they’re lying to themselves and to others.