Analysis — The Second Presidential Debate

October 7, 2008

In what many would call a fascinating debate intellectually as well as strategically, I will say that I am completely shocked by the lack of political and strategic performance that John McCain put forward. 

In my opinion, this debate for John McCain held a huge importance — McCain was in need of a breakthrough, and he as well as I knew that it would need to come with negative attacks. 

But McCain simply didn’t pick the right fights — he picked all of them. In almost every question and issue, McCain choose to attack his opponent. And this simply did not (and is proven to have not) provoke a positive reaction from the audience. 

And this is essentially what part of the outcome is for McCain’s slip in the polls — he has chosen a proven strategy, in this case negative campaigning, and has abused it — both in this debate and in his campaigning in total. 

 Obama laid out my point perfectly after a repetitive string  of small jabs by McCain, quoting to a questioner in the  audience named Oliver:

 “You don’t want to hear politicians pointing fingers, you  want to know how my or senator McCain’s policies will  affect you.”

 This quote was both the closest point to a knockout punch  that this relatively motionless debate held, but also a show  that McCain was not pointing his finger correctly at Obama.  As a democrat and Obama supporter myself, I will say (and you can quote me on this) the Obama won the debate from a policy standpoint. But as a thirteen-year old American and political blogger, I will also say that McCain lost a debate on the strategic side that he very well could have won if he simply stopped attacking.

And this is essentially because although McCain had very little momentum coming into tonight, the debate’s town hall-style favored him — he purposely holds his campaign events as town-halls because he knows that it is his strength. 

But despite this, McCain, instead of capitalizing on the town-hall format by directly answering the questions asked, seemed anxious to put fourth a knock out punch question after question in the form of a political attack towards Obama. 

And because of this, McCain left Obama the momentum door a jar and Obama exploited it, using his strengths to please the crowd with his policies, ignoring the sometimes off-topic McCain points. His ratings instantly increased and as an effect, the normally non-commenting people I watched the debate with pointed out that Obama clearly had a strategic and political edge. 

And in the end, McCain never got his chance for a knockout punch. Why? Obama never gave him another chance — using his earned momentum to both answer McCain and present his point in the way he wanted to.

And so I think that McCain fared as more anxious in his portion of the debate than Obama, and that is why he clearly lost.


24 Responses to “Analysis — The Second Presidential Debate”

  1. Torta Says:

    Obama did OK with the format – he taught college, and was a popular professor… that came across tonight, he just loved breaking down a complex question and guiding the audience through it. “Teachable moments” without being condescending.

    You’re right though…. McCain eventually came across as petulant and unattractive from all the negative attacking. I watched on CNN with the “pulse lines” across the screen and you could see viewers getting sick of McCain attacking Obama.

  2. SeaTurtle Says:

    Very interesting analysis. thanks

  3. Notrouble Says:

    A thoughtful analysis. Please leave a tip jar – you’ve earned it.

  4. pacer521 Says:


    I agree. He is very intellectual and I think that will help him. I watched CNN two and the viewers were getting sick of McCain’s attacks.

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. pacer521 Says:

    Seaturtle and Notrouble,

    thanks a lot for the compliments and reading my post!

  6. WSE51 Says:

    McCain tried twice to bash Obama for earmarks for an “overhead projector” for a planetarium in Chicago. I guess McCain’s fierce attack gurus thought that sound bite would win him some points. But the American people want to hear about how the candidates will solve the issues in Iraq, in the economy .. really huge problems. They were smart enough not to be tricked into caring more about an overhead projector than the $700 billion war cost.

  7. pacer521 Says:


    I agree — the overhead projector comment was one of the many cheap-shots McCain threw at Obama rather going for broke.

  8. jz Says:

    I guess I should get over my consistent surprise at McCain’s incoherent strategy and muddled execution. He’s repeatedly failed to stake out a clear message platform and never offered voters an overarching narrative, but instead cycled through a melange of Republican boilerplate from elections dating back up to 44 years, every now and again throwing in “reform”. Then when a key opportunity to reinforce message-of-the-moment arises, he more often than not flubs it.

    I think oftentimes over his career he’s been an effective senator and a compelling character. But he’s a terrible candidate. If not for the very few highly effective tacticians in the Republican machine who still have some good tricks left up their sleeve, he’d be getting even more blown out than he already is.

  9. Gozinya Says:

    Wow. The substance is subordinate to the image. Obama never answered with a single fact but “he looked presidential”. This is what we have devolved to and it’s mighty sad. The debate was a pitiful exercise but the slavish devotion to the stylish and trendy is even more frightening.

    But all is not lost! The thing is, the devotees of the Black Messiah do not usually vote. It’s the old futs and AARPs that actually go to the polls. So my guess is – Obama will be an interesting footnote to history and McCain will actually guide the nation through it’s most challenging times. Bye bye HUSSEIN.

  10. pacer521 Says:


    I really have nothing else to say. That’s your independent decision. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Mridul Chadha Says:

    It looked like a dog fight with none of the candidates offering specific answers to the questions. McCain started it all as he had no other choice but to attack Obama.

    In attacking Obama, and Obama subsequently answering back, people didn’t get any real answers to some real serious questions.

    All in all, the debate proved to be a political gimmick for which i totally blame McCain.

  12. abelharding Says:

    Great analysis. And, you are right. John McCain didn’t choose to pick one or two things to go negative over, he decided to do it over every point. It got old rather quickly.

  13. rhapsodyinbooks Says:

    Personally, and as you know I love Obama, but I think addressiing the issues is not enough. You’ve got to make the discussion interesting for the hoi polloi in the audience. I believe Obama would do better if he studied the speeches of the Kennedys (John and Robert) and tried to adopt a persona in these debates thathas a little more sense of humor, self-deprecation, lightness, etc. Out on the road, and especially pre-presidential run, Obama showed these traits. He’s probably got a lot of anger toward McCain for all the lies and aspersions cast during this campaign, but I think part of the reason people warm up to Palin is because she smiles a lot, she’s folksy, she seems *happy.* I think Americans are in the mood for *happy.*

  14. epiphanyblog Says:

    The town hall format, and debates in general don’t really give the candidates enough time to lay out their position. How much can you really squeeze in to 2 minutes. If we really want to know what the candidiates plans are, we need to tune in when they are at rally’s or go to their websites. For people that do not have time/interest in that, there are debates whenre the candidates can compare and contrast their position with that of their opponents. To me the only way someone can out right lose at a debate is if he gets caught in a bold faced lie, or physically attacks the other cadidate.
    Regarding this last debates (actually the last 3), the Republicans were slipping in the polls, and since the world refuses to accept that a black man is capable of winning the election they are holding on with baited breath for McCain to pull through and win this thing. They are hoping his debate performance will help him win over votes, because nothing else seems to be working. So even though I watch the debates knowing I won’t hear anything I don’t know from either candidate, the media and experts out there watch in hopes that McCain will wow voters enough to save this country from *gasp* an intelligent black man with a plan for this country that might help is regain the repect of other nations, and respect of our own citizens by taking care of the problems that plague the middle class!

  15. pacer521 Says:

    Mridul Chadha,

    As far as the issues, I agree — both didn’t want to answer any of the moderator’s questions. Thanks again for the comment.

  16. pacer521 Says:


    Thanks for the comment and visit! I agree — McCain attacked too much, and it ended in helping him to lose.

  17. pacer521 Says:


    I agree. You bring something different to the table, personality is something I seem to stubburnly forget. I think that the Palin thing is totally right as well — thanks for the comment and the regular visits!

  18. pacer521 Says:


    I agree — the debates are more short term. The issues can really be brought out and discussed on the candidate’s website. Thanks for the long and thoughful comment and visit!


  19. huxbux Says:

    Substance aside, this debate looked like more what I expected. McCain appeared agitated, uncomfortable, and antiquated. Obama appeared engaging, determined, and vigorous. As much as we like to attribute debates and politics in general to rationality, we are an emotionally driven voter base. Our heart often times supercedes our mind when we go to punch that ballot.

    Good post pacer. Keep up the good work.

  20. expatforobama Says:

    Good Analysis Pacer (-:
    I haven’t written one but I imagine if I had it would sound pretty much like yours…(-:
    Ain’t no stopping us now!

  21. pacer521 Says:


    I agree, I really won’t touch your first paragraph. Thanks for the comments, huxbux and everyone!

  22. Kevin Robles Says:

    Hey Pacer521. First of all, awesome analysis. I’m shocked to see somebody else younger than 15 to talk about politics. You hardly see it anywhere! I’m 15, so I have first-hand experience in that. Second, I’d prefer to hear you on tv than all thoe other talking-heads. You’re analysis is very detailed and fair. I know its hard to not be favorabl to Obama, ;), but you seemed very objective in your analysis. Thanks!


  23. Kevin Robles Says:

    Hey Pacer, thanks for commenting in my blog. One question, how do you get readers to your website? When you first started, what did you do?

    Thanks again,

  24. thegarrulousfiend Says:

    Well I want to firstly apologize for not replying sooner, I have been quite busy and wasn’t able to get around to it. I’d preface this comment with great surprise as to your ability to write at this level at the age of thirteen, but I’m sure you get that a lot already. I consider your analysis to be well formulated and on par with most adult bloggers, so I will treat you as one. I almost entirely agree with your analysis but I think that you are forgetting what attacks McCain didn’t use. He could have easily drug Bill Ayers (the terrorist connection) or Jeremy Wright (the hey guys he’s black! connection) into the debate but he didn’t. I admire that fact greatly and think that he knew he had to make up for it. Therefore he attacked Obama on every other issue, with Obama replying in kind (albeit in much softer tones.) McCain is frustrated with the negative campaigning that he isn’t used to and it’s fairly evident. I called the debate a tie because I thought that only spending 19 minutes in angry old man mode made it a much better performance than the last, and let’s face it, with the general opinion on the economy right now it’s nearly impossible for him to win any debate regardless of how eloquent he is. Bravo on the commentary though, I promise to be a regular reader from now on.

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