When Friday's presidential debate was over, I was sure Barack Obama had won. He provided a stark contrast to a seemingly small, smirky and mean opponent, who could barely conceal his contempt and failed to connect his talking points (earmarks, military aggression, maverickiness, Hanoi Hilton) to the American electorate's needs. The Senator from Illinois articulated his plans clearly and easily. He punched the right concepts, coming back several times to the idea of restoring the middle class and restoring America's standing in the world. He deftly ducked and parried his opponent's sometimes stinging attacks, and landed some blows of his own. He demonstrated to those still concerned about his "inexperience" that he is knowlegeable and capable. Plus, he did it all with gravitas and graciousness, even acknowleging issues on which he and his opponent agree. For a while, though, it seemed like I was alone in my positive critique of Obama's performance.
Immediately after the debates, the talking heads on MSNBC and CNN seemed to think that McCain was the winner, scoring the most points of either candidate. Most agreed that the results were hardly game-changing; McCain had failed to deal a knock-out blow. Still, the Senator from Arizona won kudos for his toughness, while Barack Obama was chastised for being too agreeable.
Pundits weren't the only ones who thought Obama had blown it. Over on Daily Kos, the liberal site, where I was watching open thread reactions, a surprising number of people were wringing their hands. He's agreeing too much! Why isn't he going after Bush, the Republicans, John McCain! Knock him out, Barack! The cheers for red meat were only drowned out by the louder chorus of "Meh, he did okay. I've seen better."
Then the polls began to come in.
CNN 51% 38%
CNN 51% 38%
Hadn't the electorate gotten the memo from pundits and progressive political junkies? Apparently not. In analysis, partisans stuck with their preferred candidate, while Independents and undecideds favored Obama's performance in the debate.
See the professional political prognosticators and my fellow liberals had forgotten something. It's not about us. We're not the people Obama needs to convince now. Okay, he needs to convince the pundits a little, because they control the media narrative. But this year's presidential and vice presidential debates are about the undecideds. Obama needs to move the fence-sitters. The debates are not about technique. The pundits who obsessed about how many "points" each candidate scored and how many times Obama agreed with his opponent were off base. And the debates are not about allowing those of us on the left to work out our pent up rage. I am livid about what has happened to my country over the last eight years and there is much I blame on John McCain's party. But if undecideds fully agreed with my view of things, they wouldn't be...well...undecided.
Political analysis that does not take into account the biases of the analyzer is worthless. Want to know where the presidential race is going? Over the next few weeks, partisans and political types need to think like Independents. They are the key.(And It's looking good for the blue team.)