Friday was the first presidential debate, pitting Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) against Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a live forum that lasted almost two hours. In a debate that was supposed to focus on foreign policy, a large majority of the first half of the debate centered on financial bailout plans and national economic issues. Regardless of the outcome of these issues, though, the editorial board of The Miami Student believes that victory in the debate rested more on each candidate’s approach. The answers we heard were akin to those we’ve already heard before-McCain would sustain George W. Bush’s tax cuts, Obama would move into Pakistan if he felt Osama bin Laden could be found there and both candidates would team up against Russia-but the true importance of the debate was McCain gaining ground on Obama Friday by bringing a more composed, expert character to the debate.
The majority opinion of this board, which believes that McCain appeared stronger in the debate, bases this opinion on the aggressive lead he took on the issues and how defensive Obama appeared at moments during the display. Obama, who we feel has had inspired campaign advertisements, lacked that same warm, approachable enthusiasm during the debate. Instead, he appeared to fall into a defensive position and overreached for bipartisanship in a time when he needed to bolster his Democratic supporters.
Obama did appear to have a greater presidential presence and style-but looks only go so far. Instead of hammering McCain and pushing a harder link between his Republican opponent and Bush on more issues, Obama seemed to back off this strategy.
While it seemed that Obama had a lot of prompts from moderator Jim Lehrer, he seemed to do less with them. Instead, he seemed to put himself in a disadvantageous position against McCain on several issues and failed to take the initiative on areas where he could have increased his differences with McCain. Obama, trying to appear more bipartisan and less attacking, could have easily confused undecided voters by introducing thoughts with a semblance of agreeance to his opponent.
The lesson learned here is that Obama should not try to be what he is not. Lacking a record of bipartisan cooperation in the senate, Obama should simply not try to appear bipartisan. This is not the time for him to make amends and reach across the aisle-he should promote his own stances and depart from the idea that in order to court undecided voters, he must appear to work with those in his opponent’s camp.
This editorial is by no means an endorsement of one campaign over the other, but is instead what we see as the positives and negatives that emerged from Friday’s debate. Luckily, the two remaining presidential debates will give us a better view of how exactly these two campaigns see their face-to-face strategy. It is clear that it is in Obama’s best interest to be more aggressive when faced with this type of open dialogue.