Monday, October 6, 2008

Wherein I Realize That Volunteerism Is A Sham

Both of you anxiously anticipating a liveblog of Tuesday's presidential debate will be, like my various math teachers, severely disappointed. I've volunteered to help my old high school debate team prepare for next weekend's tournament. Yes, I'm missing a debate to help prepare for a debate. It's irony worthy of Sophocles.

I suspect there'll be a TV or two at the old high school Tuesday (Go Shawnee Mission West!) showing McCain-Obama: Part Deux, but I won't be observing with my usual religious fervor. Expect a post after the debate once I get a chance to review the transcript and watch some video.

It's a shame I won't be able to give this debate the attention it deserves, because I suspect there will be some fireworks in this one. John McCain's entering the 11th round of this fight trailing on all cards. He needs a knockout, and he's going to come out throwing hay makers. Several published reports indicate that the McCain campaign, facing national tracking polls that indicate Obama's up anywhere from six to 11 points and a truly frightening electoral map, intends to dial up the attacks.

Those attacks are going to include the standard Republican attack lines ("Tax and spend liberal!"), but they're largely aimed at the details of Obama's past. Namely, his former associations and friendships. Sarah Palin, Alaska Governor and the most adorable scamp in the history of American politics ("Aw, Sarah just mocked community organizing as a worthless endeavor. What a troublemaker!"), fired the first shot Saturday with a particularly nasty attack focusing on Obama's relationship with William Ayers.

It's not going to end there. Tuesday's going to be the primetime rollout of that strategy. McCain's going to use this "townhall meeting," his preferred forum, to launch the personal attacks. The only question is whether he'll be able to look Obama in the eyes when he does so.

Obama, for his part, isn't going into the debate with any extraordinary ambitions. He was cool and cautious in the first debate, didn't wander far from his comfort zone and still won over most independents. This is just a guess, but I think most undecideds are looking for reasons to vote Obama. They're anxious to be won over. And so long as Obama doesn't give them any reason to doubt, he will win them over. He "won" the first debate by showing a solid command of the issues and, for lack of a better phrase, looking presidential.

He'll be a little more aggressive Tuesday, but not nearly enough to satiate the bloodlust of the liberal base. Whatever. We'll get over it. His challenge is going to be keeping his cool and remaining presidential in the face of McCain's attacks. And yet, he doesn't want to be too cool. If McCain attacks him, it won't do to just smile the insult away. He'll need to show a little fire.

But, again, not too much fire. He wants to convey "spirited," not "militant." That's his balancing act. Obama's in the dominant position right now, but his task for Tuesday is slightly more difficult than McCain's. The Arizona senator is just going to attack. He's not even going to worry about coming off as hostile; that ship sailed a long, long time ago.

Still, McCain's bar is higher. Another average performance, another "draw," and his hill gets a little steeper. He needs a big-time performance.

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