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First Obama-McCain debate seen as 'forgettable'

COMMENTARY | September 28, 2008

The overseas press: There's positive and negative commentary about both candidates. The Telegraph said, 'McCain throws punches, Obama talks of a better world.' For some, body language was an issue.

By Lauren Drablier

PARISThe international news coverage I’ve seen has positive and negative comments for both American presidential candidates. For the most part, Barack Obama comes out ahead but it’s a close call. Many said the event was forgettable, with no surprises and no knockout blows. 

Richard Adams in The Guardian (UK), in ‘Looking Presidential’, discusses the candidates’ body-language, among other things:

“Physical interaction of the two men was a fascinating study all of its own. On that level Obama certainly did better than McCain: he looked directly at McCain as he spoke. McCain refused to look in Obama's direction – even as he was delivering his own attacks against the Democratic candidate, and so allowed his body language to undercut his spoken language, suggesting that he was uncomfortable or even embarrassed.

“And that seemingly minor detail seems likely to have hurt McCain.

“Obama, though, looked directly at McCain throughout. And that made his words all the more effective. McCain, meanwhile, just grinned at something off-stage.

“But on a larger scale, McCain made a strategic error. He wanted to reiterate his theme that Obama is too young, too unready to be president. But with Obama there on stage beside him, looking presidential behind his podium and measured in his manner, McCain's words just didn't ring true.”

According to Alex Spillius in The Telegraph (UK) in ‘US presidential debate: John McCain throws punches, Barack Obama talks of better world’, Obama came in second place:

“John McCain’s style was to charge into the middle of the ring and throw as many as punches as possible until the other man went down.

“Under a barrage of blows, Barack Obama didn’t hit the floor during the presidential rivals’ first debate, but he came close on a couple of occasions and ended up a narrow loser on points.

“It was the tough guy versus the talker, the pugilist versus the professor, the fighter versus the lover.

“Where McCain offered hard-hitting reality, toil and struggle, Obama offered a vision of a nicer America and a better world.

“Foreign policy is Mr. McCain’s greatest strength and Mr. Obama’s greatest weakness. And the fact the Democrat only lost narrowly, and arguably shaded the economic section of the debate, and came across as a credible leader, could mean that he is seen as the winner over the next week, despite the bruising he suffered on last night.”

In ‘McCain and Obama spar in first debate’, Kevin Connolly of the BBC claims victory for McCain on the foreign policy debate, but also reiterates that it was a close call:

“Both were cautious, neither was particularly compelling.

“But in the foreign policy section of the debate, it seemed to me John McCain emerged a clear winner, although there were individual issues like Iraq on which the Democratic contender more or less held his own.

“Mr. McCain was able to describe meeting Vladimir Putin, "looking into his eyes and seeing three letters, K, G and B" - a reference to the old Soviet intelligence agency for which Mr. Putin once worked.

“Does it sound corny to foreign ears, with a slight B-movie flavor to it? It probably does. I would say in America it plays much better as a tough-guy sound bite, suggestive of a president who knows how to stand up to Moscow.

“Mr. Obama had some good moments on Iraq and was able to reel off a series of charges against Mr. McCain, finishing each with the phrase: "You were wrong."

“And he was generally smooth and businesslike where Mr. McCain was spiky and aggressive.

“Neither sounded as they really had a plan to battle the contagion of imminent collapse raging through the financial system.

“On foreign policy it all seemed a little clearer, although I should say Mr. McCain won on points, without delivering anything remotely approaching a knockout blow.

In ‘US candidates clash in first debate’, Al Jazeera (Middle East) points to the fact that that Israel-Palestine conflict did not figure into the foreign policy debate:

“Both candidates sparred over Iraq, with McCain acknowledging that the 2003 war was "mishandled" but that the surge had been a success and that Obama was "refusing" to acknowledge its success.

“However, Obama countered that McCain was trying to rewrite the war's history.

“McCain described [Russia] as being "KGB apparatchik-run" and said Obama revealed naivety in Russia's conflict with Georgia in South Ossetia, while Obama said he wanted Russia to behave ‘within the norms of international behavior’.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not figure even once in the debate.”

In ‘Obama, McCain debate produces night of contrasts’, China Daily criticizes both candidates for their lack of ability to answer questions directly and emphasized McCain’s frequent references to history:

“It was a night of contrasts as Barack Obama and John McCain shared a stage in their first of three presidential debates.

“The back-and-forth gained intensity throughout the 90-minute debate, though civility was never lost. Both landed their punches and stuck to their playbooks.

“The only similarities: a lack of specifics, campaign-trail sound bites and an inability to answer a question directly.

“At times, both struggled to keep their composure, and their dislike for one another showed through.

“He (McCain) also frequently provided a history lesson, talking of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower before the D-Day invasion, President Reagan's decision in the 1980s to keep troops in Lebanon, Richard M. Nixon's outreach to China in the 1970s, and his own Vietnam service.”

In the Israeli paper, The Jerusalem Post, Hilary Leila Krieger clearly favors Senator McCain’s performance in the debate and his willingness to be firm with Iran in their article, ‘McCain: We can't allow second Holocaust’:

“The need to protect Israel from the vitriolic threats of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad formed the crux of a central argument between US presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain in their first debate Friday night.

“The candidates disagreed over most issues covered, the war in Iraq, Pakistan and the financial crisis, but agreed a nuclear Iran would pose a grave danger to the State of Israel.

“‘We cannot allow a second Holocaust,’ McCain declared.”

In ‘Obama’s from Venus, McCain’s from Mars’, South Africa’s Mail and Guardian discusses how the current state of the economy and other events could shift the election due to the candidates’ party affiliations:

“…If it comes down to the economy, McCain will not be the next president of the United States, while if the security of the United States comes under substantial threat, Obama will be left standing on election day.

“I would humbly submit that it is factors beyond the control of either camp which will be definitive in this race…

“When the issue of South Ossetia raised its head and dominated the headlines it was the McCain camp which benefited from Russian aggression in dealing with Georgia. The more protracted it became the better for the Republican candidate. In turn, the meltdown on Wall Street has proved to be an enormous bonus to the Obama camp with a strong swing to the Democrat in the polls.

“…An enormous amount will be sourced to the perception of US voters on how historically these parties deal with these issues. In terms of McCain, the fact that George W. Bush is to deficits what Moses is to religion has not been missed during the economic disaster plaguing the country right now.

“As things stand there is no way back for McCain unless an earth-shattering event of global proportions were to be unleashed on the planet.

“Accordingly, in terms of this election, if there is going to be a war it’s going to have to be the mother of all confrontations to shift US focus from their economy.

“Where’s Saddam Hussein when you need him?’

In ‘Obama agrees with military action inside Pakistan’, Argentina News clearly focuses on Obama and McCain’s differences in opinion about Pakistan and the possibility of military action:

“During the first presidential debate on Friday night, Democrat Barack Obama agreed with the current White House policy of attacking Pakistan to root out terrorism.

“Obama also argued that he would take the war to Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's cave door, whether Pakistan cooperated or not.

“On the other hand, McCain argued that without Pakistan's cooperation, any such operation was doomed.

“Obama said it was and always has been Pakistan's tribal areas and the neighboring areas of Afghanistan which have been the "central front" in the war on terrorism.

“But, on the other hand, McCain said that Iraq was the central front, noting that Bin Laden himself had declared that as the battleground with America.

Russia Today focuses on the candidates harsh words for Russia in ‘U.S. candidates lash out at Russia’:

“U.S. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have singled out Russia for strong criticism during their first debate. Russia was one topic both candidates seemed to agree on, with Obama saying the next U.S. president would have to think twice before dealing with the country.

“Still both candidates reiterated they do see Russia as a partner and want its co-operation on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, specifically in monitoring the Iranian nuclear programme.

“Analysts doubt, though, that it will be possible for the U.S. to sit on two chairs criticizing Russia and demanding its co-operation at the same time. They warn that one of the two should be given pr

Shades of the 1960 debate
Posted by Mark Jacobs
09/30/2008, 02:22 AM

"Richard Adams in The Guardian (UK), in ‘Looking Presidential’, discusses the candidates’ body-language, among other things"

As I was watching the debate I was reminded of what many people said of Nixon in the debate against JFK (no I'm not that old). He came across as looking shifty and as if he had something to hide. John McCain had a similar body language.

It seems that most people tune in to impressions rather than arguements and I believe many undecided people are beginning to get a bad feeling about McCain. Obam coul improve in this area also. He came across a bit stiff and aloof which could also hurt him. He's no charismatic JFK, contrary to what many in the press are saying about him.

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