Obama wins Debate, will win PA

If the title of this post is unequivocal and definitive, it is offered in the spirit and style of the American mass media punditocracy.  No sooner was the debate on Tuesday over than commentators and bloggers were pontificating not only about Obama taking a beating, as one commentator on MSNBC put it, but also about how the sorts of inane questions ABC’s George Stephanopolous and Charlie Gibson posed during the first 45 minutes of the debate were actually vitally important and highly relevant.

As a paradigmatic case, take David Brooks’ column from today’s NYT: although Brooks has a point about how inadvisable it is to make absolute pledges about complex issues like the war or tax increases, he goes astray when he defends Gibson and Stephanopolous this way: 

Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News are taking a lot of heat for spending so much time asking about Jeremiah Wright and the “bitter” comments. But the fact is that voters want a president who basically shares their values and life experiences.

In his commentary this afternoon on NPR, Brooks went yet further saying that the reason the Democrats have not been able to win the last few elections is because “people were not convinced that the Democratic candidate lives the kind of life they lead.”  He goes on to suggest that high school educated white voters do not want to vote for a Harvard educated lawyer who bowls a 37.  

Ironically, this is precisely the sort of elitist and condescending analysis Brooks himself so likes to associate with those of us in the academy.  My sense, which is admittedly largely informed by what I see around me here in a small college town in the center of Pennsylvania, is that the debate will largely help Obama because people are fed up with the sort of immature, gotcha politics on which the main stream media thrives.  
Here, E.J. Dionne’s analysis is more accurate: Obama may be one of the first Democrats to actually win something significant — like PA and thus the nomination — by running against the media.  
He started to do this already in the debate when he pivoted from Stephanopolous’s inane question about whether Obama thought Rev. Wright “loves American as much as you do” (who comes up with this stuff and how does it get on national television?!). Obama responded by trying to shift the focus back to the important issues the country is facing, saying:

And I have confidence in the American people that when you talk to the American people honestly and directly about what I believe in, what my plans are on health care, on energy, when they see my track record of the work that I’ve done on behalf of people who really need help, I have absolute confidence that they can rally behind my campaign.

At another point, again responding to Stephanopolous, who was pressing Obama about his campaign’s questioning Clinton’s credibility, Obama tried to shift the focus to issues of substance, saying:

I think what’s important is to make sure that we don’t get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history. We are going to be tackling some of the biggest issues that any president has dealt with in the last 40 years. Our economy is teetering not just on the edge of recession, but potentially worse. Our foreign policy is in a shambles. We are involved in two wars. People’s incomes have not gone up, and their costs have. And we’re seeing greater income inequality now than any time since the 1920s.

My sense is that people, whatever their level of education, will embrace the maturity of Obama’s politics. They will vote for him not because he is like them, but because he has his eyes on the prize and has the talent to make  substantive changes to the way American politics and policy is pursued.  

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Peter Egan says:

    Let’s face it, Obama’s chronic inability to put away Senator Clinton in the primaries doesn’t speak well for his chances against McCain in a general election where voter demographic breakdown will be far more moderate than the democratic nominating contest.
    Senator Clinton won something like 10 or the final 12 states, and would have won the nomination were it not for a coordinated conspiracy by the DNC and the mass media to undermine her candidacy with one-sided press coverage and selective counting of votes and delegates.
    Ultimately, the Superdelegates and the media chose Obama — not the voters, and not in a democratic manner.
    Obama’s political novice will continue to show in the general election, and I am predicting a landslide defeat reminiscent of that suffered by George McGovern.
    If the democrats want to start winning presidential elections, they’ll stop nominating the most radical leftist candidates they can conjure up and start investing more into moderate democrats such as Mary Landrieu who actually have a chance in a one-on-one election vs. a republican.

  • Thanks for the comment Peter.
    I definitely disagree that there was a conspiracy by the DNC and the MSM. Clinton lost because Obama had a better strategy given the rules set out for the nominating process. It would be nice, of course, if the Democratic party would develop a more democratic process to determine its nominee, but Obama’s savvy, particularly in the weeks after Super-Tuesday, is good testimony to how he will do in the general election. One reason the Obama campaign this fall will not be like the McGovern campaign in 1972 is the huge grassroots organization Obama has built.
    As for moderate democrats, well, they are part of what got us into the mess we are in today. Nor would I consider Obama a radical leftist.
    In any case, it is time for something new: a politics oriented to the question of social justice.

  • I’d have to agree that Obama ultimately won because he and his staff were better organized and made use of new media for fundraising and campaigning efforts.
    There’s a reason why Obama’s demographic tended to be younger and more educated. I believe it had less with youthful naivety, or out-of-touch elitism, and more to do with tendency of these groups to rely on new media over traditional mainstream media (where ratings rule and former campaign strategists—i.e. Rove & Stephanopoulos—and representatives of military contractors deceptively titled “military analysts” are allowed to editorialize and play sound bites instead of provide the public service of informing and educating).
    We are living in interesting times. Are there enough active voters moving to new media and a higher level of media literacy to compensate for those who are not? We saw that were enough of them to make a difference in fundraising.
    If this change is not enough in and of itself, maybe compensating with the right VP candidate on the ticket, like a female, someone from Clinton’s camp, or someone from a swing state will be: Obama/MCCaskill, Obama/Rendell, etc.
    As far as the DNC going for the left-most candidate, if that were the case, we’d be backing Kucinich or Gravel by now.

  • I’d have to agree that Obama ultimately won because he and his staff were better organized and made use of new media for fundraising and campaigning efforts.
    There’s a reason why Obama’s demographic tended to be younger and more educated. I believe it had less with youthful naivety, or out-of-touch elitism, and more to do with tendency of these groups to rely on new media over traditional mainstream media (where ratings rule and former campaign strategists—i.e. Rove & Stephanopoulos—and representatives of military contractors deceptively titled “military analysts” are allowed to editorialize and play sound bites instead of provide the public service of informing and educating).
    We are living in interesting times. Are there enough active voters moving to new media and a higher level of media literacy to compensate for those who are not? We saw that were enough of them to make a difference in fundraising.
    If this change is not enough in and of itself, maybe compensating with the right VP candidate on the ticket, like a female, someone from Clinton’s camp, or someone from a swing state will be: Obama/MCCaskill, Obama/Rendell, etc.
    As far as the DNC going for the left-most candidate, if that were the case, we’d be backing Kucinich or Gravel by now.

  • Thanks for these thoughts Nikki and especially for linking to the New York Times article about military propaganda.
    I am hopeful that there will be enough active new media voters out there to make this change. Obama has been very good at using the internet not only to raise money and to get out his message, but more importantly in my view, to give people the opportunity to participate in the process online from home.
    I was very impressed with how easy it was, for example, to make phone calls in various states for the campaign from the my.BarackObama.com site. It allowed me to be politically active in a way I had not been before. I look forward to more of this in the fall.

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