It seems clear that Obama’s style is more Akido than boxing. I would say Hillary Clinton is a kind of Mix Martial Artist of debates. She will throw elbows, knees and anything to win. Obama seems to have learned a style that works for him and his message. He does not want to portray himself as angry, or a partisan fighter, so he dodges and parries attacks and uses the force of the attack to make his opponent appear off balance, hence the Akido. When McCain was most attacking Obama’s calm deflection made McCain look undisciplined and perhaps erratic. It must on some level be maddening to debate someone who won’t get down in the muck. But I think the price Obama paid with Clinton for the “She’s likable enough,” comment taught him a lesson. Stay above it, don’t try to stick the knife in, win on points and never ever, go for a knockout.
Another point, I find McCain’s argument in the debate to be horribly anachronistic almost to the point of demagoguery. Railing against tax and spend liberalism seems surreal when you and your party just voted for a 700 billion dollar bail out of Wall Street. Republicans have exploded the deficit and I thought Obama missed the opportunity to say that someone has to pay for the two wars we are fighting. The argument is essentially this; McCain wants to continue to give tax cuts to the wealthy with the idea that they will use the money to invest and create jobs. Obama wants to shift a bit of the balance of the burden upward in order to allow middle and lower income Americans to overcome stagnating wages and stimulate demand. Either way there are deficits for as far as the eye can see and I have not heard any sensible economist who does not think we need to use government spending and deficit spending to help fight a deeper recession. There is an argument that government spending takes too long as stimulus but that’s why you use the tax code, and perhaps another rebate check to stimulate demand. If consumers stop spending investors will continue to put their money in safe securities and not invest in expansion. The problem with trickle down in our current situation is the wealthy don’t have to take the risk. They can hold on to their money until they feel demand returns. Increased income for lower and middle-income Americans leads to direct increases in consumption. They have day-to-day needs to fulfill. The wealthy don’t have to by an extra Bentley and likely won’t in tough times.
That being said as a political scientist I was struck at how the positive assessment of McCain’s debate performance came largely from his aggressive recitations of partisan orthodoxy and issues like taxes, spending (do as we say not as we do), and abortion. It seemed Republican and Democratic commentators alike gave him points for being on the attack and for clearly reciting these points. But it seems the voters have tuned them out. What sense does it make to rail against spending when you just voted for a 700 billion dollar bailout and are proposing another 300 billion dollars? A cool one trillion dollars in spending, while maintaining tax cuts, continuing the war in Iraq and all the while railing against spending struck me as a bit strange. McCain presented some solid and very sensible policies during the week like preventing forced divestment for seniors and perhaps expanding unemployment benefits and cutting taxes on those benefits. He could have mirrored some kind of tax credit for small businesses and Obama’s call to extend small business loans. In short, he could have trended toward the center. In short, McCain’s argument is now that we should spend 1 billion dollars to bailout Wall Street and buy up bad mortgages and tax people making under $250,000 a year in order to pay for it or not pay for it at all. Beyond that how do we plan to pay for McCain’s open-ended commitment in Iraq?
Colin Powell’s endorsement was for me one of the most interesting moments of the campaign. He made the most clear and unequivocal endorsement of the campaign. Its candor was stunning in terms of its indictment of the party and its clear praise of Obama. One point that struck me was how clear and powerful his endorsement was in contrast to the Clinton’s. Also the way he handled the issue of racially and religious bigotry.
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Let's not be too impressed by Powell. He continues (much like McCain, or erstwhile McCain) to be the recipient of an odd amount of media love - check out Oliver Stone's weird new biopic, which seeks to cement Powell's made-up status as the Bush adminsitration's lone voice of conscience. It's not that Obama should scoff at any luminous endorsement; he shouldn't. But the time for Powell to develop a conscience about his party's politics and tactics was years ago. They haven't done any in this election they didn't do before, and better.