Presidential Debate: Sneering Demagoguery

Well, the snap polls are in & Obama is the clear winner of the debate. Cool & calm has seen him through. It is hard for me to believe that anyone could be an “independent” at this point in the campaign, like that “typical voter” I heard on NPR the other day who said “both gentlemen have things about them I like, but I’m just not sure.” the guy sounded like he was waiting for someone to come & wipe his ass, not choose a president. (As someone commented on one of the blogs I read, “If it weren’t for low-information voters, the Republicans would only have a cople of billionaires showing up at the polls this year.”)

Oh, yeah, the debate. McCain looks like a study in anger-management in the split-screen close-ups & that’s not doing him any good, especially when contrasted with Obama’s cool demeanor. Not just anger but contempt. The exchange about negative campaigning was revealing: you had to be paying attention, but McCain believes that an ad attacking his health care plan is a “negative ad” on par with his campaign’s relentless personal smearing of Obama’s character. For McCain, it’s all about McCain. (“I know how to get Bin Laden,” “I know how to fix the economy.”) For Obama, who is the ur-technocrat, it is about issues and systems. It’s really not personal with Obama.

But McCain lost the debate — & revealed himself as a moral zero — in two exchanges. In the first, he accused the Obama campaign of “perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” This was in reference to the hysterical right-wing Pavlovian response to the acronym ACORN. McCain had to ring that bell for the crazy base & he did, but he knew he was lying. McCain is an enthusiastic but unskilled lyer & it showed. (You see the same kind of bell-ringing with the phrase “class warfare,” which McCain managed to shoehorn into his discussion of Joe the Plumber — & was there ever a more elitist, condescending campaign invention than this particular everyman McCain tried to use for his own benefit?) So that’s the demagoguery; the sneer came in McCain’s discussion of abortion, in which he dismissed legal language in restrictive abortion laws that seeks to protect a woman’s health by putting air quotes around the word health. That pretty much says it all. The man was of course pandering to his base — he doesn’t care about abortion rights any more than he cares about taxes or health care; but it was exceedingly clear from this exchange — in which he hauled out another tired old debunked lie about Obama voting to kill babies — that the man hates women. We already knew this, of course, but if there was any doubt, this moment would have erased it.