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October 16, 2008

Contempt and the Last Debate

People generally think that this debate won't influence poll numbers, especially because the national sense of these two people is firming up.  Obama - knows a lot, cares, doesn't get ruffled.  McCain - arrogant, a bit panicked and with moments where the funny, straight-forward McCain comes through.   That might well be true.  And no change would be fine for our side.

But I am inclined to think that we are going to see a continued swing toward Obama and that this debate, like the others, allows people to see him.  He grows on us while we see more and more that we don't want John McCain in our living rooms for four years. 


The emotion that breaks marriage relationships more than any other is contempt.  The great book, "Blink", by Malcolm Gladwell, describes a set of "thin-slicing" video-clips of couples that John Gottman, a professor and researcher at the UW, does to determine whether or not the marriage will survive over the years.   Amazingly, Gladwell says that Gottman can predict with 95% accuracy whether or not a couple will be married 15 years later.  Gottman and his team watch a clip of a couple talking or arguing and code every emotion they see each second.  After years, Gottman has determined that the Four Horsemen, of the 20 categories they code, are defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism and contempt.  These are the relationship-killers and, of these four, contempt is the most damaging. 

I'm watching the debates and again see how much Senator McCain displays all four in abundance.  Especially contempt.  His contempt of Senator Obama and of us is on display.  It's not pretty to see laid right out in front of us in our living rooms.

What We Come Away With

Obama is getting better at telling stories about the people he runs into.  It's very sweet and he is teaching us;  he is taking a large amount of material and boiling it down for us to understand, something good teachers do.  I like his style very much and his style does not get in his way.  We trust what he is saying and can relax and hear some of this very important information - about abortion, sex education, energy requirements, the implications of where we get our oil, creating jobs and so much more.  Even when he is countering something McCain says, he is respectful as he responds to a question or attacks.  He has clearly thought these issues through and talked with people who knew their fields and absorbed and questioned.  What he shares with us makes so much sense.  Even when he laughs, it is a respectful, if amused, response.   

McCain keeps stepping on his own message by the snide asides and emotion-laden arguments.  I can't follow his lines of thinking!  It's quite annoying.  On top of that, he clearly hasn't hung out with people at all levels.  He doesn't have real examples because he doesn't hang out with real teachers or real laborers or real nurses.  He talks in generalities, unlike in foreign policy issues where he is at least occasionally is coherent and knowledgeable at the appropriate level, even if he is often wrong.  McCain interrupts Obama.  That's such a disrespectful thing to do. 

The contempt coming from Senator McCain makes having a relationship with him difficult.  He's regularly going down in the polls because people don't much like what they see.  He's a bully, just like George Bush, just like Dick Cheney, just like Don Rumsfeld.  We are unable to have a relationship with McCain and we can't imagine having to listen to him for four years. 


Here's Trapper John on Obama over at DailyKos last night, saying what we saw:

Nothing can get under his skin. Nothing.  No attack can cause him to lose his equilibrium, to cause him to squint or gawp or stare like McCain seems to do three times every minute.  Barack Obama is a fundamentally cool cat -- and that's one of the reasons he's not just going to win this election, but win big. Americans respect a person who won't get thrown off his game, who won't let his enemies and opponents rattle him.

And Barack Obama isn't just cool -- he's redefined cool in politics.  He's gotten past 20 years of presidents who equate anger with passion.  There hasn't been a president who could keep an even keel since Reagan -- and even then, he was more easy-goin' than cool.  Reagan was detached.  But Barack Obama is engaged, intelligent, and calm -- but he's no Adlai Stevenson.  He's always cool. 

Every candidate for national office for a generation is going to seek to emulate Obama Cool.  But there's only one Barack Obama.

The Responses

The pundits tended to give McCain the edge, as did the CBS focus group I saw shortly after the debate.  However the people gave it to Obama hands down.

Kos has the polls of undecided voters from the snap polls:


Who won the debate?

McCain (R) 22
Obama (D) 53

Shares your values

Obama, Before the debate: 54
Obama, After the debate: 63

McCain, Before the debate: 53
McCain, After the debate: 56


Who won the debate?

McCain (R) 31
Obama (D) 58


Obama, before debate: 63/35
Obama, after debate: 66/33

McCain, before debate: 51/45
McCain, after debate: 49/49


CNN POLL: Who spent more time attacking during the debate?

McCain – 80%
Obama – 7%

Anderson Cooper: "David Gergen, if you're John McCain, what's the message...how does the race change now for John McCain?"

David Gergen: "Beats the hell out of me."

Posted by Lynn Allen on October 16, 2008 at 07:18 AM in Candidate Races, National and International Politics | Permalink


Speaking of polls, Lynn, have you seen this one?


It's looking like the last debate turned things around there. It that's true, it's about bloody time ...

P.S. Have to admit, I skipped the debate. The Phillies were on, and that doesn't happen much in the postseason.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Oct 16, 2008 11:01:22 PM

Yes, I'm pleased to see that Darcy appears to have pulled ahead. I'm not sure that enough people watch those debates but some combination of the debates, her ads pointing out Reichert's lack of effectiveness in Congress and the economy in general did it.

Posted by: Lynn | Oct 17, 2008 7:18:28 AM

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