Debate II: Can it get any more boring?

Jake Turcotte

If Bachman Turner Overdrive were to write the soundtrack for last night's debate, they'd have to change only one word in their signature song: "You Ain't Seen Boring Yet."

Apparently John McCain didn't get Sarah Palin's memo that "the heels are on and the gloves are coming off." Had either candidate worn heels or removed gloves, it would have provided a lift to an otherwise flat evening. Old episodes of The Waltons would have been more riveting.


The buzz going in was that McCain might play the Ayers card – as in the GOP's continued linking of Barack Obama to the co-founder of a violent 60s group, the Weather Underground.

The link has been a staple of Sarah Palin's stump speeches, in which she utters Ayers's name more than "betcha" or "doggone." Over the weekend she said Obama was "palling around with terrorists." And yesterday she added some flavor, as in dishonesty, to the charge.

"Now our opponent's campaign is claiming for the first time, Barack Obama wasn't aware of Ayers' radical background. Barack recently remembered him as just a guy in the neighborhood," Palin said. "Wait a minute there. You mean to tell me he didn't know he had launched his own political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist?"

Be careful

The Obama camp signaled that they were ready for such a discussion. Obama strategist David Axelrod told reporters that a mentioning of Ayers was something McCain should do at his own peril. Axelrod didn't say whether Obama would play the link-game as well but mentioned that McCain's role in the Keating Five scandal was fair game.

"The Keating case is pretty germane to the discussion we’re having right now," he said. "The Keating issue was one in which Sen. McCain intervened with regulators on behalf of a financial institution that ultimately collapsed, and taxpayers were left holding the bill."

But the "you're slimier than I am" boxing match never broke out.


Some would say it is up to the moderator to ensure a lively and interesting debate. If that's the case, Tom Brokaw failed to impress some, receiving reviews like "dreadful," "heavy-handed," "horrible," and "exciting."

The last term, however, came up in this phrase:

"The most exciting part was at the end when Tom Brokaw could not read the teleprompter."

There was much criticism over Brokaw's obsession with time limits and not allowing the two candidates to mix it up.

Undisclosed location

Reuters reported yesterday that following Meet the Press, Brokaw had secluded himself to prepare for last night's debate.

Even for a town-hall style meeting, which unlike the other three features questions from the audience instead of the moderator, there's a lot of prep.

That paid off. Just think of what would have happened had he not prepped for the event.

Going into seclusion is a risky strategy though. Other notable political recluses include Dick Cheney, whose current approval rating is 18 percent, and Sarah Palin before her interview with Katie Couric.


For those playing John McCain bingo last night, the term "my friends" drew big dividends as the Arizona senator uttered the two words 19 times. That tops Sarah Palin's use of the word "maverick" last week -- despite all the attention, she only said it seven times.

For Obama bingo players, the words "health care" was a cash-cow as he uttered the words 18 times.

And the winner is

Who won the debate? Following such a contest it is tradition for the two campaign teams to send out "In case you missed it" emails which show favorable reviews .

From Nick Shapiro at Obama headquarters:

TIME: I'm very distracted by McCain standing behind Obama and looking really, really mad.
MSNBC (Fineman): "Another good moment for Obama was when Obama basically took control of the foreign policy debate toward the end there."
FOX News (Luntz): “We seem to be getting winners out of this. Obama did better overall."

From the press office at the McCain headquarters:

The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye: "Mr. McCain is developing a chatty rapport with Mr. Brokaw about the candidates exceeding their time limits. He seems relaxed, as if he knows he is making a connection on a personal level. He roams the stage. Mr. Obama, who once stood in front of classes as a college professor, stands still while delivering his answers, and this one on health care sounds more like a lecture."
CNN's David Gergen: "I thought John McCain was more effective than he was last time on domestic policy. I thought his answers in general were more organized and he made his points more effectively."
NBC's Chuck Todd: "[M]cCain did get stronger, I think, as the night went on. When it turned to foreign policy, you can see his comfort zone and you could see him getting more comfortable "


The one thing that everyone appeared to agree on is that it was bo-o-oring.

Favorite quotes from around the Internet include:

"That debate was more boring than, uh… more boring than a Nordic opera singer being interviewed on Charlie Rose!" courtesy of The Wonkette.

"Both John McCain and Barack Obama departed the plush, red-carpeted stage at Belmont University having sleepwalked through one of the most boring, least informative, most poorly moderated debates in recent memory. It turns out the most spirited thing that happened all night was the handshake," from Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics.

"Well, there's an hour and a half of my life I'm never getting back," laments Jim Geraghty at National Review.

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