The story of the first debate between U.S. presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama is moving so fast — there’s the rapidly morphing context of the financial meltdown, not to mention the question of whether McCain was even going to show up — that I’m going to analyze the debate afterward, rather than trying to give a detailed prediction of how it’s going to go.
Still, I think Obama has a much tougher job than McCain does, as many voters still are uncertain about him. Here are a couple of things I expect to see tonight, or that I think the candidates ought to do:
- Economy, economy, economy. Obama should try to turn every question to the economy, and try to paint the current crisis as entirely the creation of rabid right-wing Republican de-regulators who now are trying to rob the little guy to save some pompous suit’s dream of retiring to a huge ranch in Wyoming. Never mind that some of the elemental causes of the crisis originated in the waning years of the Clinton administration.
- Obama should try to provoke McCain’s temper, but only if he can do it without looking like a condescending ass. If he can get McCain to blow up, or even just to lose his cool a little bit, it will cause some voters to question McCain’s temperament and provide material for future negative ads against the Arizona senator.
- McCain should try to avoid getting into specifics about the economy and the halting efforts toward a bailout plan, and stick to simple statements about greed, corruption and arrogance from Wall Street. The stated debate topic of foreign policy is strong area for McCain, so if he finds himself being dragged into the details of the economy, he needs to extract himself and turn to foreign policy.
- Obama needs to give simple, quotable answers to questions before he addresses details. This isn’t a time for building a legal argument, it’s a time for the inverted pyramid Give the broad overview using short words of Anglo-Saxon derivation, then get to the fine points if you have time.
The debate gets underway at 6 p.m. Pacific, 9 p.m. Eastern. On everywhere.