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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Not every kid wants to get to the Tootsie Roll at the core of the lollipop. Some are solely after the candy coating.

Similarly, a presidential debate, regardless of the depth of the topics and policies discussed, boils down to the media licking its superficial aspects to the point where - all the sugary coating consumed - the Tootsie Roll, so to speak, is plainly visible...yet remains unwanted. I mean, isn't getting to the center the whole point? But what is, ideally, the (ahem) core of the issue is often discarded.

Last Friday's presidential debate was no different. Surely, there was a greater focus on the meat on the plate: the candidates' (lack of) ideas about how to address the Bush/Paulson bailout, the foreign policy issues raised. But what is everyone talking about this weekend? The fact that John McCain seemed to have a problem looking to his left.

And for once, I think that's exactly what we need to be talking about.

For all the deference that the McCain campaign seems to demand, it shows precious little to anyone that either questions or opposes them. It wasn't enough for McCain to simply rebut Obama on the points - he wanted to make it clear that he felt that Obama isn't even fit to be on the same stage that he was.

It was very obvious to everyone watching when it was happening. I attended a debate-watch party sponsored by a neighborhood Obama office, and within the first half-hour, I was hearing whispers: "He's not even looking at Obama when he's being spoken to!" I mean, it seems that Obama could barely garner a glance when he was shaking hands with McCain before the debate even begun.

And let's forget, shall we, the line of crap that McCain offered this morning in response to George Stephanopoulos' question. If he was "talking to the American people" as he claimed, why did he show us the same "respect" that he showed Obama, never looking into the camera once? McCain was there to win over the pundits and moderator Jim Lehrer. (Of course, McCain could have been speaking to the Americans in the crowd, which he plainly couldn't see).

While I genuinely dislike making this about race, one has to wonder if Obama would've gotten away with being that obviously standoffish. Pundits would've had a field day. It'd have been an uppity-fest, starring Pat Buchanan, Bill Bennett and the entire cast of Fox News. I don't necessarily think McCain privately disqualified Obama because he's Black. What I do think is that McCain knew he could get away with it. There's a difference between basing your actions with race primarily in mind and knowing you can benefit from White privilege.

There are so many other reasons why McCain doesn't think his fellow United States Senator is fit to share the stage (or the limelight) with him. One might imagine how a guy who has difficulty adjusting to many 21st-century tools and paradigms might take issue with a candidate like Obama, a young whipper-snapper who threatens to snatch "the precious" away right when it is closest to the 72-year-old's grasp. There's plenty of reason to resent Obama if you're John McCain. And I don't even begrudge him that resentment. However, I do want a president that is able to keep his emotions in check, especially when he's dealing with people he holds in such disdain. I don't care about how he interacts with colleagues like Obama, per se; how McCain behaved made me worry about three things:

a) how he would project America's image abroad - the America of the 21st century cannot be symbolized by an angry old cuss;

b) how he would deal with leaders of nations that aren't NATO - or hell, even those that are;

c) how he would deal with those that really don't like us.

Friday night's debate absolutely killed any chance that McCain, if elected, would engage in real diplomacy with anyone. We know how he'd deal with the likes of Iran, North Korea and China, but let's consider how he'd even deal with American allies. Even though we all formally get along, people are people. It's quite apparent that whatever aplomb McCain has for dealing with members of the media don't apply to those who genuinely get in his way - or even do so little as to disagree with him. It's Bushian in the purest sense.

How can America elect another president that doesn't play well with others?


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