Politics & Policy

Higher Questioning

Presidential considerations.

It was not that Barack Obama could not or would not go after John McCain. It was just that McCain towered over Obama on every issue of substance — especially when it came to guarding the security of this nation.

This was not a debate characterized by clever one liners or gaffs that helped or hurt a particularly candidate. It was a square-off between a young man of great charm and confidence in his ability to charm his way into any position he seeks and an old warrior, who has seen enough of the world and its problems to know what is required of the next president and is ready to assume command.

#ad#Once again, McCain demonstrated that casting him as George W. Bush will not work. There are just too many stylistic differences between the two (on spending, on Putin, on torture, and, even on the origins of the surge) for such assertions to be believed.

Obama seemed occasionally awed at the depth of McCain’s experience, the strengths of his arguments, and, yes, even the Arizonan’s dexterity with nuance. Why else would the Illinoisan say so many times that Sen. McCain is right when he said this, or John has a point when he says that?

I doubt it was because Obama dislikes confrontation or was too reluctant to go after his opponent, as we will no doubt be told by his cheering section among the talking heads. Might it be that he is too intelligent a man not to know that the talking points he used through the primaries to attract voters on the left flank of his party cannot withstand scrutiny?

Even when Obama’s analysis of a situation proved correct, such as his observation the Chinese presence in South America and Africa is noticeable, as is America’s diminished presence, he offered to remedy. His answer to every problem is to blame every thing he does not like on Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

That said, McCain, should he be elected president, would do well to address conditions such as these to which Obama has identified, such as China’s growing presence in the world. Another is how to retain this nation’s competitive place in science, technology, and innovation.

McCain’s moments to shine came when he treated his opponent and the rest of us to a succinct lecture on linkage between Russia’s aggressive posture in Georgia and its energy interests. These were the thoughts of an agile mind which seriously thinks through problems and understands the interconnectedness of so many.

But when it came to which contender for the nation’s highest office has a better grasp on the nation’s primary security challenges, McCain won this round hands down, and without breaking a sweat, and without showing signs of weakening under stain. The question his team needs to have asked in the days ahead is not “are you better off?” but “which of these two guys has better chance of instilling fear in the hearts of those who plan to do the United States ill?”

The more voters ponder this, the more they will decide that, while Obama might make an enjoyable dinner guest, McCain would make the stronger president. Through his seriousness, sense of purpose, and demeanor, he showed this from start to finish.

Alvin S. Felzenberg is author of The Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.

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