The Corner

“Senator McCain Is Absolutely Right…”

Greetings from Oxford, Mississippi.  A few minutes after the debate was over last night, I asked Charlie Black, a top McCain adviser, whether Barack Obama had performed as the McCain debate team anticipated.  From my story:

“No, no,” Black said emphatically.  “I never expected Sen. Obama to spend the entire debate on the defensive, and he did.  He did.”

Maybe there was a tad of exaggeration in Black’s verdict, but there was some truth in it, too.  Obama was smooth, unflappable, and just a little off balance for much of the evening.  Worse for him, he seemed inexplicably eager to concede that McCain was right on issue after issue.  A candidate determined to appear congenial might do that once, or even twice, but Obama did it eight times:

* “I think Senator McCain’s absolutely right that we need more responsibility…”

* “Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused…”

* “He’s also right that oftentimes lobbyists and special interests are the ones that are introducing these…requests…”

* “John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he’s absolutely right…”

* “John is right we have to make cuts…”

* “Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families…”

* “John — you’re absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent in what they say…”

* “Senator McCain is absolutely right, we cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran…”

    

Add it all up, and Obama was undeniably, and surprisingly, deferential to a man who in the past Obama has said “doesn’t get it.” Moments after the debate ended, I asked David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, whether Obama had simply been too nice (not a question one often gets to ask in these situations). “The bottom line is, I don’t think the American people want us to disagree just for the sake of being disagreeable,” Axelrod told me.  “I think he made a very strong case, absolutely.”

Well, you wouldn’t expect Axelrod to admit that his guy messed up.  But here’s a prediction: The next time McCain and Obama meet in debate, on October 7 in Nashville, start a drinking game in which you take a big swig every time Obama says, “John is absolutely right.”  I’ll bet you get to the end of the debate without ever lifting a glass.

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