Archive for October 16th, 2008

Dad: ‘Obama Looked Just Like a President Should’

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

My Dad’s a Reagan Democrat — more Democrat, than Reagan, but still. That’s why I often look to him, at crucial political moments, to gauge how something might be playing outside my own head.

Dad, I said this morning. What’d you think of the debate?

“McCain was squirming all over the place,” he said.

I pressed him on it. What do you mean by squirming?

“With that little half-smile he has 90 percent of the time — like he has disdain for his opponent.”

What about Obama? How’d he do?

“I think Obama handled himself very well — McCain looked like a tired old man,” Dad said. “Obama looked just like a president should: Cool, calm, with all the facts.”

Dad keeps going back to this — that Obama seems presidential.

McCain got in some zingers last night (“You didn’t tell the truth to the American people,” “I am not President Bush,” “Why would you want to increase anyone’s taxes right now?”). Especially for the first third of the debate, McCain had Obama firmly on the defensive. Obama wasn’t so much flat as he was muted and unfocused in his response.

I was disappointed, frankly, that Obama didn’t punch back harder, as he’s done in past debates. As my Uncle Jon pointed out, when McCain accused him of playing class warfare by “spreading around the wealth,” Obama could have hit back with: “Republicans have been playing class warfare at the expense of the middle class for decades.” When the moderator asked Obama if he felt Palin was qualified, Obama could have just answered, flatly: “No.” (Also Jon’s idea.) I understand that Obama wanted to seem above the fray, but the moderator asked him a direct question, and he dodged it. And why did he let McCain get away with changing the subject from McCain’s bloodthirsty rallies, making it seem as if Obama was somehow criticizing Korean War vets? Why didn’t Obama demand that McCain repudiate those comments?

It makes me nervous. As any sports fan will tell you, when you play to run out the clock — when you stop trying to score — you always always always lose.

What my Dad is trying to tell me, I think, is that Obama did score — probably, in the way that matters most.

My Obama Minute: Mensch Watch

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

We had about a dozen people over last night for a debate watch party in our living room. My wife propped a sign up in front of the TV: “Pro-Israel, Pro-Obama.”

We hosted distinguished Boston University professor Hillel Levine, who flew to Ohio yesterday to help the Obama campaign. Levine, an expert on Arab-Jewish conflict resolution, is planning on speaking over the next few days to Orthodox Jews in Cleveland suburbs and Evangelical Christians at area churches. The fact that he’s here in Ohio these final weeks, is, I think, indicative of what we are all starting to realize about the Obama campaign: It’s so different; it’s inspiring people to act in so many fresh, tangible ways.

This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.

My Uncle Jon just told me that in solid conservative Ohio last night, California Sen. Barbara Boxer came in for a debate watch party that was literally overflowing. The atmosphere, as he heard about it, was proud and jubilant, unlike anything he can recall, especially in Southern Ohio, this close to a presidential election.

He told me that he and his wife have offered to house out-of-state Obama volunteers, but because of so many people opening their homes for just this purpose, they haven’t needed the extra living quarters.

At the end of our debate watch party, we were all discussing who won. The folks in the room who I see as most objective (read: not me), felt that the cutaways to McCain simply doomed him. He looked angry, dismissive, at times, nearly apoplectic. (For more discussion about the debate, see comments at the end of “My Debate Question” post.)

I think, though, at the end of the day, it was Prof. Levine’s analysis that was more on target than any octo-box of pundits could have been: Obama, he said, was a mensch.

Whether it was his refusal to pile on Sarah Palin, or his repeated willingness to agree with, even compliment, certain of McCain’s ideas, while respectfully disagreeing with his policies, Obama took the high road.

For those who might disparage this as somehow un-substantive, I’d point out that being a mensch is nothing like being a guy who you “want to have a beer with.”

A mensch is someone who radiates fundamental decency; someone who shows fortitude and firmness of purpose.

At the end of the evening, Prof. Levine gave my wife and I a gift, a copy of his out-of-print book, “In Search of Sugihara: The Elusive Japanese Diplomat Who Risked His Life to Rescue 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust.”

The back cover of the book features this blurb from Congressman Tom Lantos: “Sugihara is unique because he demonstrated that every individual is empowered to resist tyranny and that one can act in accordance to the dictates of a higher moral authority that advocates justice, humanity, and compassion to all mankind.”

Justice, humanity, and compassion.

As Bruce Springsteen sang at Ohio State ten days ago, Sing loud if you’re gonna take it back.