None of the Above

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I watched the debate last night. No surprises, not until after the debate which I’ll talk about in a moment.

Barack Obama was his usual endless stream of well spoken drivel, making promises after promises without regard to their feasibility or expense, some of his suggestions ludicrous, others outright dangerous. His rhetoric reeks of naiveté. Absent the requisite experience, he seems sometimes to have developed his programs from reading “Liberalism for Dummies.”

John McCain’s decades of experience have given far better instincts, but he’s not well spoken and his understanding of the economy too simple to be useful.

Neither candidate is acceptable. What is it about our political system that delivers candidates, and then Congressmen, Senators and Presidents, whose experience and skills are so substandard? We need the political version of one of those rulers painted on a stick that helps prevent people who are too short from riding the roller coaster. “If you don’t have at least the following qualifications, don’t bother to apply.” And those standards need to be high.

As for the highlight of the evening, for me it came after the debate during Katie Couric’s discussion which included the results of an instant poll of 516 so called “uncommitted” voters who were “either undecided about who to vote for or who say they could still change their minds.”* I have real questions about polling, particularly during this campaign. The issues are complex and rapidly changing. There are all sorts of newly registered voters. One of the candidates for President is black. One of the candidates for Vice President is a woman who may have some special appeal to working class voters. It’s only one poll. Who knows? But I thought these results were particularly interesting.

Who won the debate?
Obama: 40%, McCain: 26%, Tie: 34%

About each candidate separately,** to what extent do you believe he…

…would make the right decisions about the economy?
Obama: 68%, McCain 48%

…understands the needs and problems of people like you?
Obama: 80% (up from only 59% before the debate), McCain: 44%

…would make the right decisions about the war in Iraq?
Obama: 48%, McCain: 61%

…would bring about real change in the way things are done in Washington?
Obama: 63%, McCain: 38%

…answered the questions he was asked tonight?
Obama: 57%, McCain: 57%

Obama: 58%, McCain: 83% …What?!

No, those last numbers are not a typo. In almost every other category, with the exception of how they might handle the war in Iraq, Senator Obama has a significant lead, and yet 83% of these “uncommitted” voters believe Senator McCain is prepared to be President, versus only 58% who hold the same opinion of Senator Obama.

Not that this carefully selected sample of 516 voters is a perfect or even good indication of total voter thinking throughout our electorate, but they’re still real, cogent, logical people. How can there be so much more confidence in one candidate’s preparedness to be President, without a substantial majority being committed to that same candidate? In fact, these voters were asked one additional question:

If the 2008 presidential election were being held today would you vote for…?
Now Committed to Obama: 15%
Now Committed to McCain: 12%
Still Uncommitted: 72%

You know, I’m beginning to think this campaign doesn’t have anything to do with qualifications… to which many of you are no doubt saying “Duh?” as if I was the very last likely voter to figure that out. It’s about personality, isn’t it, about age, about party affiliation, but not about the experience and qualifications, at least not primarily. With all that we have at stake, this is the way our electorate thinks? Is this the way you would choose a surgeon to perform a life saving operation? Is it any wonder we so often nominate and elect the wrong people – and then have the audacity to blame them, and not ourselves, for how they mismanage our government?

*CBS Post-Debate Poll of Uncommitted Voters.
**Percentages will not add to 100.

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