Reasonable people may disagree as to which candidate did better in Friday’s Presidential debate. Was McCain tough or just testy? Was Obama bipartisan or just weak?
No doubt many partisans on either side were more interested in spinning than in revealing, but happily, as Jed Leland said, that is no concern of this department: we need only observe the reactions of rightbloggers who, along with their understandable post-debate cheerleading, provided us with many clear cases of magical thinking, sour grapes, and just plain weirdness.
Some seemed to have written their reviews in advance and spent the debate period consulting a thesaurus. Confederate Yankee said Obama was “on his heels,” “heated,” and “came apart,” and suggested this was something on which “everyone, right and left” could agree. At Pajamas Media Stephen Green said, “Obama strikes me as a modern Chamberlain, praising his (oh-so-transient) ‘peace with honor.'” The Strata-Sphere said McCain “turned Obama into a floor mop” and was “wiping the floor with Obama,” while Obama was “falling apart”,” has lost it!” “terrible,” “incoherent and defensive,” “idiotic,” etc. He predicted “McCain gets 7 point boost in the polls.” (We’ll get to Strata’s reaction to the actual results in a moment.)
In live-blogging the festivities the Cornerites of National Review reliably picked every conceivable nit, and then some (“I guess Obama thinks he’s being clever by pronouncing the name of the country as ‘Pok-ee-stahn’ rather than the standard English pronunciation… Viewers will be put off by his verbal tick”). In the aftermath they were nearly unanimous that their man had prevailed. (When Jay Nordlinger’s stream-of-consciousness coverage — “‘Who won the handshake?’… This time, the handshake was a draw; both men ‘won'” — did not support this notion strongly enough, readers’ responses required him to come back and reassure them.)
Even at the victory party, though, some contributors were oddly defensive. “I think McCain clearly won and didn’t have to win any more than he did to be perceived a winner,” said David Limbaugh.
Even more defensive was The Astute Bloggers, who thought “MCCAIN DID WELL TONIGHT” but “BLEW ONE HUGE OPPORTUNITY” for not attacking Obama on “FANNIE MAE.” Astute decided that McCain was doing so for the good of the country, which “IS NOBLE OF MCCAIN — WHICH IS TYPICAL. I HOPE HE’S MORE PARTISAN IN THE NEXT DEBATE.” Obviously discontented, Astute quickly followed up with an attack on “MICHELLE OBAMA’S UGLY BEDSPREAD DRESS.”
TigerHawk, not getting a clear reading, went for the big finish: “‘I guarantee you that as president I will heal the wounds of war.’ Strong. John McCain, the man’s candidate.” Patterico, distressed in early innings that McCain had pulled the “populism card,” recovered sufficiently to declare that “Obama’s smirks and gestures… reminded me a little of Al Gore in the first Bush-Gore debate” — how little, or how so, he did not say.
When early poll returns on the debate were unfavorable to their candidate, rightbloggers got crafty. Jules Crittenden pointed out that while Obama got higher numbers than McCain, most respondents thought it was a draw. “I have to stick with the principle that McCain wins a draw,” he said — and felt strongly enough that way to headline his post “Post-Debate Polling: It’s McCain!”
At Commentary, John Podhoretz shrugged, “Obama probably ought to be doing a great deal better.” His colleague Jennifer Rubin — who just after the debate had chirped, “the McCain camp is feeling a spring in their step,” and at first thought the contrary polls were fixed — called it a “small but do-able gap to make up” (small but doable?) and said that if McCain can convince voters this is “Ronald Reagan vs. Walter Mondale,” he can pull ahead. Ross Douthat of the Atlantic, who had forthrightly called the debate “A Win for McCain,” reacted, “Honestly, there’s no reason to trust my impressions on these things at all.” Instapundit, who’d done his bit for McCain, allowed that “Obama clearly won the post-debate spin, anyway.”
But for other rightbloggers wishful thinking wouldn’t do. Strata-Sphere, who had expected a seven-point McCain bump over the “incoherent” Obama, said when informed of the actual numbers that “America’s Darkest Days May Be Ahead Of It”; that “Librals [sic] believe capitolism [sic] is corrupt,” and created the sub-prime lending crisis to prove it; and that Obama “does not believe in democracy, he prefers to use the law to over ride the rule of the people.” Later he was guardedly optimistic: Obama’s poll numbers had also risen during the Olympics, he reasoned, and this may have been because while ordinary Americans were busy enjoying the show in Red China, leaving the “rabid left” to skew the numbers. “This sounds too good to be true,” admitted Strata, “so I would have to mark it down to my own optimism.”
Where else may they find fuel for optimism? With a bailout looming that has both parties’ grubby prints on it (despite rightbloggers’ attempts to spin it as unipartisan), events look to be unhelpful. There is always the Blessed Palin: though her appeal is wearing thin and even a National Review columnist has called on her to quit, she still has fans: Say Anything declares she has “Superior Knowledge of Foreign Policy” because she supports Israel vs. a second Holocaust, unlike the “black separatist/Marxist community agitator” Obama. And besides, all the sniping may merely further lower expectations for Palin, perhaps enough to eventually match her performance level. Her supporters suggest she restrict herself to such friendly venues as conservative talk radio, where she will not be asked insolent questions about foreign and domestic policy. That ought to prepare her for the Biden debate. If not, there’s always the transmitter.