Friday night’s fight came off as expected

By Katie Dunne

On Friday night, I had a date with Barack Obama. I anxiously awaited the clock to strike 8 p.m., so I could flip on MSNBC and be knocked off my feet. Much to my dismay, Barack completely ignored me. Why? Because I’m a Democrat.

Friday’s presidential debate was the first of three exercises to win over undecided voters. When determining a debate winner, there is only one thing to consider: who better catered to this demographic?

If you subjected yourself to the waste of air space that TV networks call “Spin Room Coverage,” advisors on either side of the isle told you that their candidate was victorious.

“Tonight’s debate showed John McCain in command of the issues and presenting a clear agenda for America’s future.”

“Barack Obama wins. He’s more presidential, knowledgeable and detailed.”

But before political pundits started bantering about candidates’ postures, eye contact and wardrobe choices, and before CNN and MSNBC started spoon-feeding opinions to the American public, self-identified independents across the country tuned in to analyze the competence of these presidential hopefuls.

In his attempt to woo the moderates, McCain moved a little to the left. In an effort to win over the “maybes,” Obama took a few steps to the right. For an hour and a half, they did a nice dance in the middle. McCain took the lead on domestic issues, with Obama a few steps behind. When the beat switched to foreign policy, Obama spun them eloquently through the issues.

McCain opened the debate hitting on general principles that hold weight with most voters —- the knee-jerk issues that might sway the undecided vote. He implied that Barack Obama is a big spender, ready to take the hard-earned money of the American people and place it in the hands of greedy congressmen. He connected Obama to ear-marked spending and ear-marked spending to rampant corruption. Obama was on the defensive, clarifying his record in Congress and his position on tax policy and, ultimately, defending his ability to govern the country.

For the first half hour of the debate, McCain did an excellent job of painting Obama as a newbie who was still learning the ropes. It is a reasonable portrayal that highlights his own experience without offending independents who are considering joining the Obama camp.

Mid-debate, as the questions turned to foreign policy, Obama began to outshine McCain. He gave clear examples and understandable explanations between McCain’s long stories and mispronunciations.

To the disdain of some liberal “experts,” Obama explicitly agreed with McCain at several points throughout the night. Rather than making him look weak, as the all-knowing Chris Matthews implied, this was a strategic attempt to relate to potential McCain supporters and prove that the two candidates are not opposites.

With an arguably underused move, Obama hit McCain where he was most vulnerable: his ties to the Bush administration. He reminded the American people that McCain votes with President Bush 90 percent of the time, connecting him to one of the least popular presidents in modern American history with a 30 percent approval rating among independents, at best. While McCain attempted to scramble out of the back pocket of big business and explain away his tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, Obama vowed to defend middle class families.

Discussing the current financial crisis, a make-or-break issue in this election, neither candidate had anything to offer. Without an Independent Party platform to cater to, they ran the risk of alienating too large a portion of this undefined group by committing to any financial policy. Though Jim Lehrer prompted both candidates several times, they consistently refused to commit, choosing instead to attack their opponent.

Overall, the first debate provided exactly what we expected: a regurgitation of platforms, attacks on voting records and a few witty sound bites catered largely to the undecided voter. Come November, those undecided voters will make the call. If you ask me, Obama won the debate. But if you really want to know, ask an independent.

Katie is a senior in political science and Spanish, and she thinks Obama was better dressed.