Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yes, Mr. President.

We can observe the same events, and listen to the same dialogue, read the transcripts, and come away with very different views about what took place and what it all might mean.

I watched on television last night the first debate between the US presidential candidates and I had several immediate and continuing impressions (see transcript of debate). To me, Senator Obama (Democrat) looked and sounded very polished and tried from the start to make a connection with "ordinary" people--moving from his elitist image toward a constituency that he needs to capture: "... And you're wondering, how's it going to affect me? How's it going to affect my job? How's it going to affect my house? How's it going to affect my retirement savings or my ability to send my children to college?" He was a university professor and in keeping with that began and continued with a style that suggested clear and ordered assessment of issues, for instance with a list of four points that the proposed bailout plan for the financial sector should include: "No. 1, we've got to make sure that we've got oversight over this whole process...", etc. He tagged himself as a decider who was smart: "So we have to move swiftly, and we have to move wisely." He's a well educated man and he wanted to stand on those credentials, but he seemed to want to portray himself as less lofty than others would wish to suggest.

Senator McCain (Republican) began with an interesting tack, seeking to cement the idea that he is truly bipartisan: His first remarks were about the ailing Senator Kennedy (Democrat) and then he immediately went to current Congressional discussions of the bailout plan: "...we are seeing, for the first time in a long time, Republicans and Democrats together, sitting down, trying to work out a solution to this fiscal (sic) crisis that we're in." His further points then seemed to wander into an answer. He had no problem doing that wandering throughout the debate, thinking on his feet in a less structured way than Senator Obama, but with some clear messages nevertheless, whether it was a fixation with cutting government spending and scouring government institutions, or finishing the war with Iraq in a way that honoured the American soldiers.

During the exchanges, Senator Obama clearly tried to tag Senator McCain with a heavy taint of the current Bush administration: "Now, we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain."; "...the policies of President Bush that John McCain wants to follow..."; "... under George Bush, with the support of Senator McCain, we've been giving them [Pakistan] $10 billion over the last seven years." In several different ways he posed the question: "how did we get into this situation in the first place?" We got there because of a series of policies implemented by President Bush, and "supported 90 percent" by Senator McCain. Whether it was the financial crisis, the spending that Senator McCain repeatedly said was out of control, the war in Iraq, the tarnished image of the United States abroad. Eight years of Republican rule had got the country to where it was now. A vote for Senator McCain would mean a vote for at least four more years of the same.

Senator McCain tried to distance himself from that, and set himself up as a maverick within his own party--including his choice of vice presidential candidate--and also someone who had a long political record that people could check to see what he really represented: "It's well-known that I have not been elected Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate nor with the administration. I have opposed the president on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoner, on - on Guantanamo Bay. On the way that the Iraq War was conducted. I have a long record and the American people know me very well and that is independent and a maverick of the Senate and I'm happy to say that I've got a partner that's a good maverick along with me now."

Senator Obama repeatedly looked Senator McCain in the eye and referred to him as "John". Senator McCain rarely looked at his opponent and referred to him always as "Senator Obama".

Senator Obama tried to get his social agenda into play early and often: investment in education, technology, health care, alternative energy. Senator McCain's main platform was cutting government spending.

Once the debate moved away from economic and financial issues and into the realm of foreign political relations, Senator McCain played an interesting card. He was the man of knowledge, experience, and concern with the reality of war and what it might mean to lead a country that was coming from a defeat in war.

Senator McCain also tried a tactic that drew attention to his experience in a different way, by saying repeatedly that Senator Obama was inexperienced and lacked knowledge: "I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy."; "I don't think that Senator Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan."; "Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand ..."; What Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand that if without precondition you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a "stinking corpse," and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments."; He doesn't understand that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia."; "We seem to come full circle again. Senator Obama still doesn't quite understand -- or doesn't get it -- that if we fail in Iraq, it encourages al Qaeda." That's a lot of ignorance to pile on someone, and in the mind of many a point repeated becomes an evident truth/ Add that to the use of the words "naive" and you get a clear picture.

A vote for Obama is a vote for a ignorant, greenhorn, and despite his great communication style, he really does not get it. You would think that warning people against voting for someone who is so ignorant would find a logical counterpart in the person picking a running mate that was full of knowledge like he is. I guess we will have to wait to hear Senator Biden attack Governor Palin in next week's vice presidential debate, for her lack of knowledge and limited time in office, and point out that Sarah just does not understand and suffers from naivete.

My wife is an unbridled fan of Obama's and found all of McCain's "antics" just worthy of "Cheesh!" or "How lame." I have a feeling that supporters of McCain and doubters about Obama may hold on to what they hear repeated.

What I saw of the initial discussion amongst the political pundits suggested that they thought the debate was a tie. The initial poll of viewers gave Senator Obama a 51/38 percent win (see report), including an interesting large lead amongst women voters; McCain apparently failed to get the "game changer" he needed out of the debate to reverse his deficit in the polls. Of course, polls and pundits can be wrong, and on election day, it is more important that people vote for Obama for him to win.

What I saw left me in no doubts in my mind that Obama would be an excellent president, and should be the clear choice of most voters. Those who think the same wonder what others see that leave doubts in their mind. I cannot think like a white man, who has a deep distrust if not hate of black people. I cannot think like a woman, who may feel embittered that her preferred Democrat candidate is not running for this office. I cannot think like someone who feels that a one term Senator with a Kenyan father and white American mother represents something too exotic for me to have as the leader of my country. I cannot think like others who do not support the person who seems to me to be the best candidate by far. But partisanship is not about logic, but about emotions. Politics is about how you relate to people who you want to exercise power. This coming election will be so interesting as a test of whether America can relate positively to the notion of a black man exercising power over the country.

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