On one weakness of Hillary’s debate performance (which, the author noted, was superb. “Hillary Clinton seriously blew only one answer of the countless hundreds she delivered.”):

In making different cases against Obama, she reinforced the strongest argument against herself: that she would say whatever she thought might work at the moment. Obama, with a few leaden exceptions in which he made a point of criticizing Clinton in a debate, seemed like the same character from one session to the next.

On Obama’s weaknesses as a debate performer:

And his downs? Whenever he talked about certain topics, including China, it seemed to me that he was reading from cue cards (“manipulating their currency,” etc.) rather than expressing policies he had thought through. The policies he has made his own—on race, Iraq, constitutional issues, family values—are subtly or dramatically different from the Democratic orthodoxy. Like most people, where he is less certain, he is more orthodox, as he showed after clinching the nomination with an unsubtly “pro-Israel” speech at the AIPAC convention in Washington.

Harsh words for McCain’s debating ability. Anyone worse than W. at debating (well, “debating”, since presidential debates only vaguely resemble actual debates) is going to have a hard time getting past the former con law professor:

John McCain is not a good debater, not even by comparison with George W. Bush. Having been in Washington for decades, he knows many issues in detail. Having been in Washington for decades, he often overexplains those details, as Bob Dole did against Bill Clinton in 1996. The exception is the whole field of economics, where through most of the Republican debates, he skated by with allusions to the advisers he would consult.

Worse, he will look and sound old and weak next to Obama

Of course, the Republicans will have an angle on Obama’s overwhelming oratorical superiority:

In every talk with reporters, the Republican campaign team will marvel at Obama’s gifts in rhetoric. Of course he’ll do well in debates; that goes along with being “all talk.”

Finally, on how this analysis of Obama’s rhetorical ability (and his rather impressive ability of getting out of political tangles with one of his Big Speeches. See: Jeremiah Wright and his race speech) will effect his efficacy as president:

Obama’s speeches have been additionally unusual in having a life beyond the moment in which they are given. It’s a rarer achievement than it seems. Bill Clinton could predictably mesmerize those who actually watched and heard him speak. Anyone who merely read the transcript would wonder what all the excitement was about. Garry Wills quoted to me, via e-mail, Cicero’s maxim “The effect is in the affect.” Obama has mastered the performance part and more, because his major speeches are written to be read, rather than just watched and heard.

And the author’s fear about this skill:

The argument that Obama would be another Pétain-like Carter, offering his noble qualities only to be overwhelmed by ignoble reality, is the deepest fear about him, or at least the one that most resonates with me.

His final sentence:

For better and worse, if Obama wins, a thinking president is what we’ll have.


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