BLOGGERJacques Berlinerblau is an Associate Professor and Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at the School of Foreign Service. Berlinerblau has published on a wide variety of issues ranging...
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RELATED RESOURCES: VALUES
Last Debate: Avoiding God and Palin
October 16, 2008
If you knew absolutely nothing about the United States (but wanted to know) and predicated your quest for knowledge solely on the three 2008 presidential debates between John McCain and Barack Obama you might come to the conclusion that American politicians have no desire to infuse their politics with religion. Events like last night's encounter at Hofstra University were so bereft of reference to faith-based issues, you might conclude that the United States was France!
What does it all mean? It means that Faith and Values politicking is geared to a lucrative niche market. A politician does the God Talk when addressing certain constituencies--constituencies like White Evangelicals that retain a rather un-Gallic conception of the role religion should play in the public sphere.
Last night, we didn't even get as much as a "God Bless America" from our two candidates. So absent any of that, please permit me the following random observations:
The Unmentionable: Sarah Palin--Not once last night did Barack Obama pronounce the name of Alaska's governor. Although asked direct questions about her by Bob Schieffer, he referred to her simply as John McCain's "running mate."
After Obama's "lipstick" remark of a few weeks back (which was eagerly spun as a sexist slight by McCain surrogates) the campaign seems to have decided that relegating Palin to the realm of the unspeakable is the best way to go.
Perhaps the Obama team doesn't like a "match-up" in which the male and professorial Obama gets goaded into mixin' it up with the female and un-professorial populist. Ergo, Palin's very name becomes something of a tetragrammaton for the Democrats--albeit one they do not consider holy.
Obama's "eloquence"-McCain virtually plagiarized Hillary Clinton's oft-heard refrain that Obama sure sounds great, but lacks any substance. I remind you that as the Democratic primary dragged on in the spring many in the Party fretted that the extended contest would serve only to strengthen McCain. The Maverick's crafty handlers, it was feared, would study the weaponry which the Democrats used against one another and redeploy the most lethal arms in the general election.
Well, McCain's crafty handlers weren't that crafty. Arguments about duplicitous eloquence, about Ayers, about Wright, only surfaced in the past few weeks. McCain should have stressed these "character" issues in the summer, not 30 days before the election. In a similar vein, he should have neutralized the charge that he was George Bush's conjoined policy twin months ago. He finally got around to it last night. It was a great line, perfectly delivered. But six devastating months too late.
The Reaction Shot War: For the second debate in a row McCain lost the reaction-shot war (though he won the first half of the debate). Last week, he romped around the stage to no avail. This time around the split-screen permitted us to see McCain locked into a are-you-friggin' kiddin'-me sneer. Obama, for his part, oscillated between a smile that communicated "Oh Senator, you're so droll!" and traces of an (uncharacteristic) scowl in which he seemed to be saying "John, Puh-leeeeze!"
Joe the Plumber: Couldn't hurt--By the time you read this some enterprising journo will have interviewed Joe the Plumber. The American public will be apprised of everything from Joe's views on Darfur to his opinions on unilateral disarmament. Joe the Plumber ringtones will be available for purchase at the iTunes store.
Still, as gimmicky as it all was--and I have referred to the McCain team as the Harlem Globetrotters of modern presidential campaigning-- I wonder if Joe might represent McCain's best (and last) chance of getting on-message about the economy. If Joe is willing to play along and do some stumping with, let's say, the First Dude he could finally stanch the bleeding caused by McCain's inability to articulate a vision about the defining issue of 2008.