I keep hearing pundits say that McCain won the three debates “on points” but that Obama won “on style.” I think these guys were watching a different sports event from the one I watched.
The “on points” pundits were scoring a boxing match. McCain was more aggressive. He landed punches. He got in zingers. Last night Pat Buchanan compared Obama to a boxer in the late rounds who was sitting on a lead (doesn’t that mean he was ahead “on points”?) and was dancing around to avoid being knocked out while he ran out the clock.
What I watched was more like kung fu. In the martial arts, aggression for the sake of aggression is more likely to work against you than with you. The master knows how to use his opponent’s energy against him. He lets the more unskilled fighter beat himself.
Martial arts masters employ the principle of wu wei — the action of non-action. This sounds like passivity — it often looks like passivity — but it is the art of channeling the flow of energy around you to accomplish a task or defeat an opponent. Put another way, it is the art of letting action act itself, or letting movement move itself, while you go with the flow.
It’s also the art of knowing when not to act. If your opponent is beating himself up, don’t get in his way.
Those who think Barack Obama should have been more aggressive in his debates with McCain are, IMO, entirely wrong. If Obama had been more aggressive, he risked seeming angry or mean and giving McCain sympathy points. Instead, Obama masterfully let McCain beat himself and didn’t get in the way.
McCain, IMO, lost the debate when he got stuck in whiny, petulant mode and wouldn’t let go of statements by Congressman John Lewis — which were not spelled out in the debate, and I doubt most viewers had any idea what McCain was talking about — and Bill Ayers. Obama actually gave McCain several opportunities to drop the subject, and McCain would not. For that entire sequence McCain was, in effect, punching himself in the face, while Obama stood aside and let him do it.
This was skillful. It also took discipline — a lesser debater would have interrupted McCain to defend himself more forcefully, and I’m sure that’s what Pat Buchanan et al. thought Obama was supposed to do. But Buchanan and McCain are old-style Irish pugilists who stand straight up and punch away. Obama was in crouching tiger, hidden dragon mode.
I was struck by the pundits’ reactions to the abortion section of the debate. Granted, I was mostly watching MSNBC — sometimes flipping over to CNN — and I realize reactions may have been different elsewhere. But pundits I saw were shaking their heads over this part of McCain’s argument:
MCCAIN: Just again, the example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. He’s health for the mother. You know, that’s been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.
That’s the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, “health.” But, look, Cindy and I are adoptive parents. We know what a treasure and joy it is to have an adopted child in our lives. We’ll do everything we can to improve adoption in this country.
McCain spoke of women’s health with a sneer on his face. He made “air quotation marks” around the word “health,” as if the mother’s health concerns were some kind of joke. He can’t stop whining about what John Lewis said about him, but women facing health complications in their pregnancies are just supposed to suck it up.
I realize the “criminalize abortion” movement routinely argues that “health of the mother” can mean a bad hair day, but in the real world pregnancies — including planned and wanted pregnancies — don’t always go well. I think most adults understand that. And most of the post-debate commentary I saw criticized McCain for the “health” comment.
Four years ago, in the Kerry-Bush debates, Bush had a simple message on abortion — he was against it. Poor Kerry had to put together more than two sentences to explain his position — that he opposed it personally but didn’t intend to impose his views on others. The post-debate commenters — including Andrea Mitchell, as I recall — said of this that Kerry doesn’t know how to talk about abortion. (What the hell was he supposed to say? “I’m for it”?)
But now it’s the Republican who doesn’t know how to talk about abortion. Times, I believe, have changed.
And I’m sure you enjoyed this bit —
MCCAIN: I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test
Um, dude? You just imposed a litmus test.