One thing that stuck out to me in last night’s debate is the refrain of “just doesn’t understand” that McCain kept using on Obama.  Clearly a premeditated line, I question its effectiveness.

First — poll numbers from last night show it clearly didn’t work.  From the CNN poll:

Thinking about the following characteristics and qualities, please say whether you think each one better described Barack Obama or John McCain during tonight’s debate:

Was more intelligent: Obama 55%, McCain 30%

Expressed his views more clearly: Obama 53%, McCain 36%

Spent more time attacking his opponent: McCain 60%, Obama 23%

Was more sincere and authentic: Obama 46%, McCain 38%

Seemed to be the stronger leader: Obama 49%, McCain 43%

Was more likeable: Obama 61%, McCain 26%

Was more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you: Obama 62%, McCain 32%

The last one is the most important here.  This thirty point spread indicating Obama is the candidate that is more in touch with needs and problems is political gold, especially when its in the face of McCain’s repeated declarations that the Democrat doesn’t understand.  Not only did the last point bear out the ineffectiveness of this strategy, but so did the leadership question.  McCain’s “not ready to lead” theme may have been disproven by Obama’s threshold performance — clearly the leadership people gleaned from the debate didn’t scare anyone.  But, of course, we can expect the McCain campaign to bring up the fact that Obama is a master wordsmith and point out we shouldn’t have expected anything different.

Second, for someone that doesn’t understand, Obama’s body language was superior.  The senator was mostly looking into the camera, speaking directly to the viewers at home.  And when he wasn’t doing that, he turned to look directly at his opponent.  McCain, meanwhile, was looking anywhere but Obama’s eyes and the camera.  He was acting like the event was not televised, looking out at the crowd for most of the debate.  Obama demonstrated that he did understand the issues, especially when he was asked to name legislative priorities for his presidency, even with the financial crisis tying his hands.  Obama talked about healthcare, the energy issue, and the economy; McCain talked about minutae in defense spending? This is about 7:22 in.

Finally, I know I’ve discussed this repeatedly in the past, but I keep going back to what Millennials and young voters would think. How often do you think these serious young activists, trying to get a seat at the table and be taken seriously, are told “you just don’t understand?” Keeping that in mind, it’s even less difficult to see why McCain just wouldn’t appeal to young voters who seek to work within the system to create change.

Yes, young voters that seek to act as change agents within organizations might be predisposed to support Senator Obama anyway; but with these comments, McCain doesn’t give his campaign any chance to be seen as a credible alternative to a young voter who doesn’t quite agree with Obama.

Yes, young voters are just as diverse (and maybe even more so) as the rest of the electorate and so to make generalizations can be dangerous. But being a young voter myself, and having surrounded myself with young voters both at my place of employment and in my own social life, I notice that while we’re by and large not a big proponent of civil disobedience, we’re still headstrong and stubborn. We don’t like to be told by our elders that we can’t do things or that we’re too naive to understand issues. And so it’s not a huge stretch to assume that McCain’s patronizing tactic didn’t play well with young voters.

All in all, I thought the debate was a tie. Both candidates had a few good moments. But the fact that it was a tie on the scorecard actually favors Obama in the grand scheme of things. He didn’t make any mistakes, he came off looking in touch with America and as a credible leader, and he held his own against John McCain on a subject that is supposed to be McCain’s strong suit.

What did you think?