John McCain cannot win for losing. On September 26th, the date of the first presidential debate, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) closed at what now seems like a nostalgic 11,143 points. On October 7th, the date of the second presidential debate, the DJIA dropped 508 points and closed at 9447. Today, October 15th, the DJIA dropped by its second largest amount ever, a gut wrenching 733 points, closing at 8578. Since the presidential debates started, the DJIA has lost 23 percent of its value. This more than anything else tells you why Senator McCain lost tonight’s debate and will lose the election. It’s the economy, stupid.
In short, there was no way he could have won the debate no matter what words he uttered or what debating points he won. The debate in our living rooms was about one single thing: our pocketbooks and our feeling of panic which, if not explicit, are lurking at the edge of our subconscious. It is all that the American people care about. We wanted to hear about how Senator McCain would fix the economy. Yet McCain offered no new plan or vision. As much as he admonished Senator Obama for tying him to President Bush, for all his maverick-ness he sure sounded and looked a lot like our current president. Most of us love lower taxes, but it is a harder sell to make when your stock portfolio (if you have one) is dropping like a stone, your employment looks chancy and if you have health insurance you feel like you are close to being priced out of the market. Low taxes mean little if you are facing a far scarier scenario: a reduced standard of living. McCain needed a game changer but he was bereft of meaningful new ideas. The ideas that he offered sounded very similar to those of the current administration.
He was dealt an atrocious hand. Under the circumstances, McCain played the debate rather well. Of the three presidential debates, in this one he looked the most animated and came across as close to eloquent. He even had a few good debating points. For the first time in his debates with Obama, he actually looked him in the eye. He tried to paint a frozen smile on his face while Obama talked, but he still frequently came across as condescending. Only his Republican base cared about Obama’s tangential association with Bill Ayers. For the rest of us, it was “Why can’t you talk about something that actually matters?”
Instead of looking firm McCain looked aggressive. He even quickly roamed onto Obama’s side of the stage after the debate, as if he was trying to mark his territory. Obama on the other hand came across as completely measured and cool. Even though McCain was reasonably coherent in this debate, Obama’s natural eloquence still out shown his. Obama once again correctly judged there was no way that Senator McCain could win the debate unless he let him throw him off his gate. Obama has only rarely looked ruffled in any of his debates over the last twenty months. He merely had to continue to follow the strategy he had so well mastered to put this debate successfully behind him.
With twenty days until Election Day, it is abundantly clear who the ultimate winner will be, and it will not be Senator McCain. McCain has been a gambler all of his life. He has been known to shoot craps at high stakes gambling tables in Las Vegas. For McCain, with no message that resonates, these debates have each been high stake political crapshoots. In each McCain lost. He lost because his message simply failed to connect with the majority of voters. Despite his protestations, his voting record clearly tied him too closely to President Bush. The ultimate reason for Obama’s win though will simply be the dismal state of our economy. Millionaires like John McCain might feel free to play craps. Those of us of more modest means do not have these options. In scary times, you vote for a steady candidate who seems to be grounded in our reality. A maverick is the last sort of candidate you want, particularly since you sense, but cannot say for sure, that you are precariously perched close to the edge of the cliff.
I expect that after Obama election on November 4th the stock markets will begin to settle down. Until then, hold on to your wallets and I hope you like roller coasters.