Final Thought: Brokaw hurt both men

It occurs to me that neither McCain nor Obama particularly “glittered” last night, largely because of the debate format, and I blame Brokaw for it.

Senator McCain is known to be at his best in a free-for-all Townhall format. He’s comfortable mixing it up, and that’s why he invited Sen. Obama to do a series of ten of them over the summer.

Obama is known to be at his worst in such a format and understandably refused McCain’s offer.

But a “Townhall” debate has become a staple of the presidential election, so there had to be at least one; Obama couldn’t avoid it.

Enter Tom Brokaw, who did everything he could to turn the debate into what Obama was comfortable with, and to shield him from unexpected, discomfiting questions. Brokaw turned last night’s “Townhall” into a standard Podium debate without the podium.

That did not work for either man. Obama had some rhetorical cover, but he did not have the physical cover he seems to like, the barrier of a podium or desk, the ready pen and paper. He looked very uncomfortable, self-conscious and exposed when he sat – like he really wanted something between him and the audience.

For McCain, the expectation that he was going into a real Townhall meeting only to discover that no, it was just another damned and tedious podium debate with an option to walk around, seemed to take some steam from him. Instead of mixing it up with the audience, he was back to the same dreary questions both candidates have already stumped and debated to death, with no opportunity – thanks to Brokaw – to take a question on something the least bit provocative or challenging.

I believe Brokaw thought to be doing Obama a favor by taking control of that so-called Townhall, protecting him from any unwelcome surprises. But he served neither man well, and I don’t blame McCain for seeming a little pissed. At this point, all he has to look forward to is one more podium debate with a once-again comfortable Obama and an audience that will largely ignore it, thanks to this snooze-fest. McCain had to know that – in his subtle, old-newsman style – Brokaw had completely and unfairly screwed him.

Ed Morrissey also finds some Brokawian soft bias in the question selections:

The question of questions is a stronger accusation. Like Ifill, Brokaw managed to avoid the following topics:

* Abortion
* Gun control
* Judicial nominations
* Immigration

With the current financial crisis, an emphasis on economics was expected. Brokaw did ask about entitlement reform, which hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention. However, the topics above have driven presidential politics for decades and have single-issue constituencies that matter in elections. For the second straight debate, Americans didn’t hear candidate views on any of them.

Does that oversight help Barack Obama? On the first topic, most definitely. It would have provided an opportunity for McCain to hammer Obama for his opposition to the Illinois version of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act and explain to a national audience how Obama acted to protect infanticide. Gun control would have allowed McCain to challenge the Con Law expert on why he couldn’t take a stand on the Second Amendment before Heller. Judicial nominations would have spoken to the base in both parties, and on immigration, little daylight exists between the two candidates.

I’d call the latter two topics a draw, but McCain got hurt by not getting a question on the first two. Brokaw made the decision on questions, and he has to take responsibility for his choices.

All emphases, mine.

It remains to be seen if Bob Scheiffer will manage to allow those questions in the next debate, at Hofstra University. I suspect he will. Or maybe I mean I hope he will. I’ve always thought of Scheiffer as pretty straight up. I miss Russert. He’d have asked.

Btw, the Great “That One” Controversy Pretend Racist Slur thing is the lamest attempt yet by the Obama camp to play victim. Good lord…I agree with Treacher: this sort of incessant umbrage-taking, hypersensitivity is not really the behavior of a gang who feel the wind at their backs.

UPDATE: Althouse has morning after thoughts – Obama won – and also about that mysterious earpiece possibility.

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About Elizabeth Scalia