Obama connected with audience

Z ON TV

October 08, 2008|By DAVID ZURAWIK | DAVID ZURAWIK,david.zurawik@baltsun.com

The format of the second presidential debate was described as that of a town hall meeting, but it was pure TV from the "citizens" seated on risers on a brightly lit stage, to the candidates moving about a stage like performers.

In TV terms, body language and modes of address were never more important. John McCain lived up to his reputation for excelling in town hall meetings, quickly establishing a soft-spoken intimate relationship with the audience even as he attacked his opponent - two things experts say you are not supposed to be able to do simultaneously.

Overall, however, Barack Obama was more successful in connecting with a diverse mix of the people onstage - and in a symbolic sense, that matters enormously in an increasingly diverse America. In fact, for millions of voters, that might matter more than anything else when they ultimately decide who they trust.

Here's a bite from my blog review of the debate at Z on TV that highlights the difference between the two candidates:

In TV terms, one of McCain's worst moments came when a young African-American man asked how the Wall Street bailout plan was going to help members of the middle class.

"You probably never heard of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before this crisis," he said patronizingly to the young man, using the question to launch an attack on Obama and other Democrats in trying to blame them for the economic meltdown.

The attack on Obama was not what mattered, but rather the insult implied in his assumption that the young man had not previously heard of two agencies most American homebuyers have explored or at least encountered.

And worse, while McCain seemed at times as if he would actually climb into the audience to make person to person, up close and personal T- style contact with some of his white questioners, he kept his distance from this young black man. And it was noticeable.

It might have seemed like a minor matter to some white viewers, but I wonder what sense persons of color made of that.

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