McCain makes debate a talk to 'Joe'

Election 2008

October 16, 2008|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,david.zurawik@baltsun.com

John McCain came out swinging in last night's final debate of the presidential campaign, and he did it almost exclusively in the language of television. He started out trying to reduce and humanize complicated economic issues to a man in Ohio whom he repeatedly referred to as Joe the Plumber. And then, throughout the debate, McCain directly and emotionally confronted Barack Obama, whom he failed to even address in their first debate.

It is amazing how TV shapes the national discourse. Here is a bite from my blog at Z on TV where I talk about last night's emotional debate in TV terms:

Joe the Plumber, who was identified as a real person met by Obama on the campaign trail, instantly became the personification of the older, white, blue-collar voter in a Rust Belt swing state - a very important person.

But instead of answering moderator Bob Schieffer's question about how they would deal with the economic crisis in policy terms, the two candidates started arguing about who would make Joe the Plumber happier.

McCain was the one who introduced Joe and forced the issue so that Obama had little choice but to talk about Joe. But I stopped counting after the seventh reference to the Ohio plumber in the first 12 minutes.

And yet, McCain was still talking about Joe the Plumber an hour into the debate - looking into the camera and promising Joe greater happiness under a McCain presidency.

"I'm happy to talk to you, too, Joe, if you're out there," Obama said, sounding a little reluctant to revisit this sitcom-like TV persona to which his opponent was playing.

I don't know about you. But it left me feeling talked down to and angry that this was the level of debate initiated by McCain.

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