With the financial crisis deepening in the United States and globally, the American presidential contest has become even more intriguing and interesting. The economic crisis has helped Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, establish a comfortable 5-9 percentage point lead in the public opinion polls. While experts and laypersons alike have been less than impressed with Mr. Obama’s response to the bailout package, the general assessment seems to be that it is better than that of his Republican rival, John McCain, who has no clue about the scale and complexity of the crisis — ‘doesn’t get it.’ Mr. Obama’s gain has come largely from a significant shift of voters who feel that he is able to empathise with millions of Americans who fear the loss of jobs, investments, and housing. Mr. McCain certainly did not help his own cause. At a time when Republican fanaticism about deregulating markets is seen as a primary cause of the malignant crisis — an impression reinforced by the Republican-led revolt that defeated the first edition of the $700 billion bailout package in the House of Representatives — the party’s standard-bearer advocated more of the same before flipping over to shallow populism and theatricality. Few seemed impressed with Mr. McCain’s abrupt decision to suspend his campaign in order to join the rescue effort, and a view gained ground that his paratrooper tactics actually led to the collapse of the bailout. In any case, it was guaranteed that financial issues would barge into the first of three debates between the presidential candidates, a debate supposed to address national security and foreign affairs. Mr. McCain’s shallowness and gimmickry resulted in own goals.
That ‘Style is the Man’ is widely held to apply to presidential debates, if not presidential elections. This factor appears to have worked to Mr. McCain’s detriment. Many viewers reportedly felt that while Mr. Obama came across as too detached and insufficiently visceral about the burning issues of the day, his unflappability and cool were far preferable to the Republican’s brash, condescending, and almost-sneering manner. The impetuousness Mr. McCain displayed at the height of the bailout crisis has also refocussed attention on his much-hyped choice of Sarah Palin as running mate. A move that seemed brilliant at the time is now being seen even by conservative commentators as an act of recklessness. Ms Palin, who has been completely out of her depth while discussing key national and international issues, could prove to be a serious embarrassment and liability for Mr. McCain’s campaign as it heads into the home straight.
6 months ago