American voters have been trained for gladiatorial combat. But maybe Obama really is changing our politics.
After the first Obama-McCain debate, Maureen Dowd, who's striven in her rough way for a year and more to buck up "Obambi" with Testosterone shots, complained:
Given the past week, the debate should have been a cinch for Obama. But, just as in the primaries, he willfully refuses to accept what debates are about. It’s not a lecture hall; it’s a joust. It’s not how cerebral you are. It’s how visceral you are. You need memorable, sharp, forceful and witty lines...We’re left waiting for a knockout debate.
In the ensuing debates, Obama never did get "visceral." But a new Times/CBS poll suggests that he may have got more electoral lift from the debates than any candidate since Reagan. In polls taken before and after the debates, the Times reports:
As voters have gotten to know Senator Barack Obama, they have warmed up to him, with more than half, 53 percent, now saying they have a favorable impression of him and 33 percent saying they have an unfavorable view. But as voters have gotten to know Senator John McCain, they have not warmed, with only 36 percent of voters saying they view him favorably while 45 percent view him unfavorably....the percentage of those who hold a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama is up 10 points since last month...In contrast, favorable opinion of Mr. McCain remained stable, and unfavorable opinion rose to 45 percent now from 35 percent in September.
Success and failure have many fathers. But there's this:
Among the voters who said their opinion of Mr. Obama had improved, many cited his debate performance, saying they liked his calm demeanor and the way he had handled the attacks on him from the McCain campaign.
A soft answer may not turn away wrath. But combined with impressive policy exposition--and some measured, focused policy attacks--it seems to have won votes.