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Guest bloggers debate the debate that might pit McCain vs. Obama

September 26, 2008 |  3:22 am

So, right now we don't even know if we'll have a presidential debate tonight between the guy from the Democratic machine that has ruled Cook County since just after the dinosaurs migrated to Wisconsin and the guy who's been in Washington a quarter-century and says, no, he's the one representing change.

Just look at his running mate.

Sounds terrifically exciting. No doubt attendance will be way down at thousands of high school football games across the country tonight as millions stay home to not miss a word.

Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain of Arizona and Illinois freshman Democratic Senator Barack Obama, his party's presidential candidate

In preparation for the maybe debate, The Ticket did two things. One, we got a video showing highlights of some past presidential debates. Click on the "read more" line below to see that.

And, two, we asked some of the nation's top bloggers to comment on the debates and their importance. Click on the blog name to link to another sample of their writing.

Here they are in whatever order makes each of them feel the most important:

Crooks&Liars: "I've always felt that in the debates, America will finally see Obama and McCain side by side discussing important issues and for those that are undecided, decisions will be made. I've written that the debates are essential for Obama to pull ahead and stay there all the way to November.

"And the imagery alone will favor Obama. He looks ...

... confident, reassuring and strong while McCain looks tired and haggard. His face visibly shows the wear and tear of the campaign. That's important in our pop culture world."

FeelingElephants: "I think these debates will be a moment of crystallization of the candidate's images. They have each been fighting to define the story arch of this campaign cycle and I believe in this debate we will hear the final versions of their campaign's meta-narrative.

"More importantly, we'll see if Obama had a good reason to avoid debating McCain in his proposed series of town-hall meetings -- popular wisdom is that he can't win a wonkish debate."

Wizbang: "As I write this, the first Presidential debate is up in the air. Lost in the back and forth about McCain suspending his campaign and the debate is that this first debate really should be the one he aces and Obama doesn’t since it’s supposed to be focused on foreign policy.

"The VP debate will be another chance for Sarah Palin to connect with a large audience, in essence reaffirming her selection. The substance of that debate is probably less important than the potential for her to show (or not show) that she’s up to the challenge. If her history is any guide, she’ll impress people as capable, genuine, and likeable."

TheModerateVoice: "The debates are of incredible importance this year. Part of it is due to the McCain campaign's portrayal of Obama and part of it is due to Obama. Obama was remarkably tepid and/or longwinded in some primary debates. And McCain's campaign has painted him as a fancy-speaking empty suit and empty head.

"Obama has to be seen with McCain and come off much as JFK did with Nixon, as on an equal footing or at least conjure up Presidential images.

"The debates are of huge importance to McCain. He's drooping in the polls and is using the 'Maverick' theme in his ads. He needs to come across as more presidential than Obama but also conjure up images of the 2000 McCain who wasn't necessarily a creature of the Republican party but of someone who didn't fit into either party. He needs to cool down.

"All this may be moot if McCain decides not to show up for the debates. Will Obama go for the tired and ineffective response of showing up and answering questions with an empty chair next to him?"

TrapperJohn/DailyKos: "You hear a lot from cable news talking heads about how 'so-and-so needs to show empathy' in a debate, and how 'XYZ needs to prove that he/she can take a punch,' and so on. 

"But the fact of the matter is that debates are an awful lot like NASCAR races: with the exception of the devotees, most people aren't watching to see the skills of the participants. They're watching to see the crashes and explosions.

"It's the gaffes that make debates relevant."

Joan Walsh/Salon.com: "Clearly McCain's gambit is political, but I think it's bad politics. I actually think a foreign-policy debate was the only

hope McCain had for taking back momentum after a week in which his lifelong devotion to corporate deregulation caught up with him, despite his lying about it.

"Now, I trust Obama to be smart enough to tie the current financial crisis to foreign policy -- fairly, not as a stretch, given the global dimensions of the turmoil. But it would have also provided McCain with an opportunity to taunt Obama about his opposition to the so-called surge in Iraq, and to change the subject generally -- and that could potentially be good news for McCain.

"McCain campaign czar Steve Schmidt apparently thinks calling on Obama to cancel the debate is another big game-changing gambit, à la the Palin choice. But I think Americans will see it for what it is, a political stunt. It makes McCain look cowardly, like he's not ready to mix it up with Obama, and like he's hiding from the perilous economic developments of the last few weeks."

Matt Welch/Reason.com: "John McCain's one real shot in this election is to portray Barack Obama as an inexperienced, even unknown foreign policy naif in a dangerous, dangerous world. Given his deficit in the polls, the focus this week on Wall Street, and the annus horribilus it is for the GOP, McCain -- by far -- has the most at stake tonight.

"If he makes Obama look like a tongue-tied graduate student, he could make real gains, but I wouldn't bet money on that.

"The vice presidential debate, on the other hand, will probably be the politico-cultural event of the year, and I for one can't wait.

"The man born with a silver foot in his mouth vs. the most divisive hockey mom in U.S. history ... regardless of who loses (probably both), American television wins.

"If Palin holds her own while Biden goes gaffetastic, you may see a rallying of the conservative base, such as it still exists. Conversely, if Palin melts under the hot lights, you can probably kiss most Hillary-supporting independents good-bye."

Lucianne.com: "The debates are crucial. Voters who have never seen the two candidates together will be able to compare and contrast for the first time. As voting, when it comes right down to it, is more emotional than intellectual, the voters' comfort level is a vital part of their choice."

The Ticket will have its own take on tonight's maybe-or-not debate later today. Please check back.

What's your take on the debate kerfuffle?

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credit: Associated Press

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