John McCain has faced a heavy burden entering the presidential debates with Barack Obama. As much as McCain, Sarah Palin, Repub surrogates, and others have denied it, the Arizona senator represents a party that has emphasized war over diplomacy, deregulation of the financial industry, crony capitalism and other traditional conservative practices, with the results only too evident.
But there is another handicap which McCain, who generally did well in his party's presidential debates, has faced against Obama, who generally did not fare well appearing opposite Hillary Clinton and, initially, others. The audiences have been cautioned against reacting in support, or opposition, to its candidate.
This is manifested partially in the absence of a laugh track. Last night, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, McCain quipped:
- Well, thank you, Tom. Thank you, Belmont University. And Senator Obama, it's good to be with you at a town hall meeting. (regarding McCain's earlier proposal for Obama to join him in a series of town hall debates)
- Not you, Tom. (about whom he might appoint as Secretary of the Treasury)
- Well, you know, nailing down Senator Obama's various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. (McCain claiming that his opponent has put forth numerous, conflicting positions on income taxation)
- You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one. (the Administration's energy bill)
- And I'll stop, Tom, and you didn't even wave. Thanks. (the candidates taking longer to answer than the debate rules allowed)
- I looked into his eyes and saw three letter, a K, a G and a B. (a McCain favorite, about Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent)
The members of the audience at Belmont University may have slightly chuckled to themselves at one or more of these attempts at humor, but to most people in the television audience, it came across as slightly awkward, a little silly, and lame. It contributes, in its small way, to the impression of Barack Obama as steady, serious, and reliable, among those attributes he has striven to convey to the American people to reassure them that his election would not be a "risky" choice in tumultous times.