I was watching the debate on a channel that mainly had a split screen of the 2 men head on, so it was hard for me to discern the level of interaction. But I do think McCain had a strategy of intimidating Obama and making him feel small and inexperienced.
And, frankly, Robinson is right! McCain does personalize conflict. He has such a dramatic and profound personal story, and he's made it the foundation of his rhetoric. He uses it to reinforce his credibility and to add weight to all his opinions. It's not surprising that when he came to face Obama in person that he thought he could make the other man doubt himself. Who am I to stand next to this man?
Or -- whatever he could make Obama think -- at least he could make us see him as the greater man, but he risked the kind of criticism Robinson and Matthews dished out.
Josh Marshall quotes a reader:
As a psychotherapist and someone who treats people with anger management problems, we typically try to educate people that anger is often an emotion that masks other emotions. I think it's significant that McCain didn't make much, if any, eye contact because it suggests one of two things to me; he doesn't want to make eye contact because he is prone to losing control of his emotions if he deals directly with the other person, or, his anger masks fear and the eye contact may increase or substantiate the fear.He also knows his opponent would like to get him to display anger and confirm the theory that he's angry man and he's defending against that tactic.
I noticed him doing the same thing in the Republican primary debates. The perception observers are likely to have is that he is unwilling to acknowledge the opponent's legitimacy and/or is contemptuous of the opponent.
(Hey, do you know the difference between a tactic and a strategy? "I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy." If you don't, you're not fit to stand on the stage next to John McCain, who's been through tactics and strategies all over the world over half a century.)
Marshall quotes another reader:
I think people really are missing the point about McCain's failure to look at Obama. McCain was afraid of Obama. It was really clear -- look at how much McCain blinked in the first half hour. I study monkey behavior -- low ranking monkeys don't look at high ranking monkeys. In a physical, instinctive sense, Obama owned McCain tonight and I think the instant polling reflects that.Dan Drezner says:
Ah, the perceived slights. Josh Marshall highlights McCain’s unwillingness to make eye contact with Obama. I would say that McCain evinced some disregard for Obama — but I’m not buying the “low-ranking monkey” hypothesis (seriously, I can’t believe Josh posted this). McCain was not afraid of Obama — he just doesn’t like him.Indeed. We are animals, with animal instincts worth noting, but it is a rule of polite discourse that when racial difference is anywhere in the picture, you don't compare human beings to apes or monkeys.