Atlantic contributor James Fallows has some comments on the US presidential debates – they also seem relevant to the recent showdown between Helen Clark and John Key:
Here’s why the third debate, and all three debates, helped Obama so much more than McCain.
In general-election debates, it’s a losing strategy to “rally the base.” That’s what your own campaign events, and your fund-raisers, and your targeted ads, and your running mate are for. Especially by the time of the second and third debates, the job is to “rally the center.” That’s where most of remaining persuadable and undecided voters are.
Everything about Barack Obama’s approach to this debate, and all debates, was consistent with this reality. Almost nothing about John McCain’s approach was:
Neither Clark nor Key made McCain’s mistake – the person who came closest was Clark with her absurd and offensive comment about Key being used to shouting people down at home. Both candidates ran very defensive strategies in which they positioned themselves to look calm, strong and leaderlike; Key effortlessly exceeded the expectations set for him. Clark didn’t hurt herself in the debate but she didn’t help herself much either, and she did damage her image with her foolish (but totally characteristic) attacks on John Key and Mark Sainsbury the next day.
Clark and her supporters seem to genuinely believe in their cartoon depiction of John Key as some sort of malign, demonic super-rich psychopath, just as the US Republican Party imagines Barack Obama as being a deranged radical Islamic terrorist. But when people encounter Obama on TV they see a calm, articulate, slightly pompous and sometimes tedious former law professor; when we see Key we see a genial, occasionaly bewildered and safely anodyne Kiwi boy made good. Their political enemies are trying to sell us something we simply cannot believe in.