5 Reasons Why Barack Lost the 1st Debate

I co-hosted a Debate Party on Friday night that doubled as a Fundraiser for Barack Obama. The party was fun, the food was delicious, and the people I watched the debate with, including the Bus Chick & people from YES! Magazine and Reclaim the Media, couldn’t have been cooler.

What could have been better was my candidate’s performance. Here’s why this debate was a lost opportunity:

  1. Too much agreement
  2. Posturing on Pakistan & Afghanistan
  3. Nuclear Iran only posing a threat to Israel
  4. Iran’s army is a terrorist organization
  5. Venezuela is a rogue nation

(All the references I make here can be seen in the Debate Transcript, courtesy of the New York Times.)

1. Too much agreement

Sure, everybody likes to agree with people. Everybody likes when people agree with them. However, I really don’t like it when Obama goes out of his way to agree with McCain. In doing so, he gives credibility to McCain’s ridiculous positions on pretty much everything (the economy, taxes, terrorism, etc.). Obama is more right than McCain will ever be on these issues. His stances in most cases are fundamentally different. Therefore, the Campaign for Change should a lot less agreeing with those they call More of the Same and a lot more differentiating.

2. Posturing on Pakistan and Afghanistan

Obama has made it alright for Democrats to be complete war hawks with regard to Afghanistan and [of late] Pakistan. Why?

  • The people that perpetrated 9/11 are in these places
    Weren’t the majority people that perpetrated 9/11 from Saudi Arabia? Why don’t we tough talk them?
  • Pakistan is no longer our ally
    Since Purvez Musharaf is no longer President, and since he was allegedly our ally, we’re free to do whatever we need to do, even if it involves taking military action within a sovereign nation’s borders. Sound familiar? This sets a dangerous pretext for future preemptive actions…

Obama is better than this, at least I hope so. A different approach to foreign policy, one that will restore our standing in the world & make us more secure, is an approach that focuses on diplomacy all the time, not just some of the time. Democrats are so scared of being called weak. Don’t they know that the most aggressive are usually the weakest? Frank Lucas told me that “the loudest one it the room is the weakest one in the room.”

3. Nuclear Iran only posing a threat to Israel

Moderator Jim Lehrer asked “what is your reading on the threat to Iran right now to the security of the United States?” It’s a good question to get a clue on each candidates approach towards diplomacy & national security. The sad thing is that both McCain and Obama gave the same answer. Obama & McCain both could say enough times about how much of a threat a nuclear Iran was to Israel. Israel? Was the question asked about Israel, or about the United States? I’ve seen question dodging before, but this was the first time that I’ve seen two debaters take cover from the same question in the same bunker. Obama could have shown a clear difference here by simply answering the question. Why didn’t he? Why be so quick to agree with the guy you should be distancing yourself from

4. Iran’s army is a terrorist organization

In their answers to the same question about a nuclear Iran being a threat to Israel, both McCain and Obama said that Iran’s Republican Guard (read: their army), is a terrorist organization. Did you know that we could say that about another country’s military? I wonder if Iraqi civilians think that way about our soldiers? If they think we’re the insurgents, maybe that’s why they want us out and want us dead? Again, this is tough-guy posturing that is not emblematic of a different approach to foreign policy, militarism, and national security. I wonder if this will come up when our next President sits down with Iran’s leadership.

5. Venezuela is a rogue nation

Huh? I’ve never heard anyone but the Bush Administration say this. What exactly have Hugo Chavez and Venezuela done that elevates them to this status? Bush doesn’t like Chavez, I know. By why doesn’t McCain? Because McCain basically agrees with Bush on everything, fair enough? Why doesn’t Barack? I have no idea, but this again speaks to a policy of tough talk and not one of a different approach or of reasonable diplomacy.

The Peril of being a Critical Obama Supporter

I think that Obama left a lot of cards on the table Friday night, the biggest being the 5 laid out above. Since the Obama campaign is about all of us, not just about Obama, it is up to all of us to make Obama be the candidate we need him to be. I don’t want to see anymore points being left on the table. I don’t want to see anymore senseless posturing. I want to see substantive change. I will continue to push for that, no matter who it pisses off, because after the debates, after the election, we have a country to live in and a government to hold accountable, no matter if my guy wins or the other guy wins.

Let’s look at this election for what it is: one step towards change, not the change itself.

One Love. One II.

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

6 responses to “5 Reasons Why Barack Lost the 1st Debate”

  1. Steven M DeVougas says :


    I totally agree with you. He did leave a lot on the table. He should not have been worried about anything McCain was saying, and used this to build out his vision and his dream for the nation. McCain has a serious crisis of credibility, so Barack should have capitalized this. It should have been watching history, but watching that debate, I did not get that feeling. I chalk it up to the candidates trying to grab and position themselves as much in the middle as possible. Barack pulled a Lloyd Carr on these debates, instead of playing to win, he was playing not to lose.

  2. Daniel K says :

    Actually, in Iran they call them the Revolutionary Guard (or the long winded “Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution”), not the Republican Guard, which was Saddam’s elite army.

    The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is an army separate from the regular Iranian military, and is responsible for internal security.

    After McCain got the name wrong it was unfortunate to hear Obama repeat the mistake.

  3. Garlin II says :

    @Daniel K,

    Good catch on Revolutionary versus Republican guard. Don’t you love it when candidates make the same gaffes and bloggers repeat them? 🙂

    Nevertheless, why on Earth would we want to classify an organization responsible for internal security as a terrorist group?

    One Love. One II.

  4. Daniel K says :

    I’m no expert, but it isn’t hard to imagine the Revolutionary Guard on special forces missions “meddling” in matters.

  5. Barb in Atl says :

    I understand your concern about the debate. The only answer I can give is that critique hasn’t been equal for some time (and I’m not referring to color here). Had Obama been half as contemptuous or unwilling to look at his opponent as McCain, the press would be all over him. There’s a reason the phrase IOIYAR (It’s Okay If Your A Republican) has become an easily recognized acronym on some websites.

    Obama cannot go after McCain the way McCain went after Obama. There would be the whole, he’s picking on an old man thing or the he’s picking on a war hero thing or the most probable, eek! that big black man scares me (well, obviously, now I’m talking color).

    And I, like Obama, have no problems agreeing with people on some points and will disagree on others. It works to his advantage for all those that are tired of the partisanship.

    As far as all the nonsense about Israel and Venezuela – I disagree with that as well. But you can’t tell “teh stoopids” that Israel sponsors state terror nor can you say that we don’t like Venezuela cuz they took control of their oil and aren’t afraid of American might. While it would be accurate, it won’t fly.

    Finally, although majority of the “turrists” – if you believe the story – were from Saudi Arabia, they were (supposedly) based in Afghanistan and supported by the Taliban (the group that W had visit when he was TX gov). That’s why his focus is on Afghanistan. What will happen when he’s in office? (shrug) I dunno. I’m hoping that he backs off the nonsense and works on building bridges with everybody.

    I’m invested in the campaign – donated money, am volunteering and really, REALLY don’t want a mccain presidency. So I can rationalize things to avoid becoming a naderite railing at the sky as the world crumbles around me. Seriously, with me – it’s all in or all out.

  6. Garlin II says :

    @Barb in Atl,

    You & me both are invested in the campaign, which is even more reason to want to see your candidate say and do the right things, and it’s the basis for why I feel so bad when I see Obama miss opportunities.

    I am not so quick to accept that people are tired of “partisanship”. People are tired of broken policies and posturing, yes. People don’t mind partisanship if a party consistently presents ideas and policies that they agree with. Repbulicans and Conservatives have so damaged this country that an overtly Progressive/Democratic candidate can step in and win by telling a better story, presenting a better vision. This is not done by “reaching across the aisle” to people who’s system of belief is responsible for the mess. It is done by zooming out to think about things in a bigger, better way, then zooming in to talk about making a Progressive vision a reality.

    The biggest concern I have is that you, me, and other Obama supporters all shrug and say “I don’t know” when we think about whether Obama will act on some of his more worrisome promises/statements made this campaign season. I do know that he won’t back off of these things unless we tell him he has to.

    One Love. One II.

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