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Monday, September 29, 2008

Andy Martin takes a sledgehammer to Senator John McCain’s debate performance

Media expert Andy Martin’s afterthoughts on the first presidential debate. With forty years of experience in television, Andy says “John McCain must change for TV; TV will not and cannot change for him.”

Martin says Senator John McCain needs new “debate coaches,” now

On reflection, says Martin, McCain’s debate performance was abysmal
Executive Editor

“Factually Correct, Not
Politically Correct”





(CHICAGO)(September 30, 2008) I flew home to Chicago on Sunday night and the woman sitting next to me called Senator John McCain a “grumpy grandpa” in Friday’s national debate. Sad to say, she was not far off the mark. McCain did win on Friday, barely, but only because Barack Obama is an equally incompetent debater.

Let me begin with the obvious:

Senator John McCain is an outstanding public official. Senator McCain has an illustrious career of public service. He is a good and decent man. David Brooks of the New York Times summarized McCain’s positive attributes in a recent column:

McCain is also the only qualified candidate for president. And I will vote for McCain. But that does not mean I can remain silent in the face of McCain’s abysmal TV “face.” Unless McCain changes, he will lose. If he changes, he may win.

The senator is one of the worst TV performers, and one of the worst TV debaters, in recent national experience. McCain has to realize and accept reality: he has to change for TV; TV won’t and can’t change for him.

McCain’s “debate coaches” are now said to be helping Governor Sarah Palin prepare for her debate later this week. God help her. Palin’s “coaches” took someone who has been on TV for decades, Palin, and have made her look goofy in interviews. Some coaching. They coached Palin backwards, not forwards. Now they claim to be giving her more of the same medicine. Scary.

In this column I will analyze why, on reflection, McCain’s debate performance was so poor and why, unless he changes course and gets new debate advisers, he is doomed to failure, and we are doomed to four years of disaster under Barack Obama.

I speak from experience. People in Illinois have seen me debate on Channel 7 (WLS-TV). I can handle myself under the lights. I have been working in TV for forty years.

McCain operates under a number of fallacies.

First, McCain’s “experience” fallacy. McCain is an experienced candidate and public official. No doubt. He has a generally outstanding record. But most people are not going to make a decision based on McCain’s legislative record, could care less, and will judge him on how he appears on TV. That’s reality. McCain has to present his experience in a friendly way, without “You don’t understands” and the like. McCain has to learn to proffer his accomplishments in a less didactic manner. McCain made his experience a negative on TV last Friday. Hello, Senator Bob Dole.

McCain, moreover, sounded too much like a legislative technician. People are not voting for a legislative mechanic. They are voting for a “big picture” leader. McCain’s constant babbling about legislation is a downer for most voters and especially TV viewers. He needs to provide a vision. He completely failed to do on Friday. What the hell kind of preparation did he do? Was the debate a surprise, or what? Who takes the blame? McCain totally failed to present a vision of where he wants to lead us.

Second, McCain’s “no attacks” fallacy. If McCain were leading, he might be able to avoid attacking his opponent. But when he is behind, he has to give viewers a reason to reject Obama. The trend is Obama’s, not McCain’s. If McCain is going to win, he has to reverse the flow, not sit by and expect to prevail on his own merits. McCain has to invest his own prestige in taking down Obama. McCain may think he should win simply because he is the better candidate. Sorry, that’s not enough of a strategy when you fall behind.

Third, the “missing issues” fallacy. Sean Hannity of Fox News did an outstanding piece linking Obama to the mortgage loan scandal. McCain made no effort to present any evidence against Obama.

If Sean Hannity could get it right, why can’t McCain’s advisers do the same?

McCain made no effort to link Obama to ACORN. Yet ACORN handouts in the bailout bill were one factor that triggered massive public opposition to congressional offices. Does McCain even understand the ACORN connection? Does he care? Can he be trained to present it? One hopes.

Bad loans flowed from the 1999 law signed by Bill Clinton and endorsed by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (Goldman Sachs). Democrats pushed for bad loans. McCain was the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights with the financial crisis issue. Instead of counterattacking Obama and showing how Democrats created the crisis, McCain was supine and allowed Obama to relentlessly attack him as a Bush clone.

Fourth, the “small bore” fallacy. McCain was on a national stage. He had a platform to attack Obama and finish him off. Instead, McCain empowered and enhanced Obama’s credibility by sitting by and allowing Obama to present himself as a real candidate. If Obama wins, he will have McCain’s abysmal TV performance to thank.

McCain cheapened himself by bringing up the “bear DNA” issue again. The bear DNA earmark is a delightful morsel for a partisan audience. No problem there. But it was out of place on the national stage. If all McCain can talk about on a national platform is bear DNA he demeans himself and leaves the impression that he has no larger disagreements with Obama. A national audience is there to hear a debate on major issues. McCain diminished himself and 55 million viewers by raising a small bore issue. Next time, senator, use a magnum, not a peashooter. Don’t waste my time with stale jokes about bear DNA.

Fifth, McCain’s “Phil Gramm” fallacy. McCain should not be using Phil Gramm’s stale analogies. The “Ireland tax” issue McCain used is straight out of an interview with Gramm last June in the Wall Street Journal. Didn’t they have anything newer? Something original with McCain and not secondhand from Gramm? I wish.

Sixth, McCain’s Iraq fallacy. His comments on Iraq were pathetic and inadequate. All he had to say was, “Barack, your running mate Joe Biden voted for the invasion; Senator Clinton voted for the invasion. Senator such-and-such (Democrat) voted for the invasion. What did they know that you don’t know? Isn’t Biden your foreign policy expert? When you opposed the war, you were not a U. S. Senator, you were a state senator in Springfield. As Senator Clinton pointed out, when you got to Washington you started voting to support the mission. Stop trying to confuse the American people by suggesting you actually cast a vote against our Iraq policy when that is a complete lie.” (Because McCain’s overall response was pathetic, his correct point that we need to look forward, not backward, was lost in Obama’s sniper attacks.) McCain could have made a perfect volley and wiped out Obama. McCain was not properly prepared for what would be an obvious issue. He could have thrown the grenade right back at the Democrats. He missed the chance. Fat chance he’ll get another opening.

Over the past week McCain has done everything he can to enhance Barack Obama’s stature, and to diminish his own. Who is advising McCain? The results of McCain’s disastrous strategies are obvious in new polls. McCain has fumbled his lead to Obama.

McCain’s seventh fallacy is his stance on the bank bailout. McCain says he is voting “for” the bailout, but he also opposes it. (Note to Johnny Mac: the “improvements” you claim in the latest draft of the law are all illusory.) McCain is using John Kerryesque sophistry. Your contrapuntal position is much too convoluted for the average citizen to grasp. Are you for me or against me, they ask? McCain’s legislative subtleties are wasted on a TV set. There he is being the legislative technician again. A losing strategy.

Eighth, the “congeniality” fallacy. McCain keeps reminding people he is not “Miss Congeniality” in the senate. Who cares? He has to come across as Mr. Congeniality on the tube. McCain is supposedly coached by Brett O’Donnell. O’Donnell should be replaced today. O’Donnell completely failed to prepare McCain for TV. What did O’Donnell prepare McCain for? He was sure not prepared for a TV audience of 55 million viewers. Nosiree.

McCain might be stubborn, but if he refuses to accept TV advice he will lose, and the loss will be entirely his own fault. Congenial people on TV win audiences and win elections. McCain seems to think he can convince the American people to vote for him because Obama does “not understand” the world. That’s a massive misunderstanding of the camera. The camera does not like people who hector and lecture (luckily for me I am not speaking this column on TV; if I were, I would be smiling and using a rose petal, not a sledge hammer).

O’Donnell hasn’t even taught McCain how to smile. If McCain won’t listen to advice, maybe McCain should go back and watch The Gipper’s TV performances.

I would have prepped McCain entirely differently. Loosen him up. I understand he is a jocular person in person (or private). Why not let the real McCain shine through? He is not going to win by appearing as the grumpy grandpa.

Bottom line: McCain is his own worst enemy on TV. He fumbled a great opportunity to finish off Obama in the first debate, when McCain still had the lead. Now he has to come from behind, again.

If McCain was badly coached, get rid of his closest advisers. McCain is not going to change TV to fit him or to conform to his personality. McCain will either obey the “laws of TV,” or he will go down in flames. That should concentrate the attention of a fighter pilot.

P. S. I have received some criticism from readers who do not like me calling McCain “grandpa.” First, the “grandpa” analogy is not my original thought. Second, the fact that McCain is perceived that way by many others should concern him. Finally, McCain can take it. This column should be a wake-up call; it is not meant to be sweet and snuggly. See, hammer, sledge, above.
Readers of Obama: The Man Behind The Mask, say the book is still the only gold standard and practical handbook on Barack Obama's unfitness for the presidency. Buy it.
Book orders: Immediate shipment from or the publisher now available.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I recently decided to oppose Barack Obama's election and became Executive Director of The Stop Obama Coalition, By default, I became the national leader of the anti-Obama movement. I am not acting as either a Democrat or Republican. I have had no contact whatsoever with the McCain Campaign. I am not a member of any political organization. The views express are entirely independent. I am acting as an American citizen who sincerely believes Obama is not the man we need in the Oval Office. We are going to run a very dynamic and aggressive campaign against Obama. I will continue to write my news and opinion columns for /s/ Andy Martin
Andy Martin is a legendary Chicago muckraker, author, Internet columnist, radio talk show host, broadcaster and media critic. He is currently based in New York selling his new book, Obama: The Man Behind The Mask. Andy is the Executive Editor and publisher of © Copyright by Andy Martin 2008. Martin comments on regional, national and world events with over forty years of experience. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. Andy began forty years of broadcasting experience by becoming the owner of a TV station in 1968.

His columns are also posted at; Andy is the author of Obama: The Man Behind The Mask, published in July 2008, see

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