Alex Massie

McCain vs Obama in Mississippi

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Well, here we go again campers. And this time it might even matter, though without the presence of Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo, Dennis Kucinich, John Edwards and Joe Biden it's not likely to be as much fun - ie, witless - as the primary debate season. Competence kills these things. So too, sanity.

Anyway, the expectations game is almost over; now there's just the debate itself to endure. Yes, for the first time John McCain and Barack Obama are debating a live, non-certifiable member of the opposite party. The debate is notionally about foreign policy, but John McCain will be given time to explain his behaviour of the past 48 hours. Equally, expect blather on the financial crisis' impact on national security.

So: what's the format? In an exciting break with recent tradition there could be - gasp! - some back and forth between the candidates.

Many pundits think Obama needs to avoid being windy and, fatally, nuanced. And, sure, brevity is your friend on these occasions. But his main task is to seem credible and Presidential, someone who ain't going to be a Dukakis or a Kinnock. "Winning" the debate doesn't mean much, as John Kerry discovered in 2004, if the punters can't bear the thought of you popping up on the goggle box every night for four years. A couple of jokes wouldn't go amiss either.

As for McCain, well, who knows? He's been acting like a crazy wee man for the past few days. It might be an idea for him to keep it simple and tone it down a little. That said, he probably needs to seem energised and alive in the company of his younger, better-looking opponent. On the other hand, his campaign is claiming victory before the debate has even happened. Which makes it all the more generous that he's actually decided to turn up for the thing. Sporting to give Obama false hope like that...

But of course, since it's a foreign policy debate we can probably expect the holy spirit of "bipartisanship" to animate all manner of terrible policy ideas.

Before we get started, it's worth checking out Wonkette's debate drinking game to make sure you have sufficient supplies to get through this. I'd just add that you should run for your whisky each time it's suggested war might might be needed to curb Russian/Iranian/Venezuelan/Pakistani/Paraguayan aggression. Ditto when Obama blames foreigners for daring to sell stuff to Americans in one breath before in the next talking about restoring America's reputation abroad...

That's running ahead of ourselves, however. Let the circus begin...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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