It depends on what you mean by ‘focused’

IT DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU MEAN BY ‘FOCUSED’…. The LA Times piece on last night’s debate said John McCain seemed “far more … focused” than in previous forums. I didn’t quite see it that way.

In fact, one of the more jarring aspects of McCain’s debate performance is how strikingly unfocused he is. Kevin noted, McCain “was flitting from point to point all night without ever putting together a coherent argument, and then grabbing miscellaneous attacks from the rolodex in his head whenever some bright idea popped into his mind.”

Quite right. McCain occasionally seemed as if he’d lost his train of thought, but just as often, seemed as if he didn’t even have a train of thought to lose.

Noam Scheiber summarized the problem nicely.

[McCain] had a way of turning talking points into complete non sequiturs by slapping them on the end of unrelated answers. My favorite came at the end of his second pass at Ayers and ACORN, when he added, hopefully: “[M]y campaign is about getting this economy back on track, about creating jobs, about a brighter future for America.” Riiiight. Later, McCain appended this to his critique of Joe Biden’s foreign-policy judgment: “I want to come back to, notice every time Sen. Obama says, ‘We need to spend more, we need to spend more, that’s the answer’ — why do we always have to spend more?” I realize the predicate doesn’t always have to follow from the subject, but shouldn’t it at least be in the same ballpark?

Second problem: McCain has a habit of making jokes and allusions no one else catches; tonight he really outdid himself. At one point Obama used Joe the Plumber to make a point about his health care plan. In response to which McCain blurted out: “Hey, Joe, you’re rich, congratulations.” Weird stuff.

John Dickerson added:

[H]e was in such a hurry that his tendency to use shorthand undermined his case. He rattled off policies in bullet points — skipping from taxes to trade and back again. He interjected thoughts as they occurred to him on the fly.

If this was McCain “far more … focused,” I shudder to think of McCain being scatterbrained.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation