This moment may stick with Barack Obama for a while. During the debate, John McCain explained that he wanted to remain resolute for victory in Iraq for the families of the men and women who had given their all for the mission. McCain talked about a bracelet he received from the mother of Matthew Stanley to emphasize his commitment, which he has done in campaign stops for the last several months. Team Obama prepared for it, but Obama blew the delivery:
And I’ll tell you, I had a town hall meeting in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and a woman stood up and she said, “Senator McCain, I want you to do me the honor of wearing a bracelet with my son’s name on it.”
MCCAIN: He was 22 years old and he was killed in combat outside of Baghdad, Matthew Stanley, before Christmas last year. This was last August, a year ago. And I said, “I will — I will wear his bracelet with honor.”
And this was August, a year ago. And then she said, “But, Senator McCain, I want you to do everything — promise me one thing, that you’ll do everything in your power to make sure that my son’s death was not in vain.”
That means that that mission succeeds, just like those young people who re-enlisted in Baghdad, just like the mother I met at the airport the other day whose son was killed. And they all say to me that we don’t want defeat.
A war that I was in, where we had an Army, that it wasn’t through any fault of their own, but they were defeated. And I know how hard it is for that — for an Army and a military to recover from that. And it did and we will win this one and we won’t come home in defeat and dishonor and probably have to go back if we fail.
OBAMA: Jim, let me just make a point. I’ve got a bracelet, too, from Sergeant – from the mother of Sergeant Ryan David Jopeck, sure another mother is not going through what I’m going through.
Now, the point here was valid — not all Gold Star Mothers agree on Iraq, Cindy Sheehan being the most outré example of Obama’s constituency among them. Unfortunately, Obama fumbled the delivery on two points. First, his “I’ve got a bracelet, too” sounded whiny, childish, and petulant. Obama wanted to one-up McCain rather than make his point, and it came out defensive and petty instead of presidential.
Obama clearly prepared for this moment, knowing McCain would discuss his bracelet, but in those preparations, Obama didn’t commit the soldier’s name to memory. He had to look down at his bracelet to remember the name. McCain didn’t have to do that, which made Obama look much more manipulative in his presentation. It was a “tell”, a poker term for an involuntary physical manifestation of a player’s hand.
Will this be a defining moment of this debate? Perhaps, although I doubt it will get much attention outside of the blogosphere. If so, it embodies everything wrong with presidential debates — the staged gotchas, the sound-bite mentality, and the focus on the sensational over the substantial. Obama tried to play that game, and he may wind up hoist by his own petard, which makes it only moderately more palatable.