Many many years ago, then Vice President Nixon had a spontaneous debate with Khrushchev, and won. Nixon was considered a good debater and a person who could not only talk but think and provide details while giving a speech or talk.

So when the “untried” candidate, Senator Kennedy, was due to debate Nixon, his staff carefully coached him.

They thought out questions that might be asked, and provided him documents to help him with the details, and after studying, they gave him practice debates, and were ruthless when he got things wrong or got too wordy in the answers.

It’s a fairly routine teaching technique, not only for debates but for people taking oral examinations.

So when the TV Debates were seen by Americans, the vaulted Nixon, who had a mild case of the flu, answered well but looked ill at ease; but the really impressive thing was that the “untried” candidate seemed to be enjoying himself and up on the issues and able to answer all the questions without any problem.

The rest is history, of course.

That’s why the big kerfuffle about if McCain was in a “cone of silence” is nonsense.

There is no such thing as a “cone of silence” (uh, it’s a joke, fellahs…it refers to a running gag in “Get Smart”); indeed, with modern telecommunications if McCain wanted to “cheat” by listening to Obama’s side of the discussion at Saddleback Church, it was easy to do. Cellphones, internet texting, or even having his wife Cindy use her blackberry and write down notes so that the elderly Computer illiterate McCain was given a heads up would be easy to do.

But I’ve given speeches and taught seminars, and know that getting the questions five minutes or even 30 minutes before a talk just simply isn’t much help; you are busy checking your coat is straight and your makeup is okay and trying to remember to go to the bathroom before you start.
So why the claims, and and the minor hysteria about the matter?

A lot of the discussions on the internet come down to Obama’s long nuanced answers and that he wandered a bit.Part of the problem may be experience: because Obama is a teacher, not a debater. He can give speeches, but when asked for the details, he fudges a bit. Like a teacher, he expects respect, not objections, and like a college teacher he explains himself in nuances.

McCain has been in politics forever. His speeches are boring as heck, but McCain is famous for his sparring with reporters in the “back of the bus”, and so is not as nervous when confronted with unexpected questions.

My conclusion: The Obama campaign made three mistakes.

First, they accepted a toned down “TownHall” discussion, where the handlers weren’t in control with the questions or audience. When confronted with unexpected questions, he was slow.

Major mistake.

But most of the questions could have been anticipated by a smart staff, as was done by the Kennedy campaign staff in 1960.

So this brings us to the second problem: why did no one on his staff work with Obama to prepare him for the meeting?

Yes, he was on vacation with his family, but so was Kennedy, who managed to study possible questions, work on his technique in answering, swim, boat, keep a pregnant Jackie happy, and still (if rumors are to be believed) visit a friend in his brother’s house next door.

Third: why the whining?

The reports I am reading say Obama did quite well, so why not just say: our candidate was well spoken and nuanced, whereas McCain merely repeated talking points.

Instead, Obama’s staff immediately go into whining mode.

Well, Conspiracy theories might make the Kossacks happy, but in the real world it makes you look like a wimp who can’t take the heat.

Can you imagine Hillary Clinton being so unprepared for the talk, and then whining that McCain cheated? Of course not. She’s a grown up.

Your staff is acting like a ten year old.

It’s like playing football. You have a boo boo, you don’t cry or moan, you put ice on it and plan how you’ll get even in the next game.

Whining about a loss only makes people laugh at you.

Summary: You need a new staff. And quickly.

After all, if you can’t face a polite evangelical preacher without stammering, what will you do when Hillary’s people throw you a whammy at the convention?

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is MakaipaBlog.

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