early and often

McCain Calls Obama ‘That One’: Why?

Mother Hale, as Nancy Reagan's guest during
Ronald's 1985 State of the Union Address.

Despite being down in the polls and running short on time, John McCain seemed “unwilling or unable,” as Barack Obama likes to say, to create a game-changing moment last night. And with a lack of stunts, surprises, policy gaffes, major confrontations, or, frankly, interesting questions, one moment stood out from the rest of the debate. It came when McCain was talking about a pork-laden energy bill: “Who voted for it? You might never know — that one,” McCain said, gesturing at Obama. “Who voted against it? Me.” The phrase “that one” is being dissected by political observers, who, in a testament to the moment’s weirdness, haven’t come close to a consensus on its meaning. (Get Heilemann’s take here.) Was it an intentional sign of disrespect? Unintentional? A regrettable use of a common old-people term? Was it … racist?

• John B. Judis claims the line “suddenly revealed the contempt [McCain] feels for the Illinois senator.” [Plank/New Republic]

• Hilzoy compares it to “the way you talk about an annoying child, if you don’t much care for children. It was odd, and, I think, revealing.” [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Tom Shales writes that it was “another of his seemingly demeaning, nasty references to Obama,” which “contributed to McCain’s image as a kind of mean old Scrooge, not so much a battle-scarred warrior as an embittered one.” [WP]

• Marc Ambinder explains that “that one” is part of a routine McCain frequently uses in stump speeches, but “the set-up is usually clearer” and “it came off awkwardly on stage” last night. [Atlantic]

• Mark Halperin suspects the moment “probably jarred some viewers.” [Page/Time]

• Chris Cillizza thinks it was probably “unintentional” but “unlucky” for McCain, because it “stood out” in a debate “almost entirely devoid of news or quotable one-liners.” [Fix/WP]

• John Nichols believes McCain, “who after a quarter century on Capitol Hill surely knows the political etiquette, could not bring himself to” refer to Obama respectfully. But it wasn’t a mistake; it was part of the entire campaign to portray Obama as a “messianic character who sees himself in something akin to Biblical terms.” [Campaign ‘08/Nation]

• Andrew Sullivan calls it the “moment the contempt spilled over.” [Atlantic]

• Ezra Klein contends the phrase came off as “tone-deaf,” “Grandpa Simpson,” and “cranky,” dismissing Obama “in the language a busy mother uses for her third child, as if he couldn’t be bothered to recall the youngster’s name.” But Obama is a senator and leading presidential candidate, and “McCain is doing himself no favors by acting unable to treat his opponent with respect.” [American Prospect]

• James Fallows says it “creates an impression that may be impossible to erase.” [Atlantic]

• Michael Scherer says “that one” represented “deep tension between the two men,” and showed that McCain holds Obama “in low regard.” [Swampland/Time]

• Michael Schaffer uses “this one” and “that one” himself “for vaguely humorous effect,” so he doesn’t “see much contempt in John McCain’s now-infamous use of the latter term.” In fact, “people who like him” probably just “saw a goofy way of engaging in Senatorial finger-pointing.” [Plank/New Republic]

• John Dickerson doesn’t “see it as a major act of disrespect, but it did feel antiquated,” an expression his “older relatives” use. [Slate]

• Josh Marshall, at the time, “wasn’t quite sure what to make of” it, though it “sounded demeaning.” [Talking Points Memo]

• Noam Scheiber calls it the “culmination” of some “bizarrely geriatric” diction. It was “language befitting a grandchild who refuses to eat his broccoli.” [Stump/New Republic]

• Andrew Romano thinks it “seemed to sum up McCain’s dismissive attitude toward his opponent,” and, “[g]iven the MSM’s obsession with soundbites, ‘That One’ may be all we remember of tonight’s tedious debate in two weeks’ time.” [Stumper/Newsweek]

• Maureen Dowd accuses McCain of using “that one” as part of the strategy to paint Obama as “the Other,” someone for whom “white Americans should not open the door.” [NYT]

• Kathryn Jean Lopez scoffs: “Dismissive, sure. Racist? Give me a break.” [Corner/National Review]

• Jonathan Stein agrees with Lopez: “Condescension, yes. Racism, no.” [MojoBlog/Mother Jones]

Related: Heilemann: Obama Closes the Deal in Second Debate

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.

McCain Calls Obama ‘That One’: Why?