No One Likes a Whiner

Can we all just take a breath?

The finger-wagging outrage over ABC’s debate on Wednesday is a bit over-wrought.

“Shoddy” and “Despicable” – The Washington Post

A “Train Wreck” – The Philadelphia Daily News

“Petty” and “Shallow” – The Atlantic

“Embarrassing” and “Shameful” – The Huffington Post has been inundated with thousands of angry e-mails from viewers upset over what many perceive as an overwhelming amount of below-the-belt questions directed at Sen. Barack Obama by debate questioners Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos.

Psychoanalysis is a popular parlor game in this our longest and strangest presidential nominating contest in recent memory. (Who hasn’t wondered if Bill Clinton is subconsciously – or consciously – attempting to sabotage his wife’s campaign?)

So perhaps some of this outrage is a manifestation of our collective raw nerves. The sub-prime collapse, skyrocketing health care costs, $1 trillion spent in Iraq, global warming, a recession: it’s enough to send even the most optimistic among us running for the medicine cabinet in search of the Xanax.

Obama has tapped into many voters’ desire for a new order by admirably rejecting the “politics of fear” in favor of unity and positive politicking.

But so much red-faced criticism of Gibsonopoulos, as Stephen Colbert tagged them, is a bit misplaced.

With all due respect to Obama’s campaign mantra to extract politics from the gutter, certain aspects of the process require one to finally take the gloves off.

Politics has always been a down-and-dirty pursuit cloaked in the mantle of civil servitude.

Bill and Hillary Clinton know this. As Hillary Clinton pointed out during the debate, people have been trawling through her laundry – dirty and otherwise – for decades.

The Republicans know this.

And the special interest groups know this with every fiber of their craven being.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, anyone?

And the Obama campaign knows it too. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

Wednesday night’s debate in Philadelphia was the first meeting between Clinton and Obama since both Clinton’s yarn about entering Bosnian airspace under sniper fire and the incendiary sermons of Obama’s former pastor the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. hit the cable news loop. Expecting neither to come up at the debate is naïve.

As for the questions about Obama’s tenuous – at best – connection to former Weather Underground member William Ayers and the Illinois senator’s rejection of the ubiquitous American flag lapel pin, well these are exactly the type of sensationalistic non-issues the opposition can be expected to fashion into a club to beat him with in the general election.

Why not give Obama a practice run at deflecting these questions now?

And more to the point, no one likes a whiner.

By frontloading the debate with non-issue questions, ABC News opened itself up to inevitable (and some legitimate) criticism.

But affecting a peevish air is rather off-putting and plays right into the hands of those on both sides of the aisle who have contended that Obama is not battle tested to go the distance.