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Sen. John McCain is my friend.

I didn’t know it, but after hearing him say “my friend” or “my friends” 22 times during Tuesday’s second presidential debate against Sen. Barack Obama, I’m starting to wonder.

Is McCain really my friend? Or is it just his attempt to sweet-talk me into trusting him?

This year especially, the way the candidates speak to us has become an increasingly prevalent issue in the campaign.

“Style seems to have slowly supplanted issue-specific substance as the primary focus of exchanges between political candidates,” said Michael Ventre, an MSNBC contributor.

Now, I’m not stupid. I know McCain saying “my friend” enough to put anyone playing a drinking game during the debate into a coma does not mean I’m going to be invited to a barbeque at the McCain ranch. It — like his failed attempts at jokes — is a tactic to appear personable; but on Tuesday, McCain just left the American people feeling uncomfortable.

Will the image McCain put off during the debate hurt him?

History says it might. The televised presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 famously pushed image into the political arena.

“[The debates] afforded the first real opportunity for voters to see their candidates in competition, and the visual contrast was dramatic … [Nixon] arrived at the debate in an ill-fitting shirt, and refused make-up to improve his color and lighten his perpetual ‘5:00 o'clock shadow.’ Kennedy, by contrast … was tan and confident and well-rested,” according to The Museum of Broadcast Communication’s Web site.

Let’s face it — image counts. McCain looks old and feeble (though perhaps experienced) compared to Obama, who looks young and vibrant (though perhaps naïve).

The last few debates have given us an opportunity to compare the candidates side by side, and after Tuesday’s debate, American voters (Joe six-packs, hockey moms and analysts alike) decided on a clear winner — someone who personified the image of a president. It was not “my friend” from Arizona.

As graded by CNN analysts, McCain earned four “Cs” and one “B,” while Obama came away with three “Bs” and two “As.” Two of McCain’s “Cs” and two of Obama’s “ Bs” were from Republican strategists.

“[Sen. Obama] looked presidential and made a compelling contrast to McCain visually,” said Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist.

“Sen. McCain was aggressive tonight, but at times overly so, looking a bit small,” said Alex Castellanos, also a Republican strategist. “[Obama] looked and sounded presidential ... He has expressed his confidence in the country he would lead.”

Though the issues are the core of this election, we must remember the person inaugurated in January will be the face of this nation for the next four years.

We see McCain hiding his smirking and snide comments behind a fake congeniality. We see Obama speaking with a knowledgeable and calm authority.

When I am being represented I want someone who looks and acts presidential. I don’t want someone who speaks to me as though I am a child, using words like “goodies” in reference to Senate energy bills during a debate or someone who sings “bomb, bomb Iran,” even in jest. Despite being said to have the “upper hand” in foreign policy, McCain acts undiplomatically in his policies and his actions.

On Tuesday, both candidates spoke to their platforms and pointed out the other’s flaws, but polls show Obama finished out the evening on top. He stayed and shook hands with the people assembled; McCain left quickly after the debate.

We don’t need a president who says that we are his “friends,” we need one who will act like we are and prove it, too.

Indra is still waiting to be invited to the BBQ. Tell McCain to send her an e-mail at

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