Unless it happened when I glanced away, up until this moment, 77 minutes into the 90-minute debates, John McCain has not once looked at Obama -- while listening to him, while addressing him, while disagreeing with him, while finding moments of accord.
This is distinctly strange -- if anyone else notices. Obama is acting as if this is a conversation; McCain, as if he cannot acknowledge the other party in the discussion.
I think Obama has to be judged the winner. Nobody's mind will be changed by this debate, but Obama seemed loose and confident and not intimidate by McCain. McCain seemed growly and tense, though more focused than usual. Because McCain didn't beat Obama, and because Obama is ahead right now, Obama wins a narrow victory.
No memorable moments. Fascinating body language. No major gaffes by either candidates. No major surprises...A good debate for both men...Thresholds are artificial, but both candidates seemed to meet them - although Obama's threshold was arguably higher. The press will probably conclude that McCain did not fundamentally change impressions tonight. And that Obama held his own.
McCain can't pronounce Ahmadinejad. Calls him "Armada Dinner Jacket". Since the bearded wonder doesn't control Iranian nuclear or foreign policy this doesn't matter so much. Woo! Obama points this out. Then suggests McCain is no Henry Kissinger. That may not be a bad thing of course. (Admittedly, Obama is talking about Iran.) Admits his Iranian policy "may not work". A welcome breath of realism...
A key element to political speech is colorful detail and anecdote. McCain is better at that. The story about defying Reagan on the Lebanon deployment, the bracelet belonging to the mother of a dead soldier, the firing of Chris Cox, the bear DNA. These things breathe life into policy positions and prevent the eyes from glazing. It's something Obama could learn to do better.
A win for McCain. That's my insta-verdict, at least...the spectre of fiscal calamity blunted Obama's edge on domestic policy, and on foreign affairs McCain set the tempo and kept his rival on the defensive almost throughout, I thought: The Democratic nominee found himself alternating between me-tooism and defensiveness, albeit without making any serious missteps.
Obama win because he didn't lose. Sen. McCain was better, but not by enough.
This is a pretty traditional debate performance for Obama. Strong on substance. Few mistakes. Little in the way of killer instinct or decapitating lines. McCain, by contrast, is offering an uncommonly strong performance powered, as far as I can tell, by his raging contempt for Obama. He won't look at him. He's using "what Senator Obama doesn't understand" the way Joe Biden uses "ladies and gentlemen." His constant refrain is the places he's visited, leaders he's befriended, aging advisers and presidents he's known. Obama is conveying the fact that he thinks McCain wrong. But McCain is conveying the fact that he thinks Obama an unprepared lightweight. One of these is a stronger claim than the other.
Here’s my take: in the economic section, Obama very narrowly won. On the foreign policy section, McCain won. In the end, the dynamics of this race won’t change. McCain didn’t do what he needed to do to take Obama out, but Obama didn’t do anything to take down McCain either. McCain had the best lines of the night, especially on talking to Iran. However, the foreign policy part of the debate was overshadowed by the economic parts, which gives the narrowest advantage to Obama.
Am I off base, or was this one of the most soporific presidential debates in a while? Frankly, I didn't think either one of them did very well. There was way too much rambling, and way too few sharp points. Overall, McCain was more lively than Obama, but if the point of the debate was for Obama to show that he could hold his own on national security, then count it a win for Obama. I wouldn't call him a big winner, but he certainly did at least as well as McCain, and that might have been all he needed.
In the end, I'd say, McCain made more good points and got in more punches, but Obama stood his ground and maintained his stature on stage next to McCain, even as McCain repeatedly tried to portray him as a lightweight. I should add that McCain never seemed too old, short, or lacking in vigor, even on HDTV. Obama looked fine too, and I never saw that upturned face, with the eyes gazing downward, that made him seem supercilious in those old debates with Hillary Clinton.
As the evening went on, McCain did better. He started landing some shots against Obama. But I suspect it was too little, too late. It's always hard to guess what the typical "swing voter"--which is to say, for the most part, people who are ill-informed--will make of a Presidential debate. I hope that some, at least, got a sense that Obama is a BSer who often has little idea what he is talking about and constantly runs away from his record. That's just a hope, though. I think Obama probably improved his chances tonight.
All things considered, it’s about a draw. McCain got a couple of good punches in and so did Obama. Insofar as the idea is supposed to be that McCain has a domineering advantage on national security he certainly didn’t prove that point. And for the candidate who’s losing, a tie amounts to a loss. He needs to find opportunities to gain ground on Obama and he doesn’t seem to me to have gotten much done.