The one aspect of these events that many seem to ignore is the racial and gender dynamics. Obama's style against McCain was much tougher and crisper and more forceful than with Clinton. The reason, I think, is that Obama was canny enough not to fall into the Lazio trap with Clinton - with his only slip-up being the "you're likable enough" quip. With McCain, he could be more alpha male, as he was. But Obama is also a black man against a white man. So he must also be very careful not to get angry and to stay cool and calm. He has to do that to avoid the "angry black man" trap. But then he cannot afford to seem weak either. You realize how hard a balance that is for ninety minutes?

Obama has to walk through a racial minefield all the time.

No one in American political history has ever managed to pull it off as smoothly as he has so far. I know what it's like in a tiny way having a stereotype hang over you - hence my acceptance that the word "hysterical", for example, will always be more consistently deployed against a gay man than a straight man. But I'm not a pol and don't mind being defined that way by those more interested in identity than argument. Obama has no such luxury. He needs the votes.

He was respectful to McCain but also more confident looking him in the eye. He was forceful without appearing angry. He was calm without seeming professorial. Because he makes it look relatively easy doesn't mean it isn't actually extremely hard.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to