Tonight, we saw a McXplosion. Every single attack that Sen. McCain has ever wanted to make, he took the opportunity tonight to make. Around 30 minutes in, McCain seemed to surrender the debate to his frustrations, making it seem as if he just wanted the free television.
McCain looks angrier and more petulant than any participant in any major debate I've watched. Watching him try to stay seated is like watching a furious kid try and obey a timeout. He can hardly hold himself still.
You just heard why John McCain will lose. He pivoted from an attack on ACORN and Ayers to his campaign getting the economy back on track. Worst segue ever. The two don't line up. Ayers and ACORN don't take you to a larger campaign theme. This isn't "Swiftboating" which took you to the War on Terror. This isn't Willie Horton, which took you to crime. This isn't "States Rights" which takes you to busing and the Voting Rights Act. It's just empty demagoguery. It doesn't say anything about what is foremost in the electorate's minds.
I actually thought McCain's Joe-the-plumber bits were okay in substance, but completely undermined by his grin at the end. What's with that grin? I guess his advisers told him to be less dour and serious, but instead of making him look genuine, it has the total opposite effect.
It seems like we've now seen McCain's Ayers/ACORN primal scream. I'm not sure Obama knocked anything out of the park. But at the end of it, I don't think McCain landed any solid punches either. And McCain was often incoherent and a bit kitchen-sinkish. Basically a draw, though if recent polls are any indication, the draw in debate terms may hurt McCain since people do not like McCain's attacks.
...to have McCain directly address Joe the Plumber by speaking into the camera is a great idea, from a campaign strategist's point of view. It's sort of a theoretical ideal, actually. Were I to run for office I would hire whoever dreamed up that concept. The trouble is, you need a candidate who can speak in complete, linear, coherent sentences. McCain is not that candidate.
...someone from the McCain camp better have Joe’s phone number and arrange a joint appearance pronto.
Neither McCain nor Obama are doing themselves any favors bickering back and forth about who has the nastiest campaign, but McCain, after a strong initial attack pushing Obama to repudiate some especially nasty attacks that didn’t come from the Obama campaign, comes off looking petulant, rambling, and cranky a spoiled bully nagging the principal to punish another kid who once called him a name.
...the ten minute or twelve minutes that began with Obama looking at McCain and talking about crowds at Palin rallies saying "Kill him" were riveting TV and seemed to reveal purified versions of the persona each candidate has been presenting through the previous sessions. This debate may matter less in the long-term outcome than the others, since that's typically true of final debates. But because the contenders are engaging each other more directly -- being at the same table, being physically so close to each other, having more trouble containing their emotions, being aware that the whole thing is almost over -- in human terms this is actually the most interesting.
John McCain says Sarah Palin knows a lot about having children with autism. Presumably he thinks she knows more about this than anybody in the country. Presumably he also thinks autism is approximately equal to Down Syndrome.
Okay, I wasn't voting for him anyway, but I find McCain's focus on attacking Obama, rather than his own policy, unbelievably grating. His strongest performance of the night has been talking about the benefits of his own health plan, drawing a reasonable distinction between his philosophy and Obama's, and coherently explaining that difference, without resorting to either whining or calumny.
Overall, I don’t see how McCain helped himself tonight, much less hit the home run he needed to put himself back into this thing.
I know I'm partisan, but McCain seemed completely out of his depth tonight. He was flitting from point to point all night without ever putting together a coherent argument, and grabbing miscellaneous attacks from the rolodex in his head whenever some bright idea popped into his mind. His energy level was weirdly erratic, tired at times but then suddenly perking up whenever he got annoyed by something and remembered some zinger that he wanted to fire off.
McCain lost the overall message of the debate. The cost of McCain's sharper tone was that he sounded more like a dogmatic Republican. Obama was softer, let many points go, but was much more effective at sounding like a moderate.
OK, that's over. And so is the McCain campaign. He was more aggressive than he's been so far, and he came close to landing some blows on Obama. But he never really connected, and for the most part this debate was as platitudinous as they all have been. McCain came off as sour, agitated and petulant. Obama -- man, nothing rattles that guy. McCain was two tics away from a vein-popping "You can't handle the truth!" Jack Nicholson moment, I felt. At one point, I thought: Which one of these men would I want in the White House when the 3 a.m. phone call comes in?
Verdict: Obama: D.E.F.E.N.S.E. McCain: Hey, I tried.
(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty.)