I don't know how much needs to be said about the debate last night. There's certainly not much left to add to the endless chattering it's already caused online and in the media. My initial take was that neither candidate performed especially poorly. I thought supporters on either side would be able to successfully spin a victory out of the night.
I thought McCain came off as unnecessarily condescending and overtly contemptuous (as evidenced by his unwillingness or inability to ever look Obama in the eye or conform to a basic format of the debate and address him directly). I understand that part of the strategy is to paint Obama as both naive and unready, but the tactic of repeatedly suggesting Obama doesn't understand basic concepts (e.g. the difference between 'tactic' and 'strategy') made McCain seem sort of petty. The fact that Obama more than stood his ground when discussing foreign policy issues made McCain's condescending tone seem not only inappropriate, but detached from reality. As for McCain's body language, it was what kept me interested through what was something of a unexciting debate. From the first handshake (pictured above) to the initial proddings by Jim Lehrer to the closing handshake, John McCain didn't look at Barack Obama a single time. This was odd, because the format of the debate was supposed to be divided so that each candidate would have two minutes to respond to a topic and then five minutes for a direct back and forth. Initially, Obama didn't address McCain either, but after prompting from the moderator, during the five minute sections Obama repeatedly spoke directly to McCain, calling him John. But McCain didn't only refuse to speak to Obama, he refused to look at him. Obviously nobody knows why for sure. I assign contempt. Some people say John McCain, a former fighter pilot and POW, was literally afraid to look a junior senator in the eye. I guess that's not implausible. Still, I think contempt is a far more likely explanation. After all, John McCain didn't even want to be there last night. He wanted to postpone the whole thing. His campaign has had a terrible last couple of weeks culminating in a catastrophic Sarah Palin interview and a trip to Washington that few now see as anything other than a failed political stunt. Victory seems like a distant hope. These days, John McCain is simply trying to avoid public humiliation. He's anxious. He's pissed. And he blames Barack Obama for every self-inflicted wound that's befallen his campaign. In short, it's like the primary all over again. Whatever prevented him from looking his opponent in the eye, it clearly wasn't part of the plan, and will likely be something the campaign has him work on for the remaining debates.
At any rate, Obama was what he always is: cool headed, smart, deferential, mature, strong, and polite. He was also in greater command of his cadence than in some of his weaker debate performances. He received a lot of initial criticism for being too agreeable. Too willing to grant points to his opponent. This is, of course, utter horse shit. It's like these em effers haven't learned a thing from the last 22 months. Who put together the team and strategy that badly embarrassed the Clintons? I know it wasn't Chris Matthews.
Anyway, a day later, my unbiased perspective is that Obama pretty clearly showed himself to be the more presidential of the two and, that being the case, I'd say it's fairly difficult to consider him anything other than the winner. Apparently, initial polling and focus groups of undecideds seem to support that. I'm not sure if anybody's going to remember this debate next month, though. Sadly, it may depend on the SNL cold opening.