Okay, so it's been a few days and I haven't yet commented on the first debate. Well, here goes.
What we have come to call a "debate" in the past several presidential elections is really nothing of the sort. It starts by the moderator asking a question and then, after the contestants offer their oh-so-sincere thanks to the moderator and the hosting institution, they give their stump speech and then take five seconds to acknowledge the actual question without actually answering it. Then when they get asked the first question that they don't like, they go back and answer the previous one. And nobody ever gets to say "Hey, Contestant #2, BULLSHIT!"
So, they changed that this year. Finally, they'll get to address one another and actually, you know, debate. I was really looking forward to seeing how this would shake out.
So they begin in old school "debate" mode and after the first round, Jim Lehrer starts pestering them to start scrapping. He reminded me of the kid in high school that always tried to start a fight between two other people. ("Hey, Brown, are you gonna let Gorecki do that to you?" [Brown responds.] "Hey, Gorecki, are you gonna let Brown do that to you?" [Fight ensues.]) They did finally engage, somewhat. But, as many have noted before, McCain never once looked at Obama. Obama, after the original prompt, directed comments equally to the audience, in the forum and at home, and to McCain. McCain directed all of his responses to Lehrer, as if Lehrer could help him make the annoying smart black man stop talking sense if he bugged him about it enough. It was really creepy after a while. It was like he was wishing him away.
Well, he didn't go away. And no matter how many times he said that Obama "doesn't understand" something, the discussion moved over to Obama, who displayed just how much he did understand. And McCain got testier and testier as the night wore on and he didn't get through to poor Jim Lehrer. (I thought that Lehrer, by the way, was excellent. After the initial egging on, the debate was about the candidates and not the moderator. Like a good umpire, they're doing their job best when you don't notice it.)
My favorite moment was when he told McCain flat-out that he was wrong about Iraq from the get-go. I wish he did more of that, but what he did was a refreshing change from the downright wimpiness of Kerry and Gore, who were trying not to lose more than they were trying to win. Obama also counterpunched well. When McCain warned about Obama "threatening" other countries (i.e. Pakistan), Obama mentioned McCain singing about bombing Iran. He should mention this much more often and more forcefully. And when McCain said something that wasn't true, he immediately said "That's not true" rather than politely wait his turn.
It was by no means a slam dunk for Obama. It was more or less a tie. But this was supposed to be McCain's forte, deservedly so or not (and I think not). So if you took the points on this one, you came out ahead. And it looks like Obama was reaping the benefit of this in the post-debate polls.
McCain is not an idiot. But he is an impulsive and cranky old man and that's exactly what he sounded like. Obama sounded like the bright, calm, in-control guy. One might say "presidential", even. After weeks of McCain throwing Hail Mary after Hail Mary, not to mention eight years of The Idiot and The Dark Lord not listening to anything they didn't want to hear, a little bit of reflection and reason is just what we need.
I hope we get it.