From my position on the fence, I’ve really been looking forward to tonight’s debate. In spite of having followed both Obama and McCain for months, there’s something clarifying about hearing their visions in a direct (and mostly polite) format, and there’s really no replacement for observing them side-by-side.
So let me start by saying that while there were some odd moments, there were no major deal-breakers for me. There were a couple of things, though, that struck me about John McCain’s performance tonight.
That “what Senator Obama doesn’t understand” line, for instance, was obviously the theme McCain was going for. But he used it almost by rote, and it surfaced so often that it became transparent… and thus self-negating. Ham-handedness doesn’t play well at this level.
Also — did anybody else feel as if they were listening to a job applicant a few times when McCain was talking? Particularly toward the latter stages, he seemed to take an odd tone — an overt “selling himself” note — and it was jarring.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, came across with more consistence. If his goal tonight was to present himself as someone with the gravitas, depth, and focus to stand as a credible presidential candidate, then he was extremely successful. No, he doesn’t drop names with the same facility as McCain does, and he can’t claim decades of direct involvement with these countries. But he displayed a firm grasp of the issues, and I thought the vision of his foreign policy came through clearly.
Considering this topic is considered to be McCain’s forte, one might have expected a clear mastery over Obama, but that wasn’t the end result at all, and I suspect Obama’s performance tonight will go over very well with the independents and undecideds.