The biggest problems with tonight’s debate at Belmont University in Nashville were its town-hall format and the fact that there were no real fireworks. No matter: Both candidates were aggressive and largely civil, but McCain looked testy and was disrespectful to and dismissive of his opponent at points, while Obama, the stronger of the two on the economy, energy, and health care and in demeanor, remained poised and in control. McCain did not have a meltdown or bring his latently racist campaign-trail strategy into the debate, and he more than held his own on many of the foreign policy questions. The GOPper probably did not hurt himself too badly and likely pleased his base, but I don’t believe he won any converts. The game, itself, did not change, and for Democrats, that is good news.
High points: McCain’s “maverick” moment — taking credit for a plan to buy and rewrite troubled home mortgages (the idea belonged to Democrat Hillary Clinton and recently has been promoted by Bill Clinton, the comedian Whoopi Goldberg and others; can’t wait to hear what the neocon pundits think about that one); Obama: “The Straight Talk Express has lost a wheel”; Obama: “Health care is a right”; No winking and “you betcha”s. It is also significant that yet again, Obama focused directly on the middle class and spoke credibly about situations relatable to real-life rank-and-filers, down to knowing the average price for a gallon of gasoline in Nashville. I also was impressed by the concise way in which he talked about his own humble roots and how we have a duty to provide a better future with more opportunity for forthcoming generations.
Low points: The format. The moderated town-hall setting is too confining and does not lend itself to allowing candidates to follow up and set the record straight when obvious lies are told and omissions are made. (One example: McCain misrepresented Obama’s health plan and neglected to tell the assembled about his plan to tax employer health-care benefits and that a $5000 credit to use for open-market health plans is all but useless to people who actually need care.) The big offender in terms of being longwinded was Obama. That sin pales, however, against McCain calling Obama “That One” and assuming that a young brown-hued man did not know what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were. And did McCain look at his rival this time? Not much. He still came across as cold, and sometimes as angry. His smiles looked pained and sometimes angry. Even the move that should have been a slam-dunk — his handshake with a questioner from the Navy — came across as staged and insincere. It was if McCain had preplanned how he would make a big deal of any questioner who came from the armed forces as a not-so-subtle reminder of his veteran prisoner of war status. And while calm and poised works for Obama, I wish-wish-wish he would slam McCain more forcefully on the judgment issue. Judgment from a guy whose “daredevil clowning” in expensive airplanes led to five crashes? From a guy who never led any troops? From a guy who voted against the deregulation that allowed corporate greed to grow and endanger the economy? And as far as experience goes, McCain has been a senator for 26 years, but he, like Obama, has never been president — he will require on the job training, just as every new president has needed it. Training goes along with the territory of being a new president, however long one has served in any other public capacity.
In the end, it was not the most exciting debate ever by a long shot, but the win clearly goes to Obama.
Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post – Winner: Obama
David Gergen, CNN – Winner: Obama
Multiple voices, FOX News – Winner: Mostly Obama, though several pundits called it a draw or refused to specify, instead criticizing the debate as being dull.
George Stephanopoulous, ABC News – Winner: Obama
CBS Poll of Uncommitted Voters – Winner: Obama
Multiple voices, NBC News – Impressions worth reading; no one names an outright winner
Chicago Tribune – Wouldn’t name one, says whatever happens we’ll be OK. (Wimps.)
You should judge for yourself: Read the transcript. or, better yet, watch or re-watch it.