I’m never a very good judge of how the spectrum of fellow citizens judge these debates. In the first Bush-Gore debate in 2000, I completely missed Gore’s impetuous bad behavior (sighing, etc) that so put off a lot of viewers, though I did pick up instantly on his James Lee Witt FEMA howler because of the puzzled react shot of Bush on the split screen. "Ah," I thought, "Gore just made up something." And in fact that did turn into the "exaggerator" theme of the next few days.
But overall in that debate I thought Bush was miserable. So I was surprised last night at how good a debater McCain was; much much better than Bush. I guess he was this good in the primaries; I skipped all of those. But I agree with everyone else that he was very weak on the economy, and so the next debates may not go as well. Why, oh why, are Republican candidates so incapable of fighting back against the liberals’ class warfare tactics? Is there some kind of deep rope-a-dope on this I don’t get?
Obama was good, too, but not as good as McCain at being persistently aggressive. Neither man made any obvious big mistakes, though both made a few small ones. None likely of any consequence. Obama came close to falling into Kerry’s 2004 trap of a "global test" for U.S. action, but he never used a clear phrase than can be hung around his neck.
There was one small point that I suspect most people missed or didn’t fix on--Obama’s mention at the end of his Kenyan father. What was he trying to do with this? I have a hunch that the Obama campaign has some polling or focus group data that suggests this aspect of Obama’s story needs to be handled or used in a certain way, though I’m not sure he accomplished this last night. Was he trying to say in a very very subtle way that "I’m so unlike other black American politicians like Jesse and Rev. Al that I’m barely even from this country?" It has me scratching my head. Maybe it was nothing.