John McCain had a weak first quarter, where the focus was on the economy, but, I think, kept Barack Obama in reaction mode during the remainder of the debate. In so doing, he reinforced his standing as the man of the hour in time of international crisis.
But what’s on everyone’s mind is our economic predicament, and Obama’s answers were more sure-footed and focused, if not necessarily always more persuasive, while McCain stumbled a bit and meandered. He could, for example, have explained more clearly and crisply why cutting business taxes and preserving the Bush Administration’s tax cuts might be necessary, but he wasn’t on his game here. McCain’s finest moment in this part of the debate was his much better response to Jim Lehrer’s question about what he’d have to change as President in order to pay for the bailout. Where Obama wasn’t willing to give anything up (except for spending in Iraq), McCain came out firmly in favor of wide-ranging spending cuts.
My final preliminary verdict: McCain wins on foreign policy, but loses on the economy. That’s not a good result. He has to do better next time.
Update: Two more overnight thoughts. First, Obama’s sputtering lack of self-restraint didn’t come across well. His supporters will cast it as righteous indignation, but it is evidence of his unpreparedness for political life outside the Democratic bubble.
Second, I was disappointed that McCain let Obama get away with blaming our current economic predicament on deregulation. Perhaps in his (Teddy) Rooseveltian heart of hearts, McCain agrees with him. But he might have asked Obama what he would have had regulators do: tell banks not to lend money to all the people in those marginal neighborhoods, the very people Democrats sought to help when they urged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to loosen lending criteria?