John McCain tried his hardest to demean and belittle his opponent. He didn't look at him once throughout the entire debate.
It was the most striking image of the night. And it's going to harm the Dangerous One. The visual of McCain not looking at Barack even once during the debate will crystallize in people's minds and standout more than what they heard.
I had wanted Barack to throw more punches. When the debated ended, I felt disappointed. It was like watching a tennis match when one of my favorite players is on court. All I do is criticize them, even when they're winning. I'm overly harsh. But when I watch the match again, after I know the result, of course, I can see the play for what it is, not what I wanted it to be.
So went my critique of this political sport called debate. Barack fared better with his more gracious, more statesmanlike presentation. At the end of the night, Barack took away his detractors' biggest attack: his otherness.
What Barack did last night was to nullify any future racist and nasty attack.
Because the man who was presidential, accommodating, incisive, and confident presented a picture of a man that need not be feared.
And the image, the stark brutal image, of McCain not even looking at his worthy opponent will make him seem, well, racist and nasty.
In a live interview on one of the cable networks with voters after the debate, one woman said McCain couldn't look Barack in the eye because he was embarrassed. Another, because he was afraid he'd get angry.
But the woman who thought that McCain focused too much on sentimental stories about himself and his past and not enough on regular people struck a chord with me. McCain is the most narcissistic candidate I've ever seen, and that includes Bill Clinton. He thinks he's entitled to the presidency simply because he was a POW.
He can't stop living in the past. Can't stop competing with his father and grandfather for status. If he becomes president, he bests their rank as naval admirals. But McCain engages in far too much navel admiring to be taken seriously as a president who puts country before personal ambition.
John McCain is a petulant, self-obsessed adolescent in the broken down body of a 72-year-old former POW and cancer survivor. He's not too old to be president. He's too damaged.
For the umpteenth time, McCain chose to use the troops as an emotional weapon. He told again the worn-out anecdote of the New Hampshire woman who last year gave him a bracelet in memory of a son who was killed in Iraq. She wanted to make sure her son didn't die in vain. McCain presents this as a reason to fight the Iraq war (any war we start, really) till victory, whatever that means, is won.
Barack's reply might have been the best punch of the night.
"John, I've got a bracelet, too."
That's right. A woman in northern Wisconsin gave Barack a bracelet in memory of her son who was also killed in Iraq. She asked Barack to make sure no other mother would suffer the loss of a child in this war.
Barack, looking squarely at McCain as he did most of the night, told McCain that no soldier dies in vain because they are following the mission of their commander-in-chief. And the commander-in-chief must possess the wisdom and judgment to only put our soldiers in harm's way with good reason.
The contempt in McCain's face rose like bile.
A debate is a popularity contest. Whoever comes across as the most likeable is often considered the winner. Especially when your opponent is a sneering, grumpy old man.
A CNN poll breaks it down:
Thinking about the following characteristics and qualities, please say whether you think each one better described Barack Obama or John McCain during tonight's debate:
• Was more intelligent: Obama 55%, McCain 30%
• Expressed his views more clearly: Obama 53%, McCain 36%
• Spent more time attacking his opponent: McCain 60%, Obama 23%
• Was more sincere and authentic: Obama 46%, McCain 38%
• Seemed to be the stronger leader: Obama 49%, McCain 43%
• Was more likeable: Obama 61%, McCain 26%
• Was more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you: Obama 62%, McCain 32%
Saturday Morning Reactions:
Media Curves found that 61% of Independents believed Obama won the debate, while 38.89% favored McCain as the winner. On each of the eight topics, Obama was a clear winner among Independents, with his highest score coming on the Iran issue - two-thirds of Independents thought he won this question. And, it's hard to argue with these three post-debate polls at RCP- they all have Obama outperforming McCain.
Mary Beth Schneider in the Indianapolis Star, Hoosiers: Debate moves 4 voters toward a decision:
Before the debate, Colleen Hoover, a 52-year-old Avon billing clerk for a physician, said she was undecided -- and not very interested, frankly, in watching this debate at all.
After the 90-minute give-and-take, however, Hoover said she was looking forward to the next presidential debate, on Oct. 7, as well as Thursday's vice presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. And, she added, if she had to vote today, she'd back Obama.
McCain's stance on war is what has Jim Ramsey, a 56-year-old Anderson man who manages a mail room and copy center for a law firm, also leaning toward Obama. Neil Allen White, 41, Indianapolis, came leaning toward McCain. But he left open to voting for Obama -- and again, Iraq is a big reason why.
Kansas City Star (MO) Editorial, Obama has narrow victory in debate:
Americans looking for a warrior in the White House surely warmed to GOP Senator John McCain’s scrappy debate performance Friday night.
But Democrat Barack Obama turned in the more statesmanlike effort. He was unflappable even under McCain’s often condescending attacks. While McCain went for punches, Obama scored points with sound arguments.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial, Clear differences:
The topic was foreign policy, with undercurrents of the financial crisis now consuming the attentions of the U.S. Congress. This main topic, woven as it is with national security, was one in which John McCain was thought to have an edge over Barack Obama. He made every attempt to paint the Illinois senator as naïve. He mostly failed.
John Baer, Philadelphia Daily News:
The much-touted, long-awaited debate that almost didn't happen was a mixed bag, but helped Barack Obama more than John McCain.
I say that because on the issue gripping the nation - the state of the economy - Obama seemed better focused, better armed and more aggressive than McCain.
Detroit Free Press Editorial, No knockout, but McCain shows strength in experience:
Both candidates took some liberties with the facts, particularly in characterizing each other's statements and positions. But neither scored a knockout and the debate did not produce any of the dramatic or telling moments of debates from past campaigns.
CBS Channel 8 Las Vegas, Local focus group watches presidential debate:
"The war in Iraq. I agreed more with Obama on," Daniel McGuire is an independent who leans libertarian. "I actually thought McCain was a little bit better on the bailout."
Maryann Brothers went in mostly undecided and came out clearly supporting Obama, "I'm sorry to say, I expected McCain to really come out with a change and I didn't hear that."
One debate down with two to go and so much can change.
"If we were voting today, I'd vote for Obama," said Jay Needleman. This lifelong Republican is supporting Obama, for now. "It can be changed until I walked into the polling place."
Among the group of voters sampled Friday, Senator Obama won the debate.
Now for some non-battleground reaction, Peter Canellos at the Boston Globe calls it a Good night for McCain, better one for Obama:
John McCain last night tried hard to make the first presidential debate a test of Barack Obama's fitness for office. McCain succeeded in his framing of the test - but Obama passed it.
Both candidates came off well. But Obama had more to gain, and he did.
Dallas Morning News Editorial, Debate yields White House-worthy performances:
This debate, with its emphasis on foreign policy, was supposed to be Mr. McCain's time to shine. But Mr. Obama matched him score for score, fending off any sort of game-changer.
Mr. McCain held his own, but that may not be sufficient on his home field.
Joe Klein at Time gives it to Obama:
Toward the very end of tonight's debate—which was quite a good one, I believe—John McCain laid out his rationale in this election in just a few words: Senator Obama, he said, lacks the "knowledge and experience to be President." The presidency will turn on whether the American people agree with McCain on that—but on this night, Obama emerged as a candidate who was at least as knowledgeable, judicious and unflappable as McCain on foreign policy ... and more knowledgeable, and better suited to deal with the economic crisis and domestic problems the country faces.
And finally, McClatchy is reporting (as published in the Miami Herald) that McCain misstates some facts in debate on foreign policy:
McCain made the most notable misstatements and stumbled over the names of the leaders of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose name he couldn't pronounce, and of Pakistan, referring to the latter as "Qadari" instead of Asif Ali Zardari.
McCain incorrectly asserted that former Gen. Pervez Musharraf rescued Pakistan from being a "failed state" when he seized power in a 1999 coup.
This was from last night, but I had to add it. Even Dick Morris can't spin this for McCain! Via Politico:
"Unfortunately, I think Obama won this debate," said Dick Morris on Hannity and Colmes.