As is my custom, I’m writing my comments without hearing any other commentary — I am unaffected by other opinions. I don’t know whether I will reflect a consensus or what. And, except for Point 1, I will make my points in the order in which I jotted them down, as I watched the debate. Here goes:
1) Obama is a masterly debater; McCain is a competent one. They both came off as moderates — a center-right moderate, maybe a center-left moderate. Actually, there wasn’t much left in Obama’s comments. McCain is genuinely a moderate, I believe; Obama plays one on TV. You would never know that he rose from ACORN, etc. Never.
#ad#Frankly, they disagreed on relatively little. They disagreed in marginal ways, actually. America probably got the impression that these are two capable candidates who would govern reasonably. I imagine that center types will say, “Gee, America is lucky to have two such good and decent and well-informed candidates running for president.”
That definitely advantages Obama — the “out” guy, the “change” guy.
2. Jim Lehrer has been moderating these debates forever. He is a true TV fixture of our times — a Murrow, a Brinkley. His Midwestern twang is one of the voices of American politics.
3. This idea that the financial crisis should be discussed because it’s a “national-security issue” is baloney. The crisis should have been discussed because it’s so current — so pressing. But to pretend that it’s part of foreign policy and national security is bunk. It reminds me of 1984: when the Democrats — because they were getting killed on national security, soft as they were on the Sovs — started saying, “Well, education’s a national-security issue. Health care’s a national-security issue.” Etc.
Mommy State garbage.
4. “Who won the handshake?” That has been an issue since 1980, when Reagan startled Carter by walking over to him. This time, the handshake was a draw — both men “won.”
5. Obama has a very smooth, dignified, nice baritone.
6. When he talked about Wall Street versus Main Street — clichéd as that is — he was very effective. No doubt, the Dems have themselves a good talker. (Maybe he is The One!) And his line about how the financial crisis is a “final verdict” on President Bush was very good — bunk, but good.
7. McCain began by talking about Senator Kennedy. I’m sure he meant well — but it came off to me — and perhaps only to me — as a little cheesy and contrived.
8. McCain tried to position himself as Mr. Bipartisan — Mr. Nonpartisan. Mr. Fix-It. That is his image of himself, and I suppose it’s true. Is it effective politically? Maybe so, in this year.
9. When he said, “I’ve been around a little while,” was that an allusion to age?
10. I had no idea what he meant when he was talking about the House Republicans — that was garbled.
11. Obama wasn’t in a mood to talk about finding a bipartisan solution (to the financial crisis). He wanted to pin the crisis on the Republicans. And that was a very good campaign tack to take, I’m afraid.
12. His purple tie was an excellent choice. (I’ll have no more statement on fashion in these notes.)
13. McCain said there will never be a bigger, more important invasion than the D-Day invasion — how can he know that?
14. The anti-Cox stuff — the anti-Chris Cox stuff — is BS, but it sounded good, in debate.
15. Obama is, of course, the better grammarian; but McCain sort of hangs in there — forges ahead.
16. When I listened to Obama, I thought, “This guy’s not going to make a mistake — of any type.” Sort of depressing.
17. Interesting that Obama repeatedly referred to his opponent as “John.” I don’t believe McCain ever said “Barack.”
18. Is it just my imagination, or do Democrats make better use of the clock — talk more — than the Republicans at these debates, over and over? Probably my imagination.
19. Said McCain to Lehrer, “Are you afraid I couldn’t hear him?” — was that another allusion to age?
20. McCain was Reaganesque when he said that America’s best days were ahead of her.
21. Funny that McCain talked about the greatest expansion of government since the Great Society. Why funny? Well, because, when I took a leave of absence from NR to work on the Bush campaign in 2000 (six weeks), we talked a lot about that: how Gore was proposing the greatest expansion of government “since Lyndon Baines Johnson,” as W. would say on the stump.
22. McCain sometimes spoke in shorthand, forgetting to spell things out: such as, “I’ll make them famous.” He didn’t say what or whom he’d make famous.
23. Obama did well on the subject of taxes — saying he was going to soak the rich and no one else. I’m afraid that goes over pretty well in America, although we’re supposed to be one of the least envious nations on earth.
24. A grammar point: McCain said “fundamental difference between” — then there was a big pause. He was trying to decide what to say. He decided, of course, on “myself and Senator Obama.” Everybody is terrified of “me.”
25. Very effective of Obama to speak of a $250,000 salary as “a quarter million.”
26. He said that American businesses pay the lowest effective tax rates in the world (or something like that). And he said that as though it were something bad. That’s part of what’s wrong with this candidate (and the entire Democratic party, of course).
27. Radical Democrats are very, very good at not seeming radical — I mean, not John Conyers and some others, but those concerned with the mainstream. Obama is one of them.
28. Apparently, McCain decided to laugh at offensive comments by Obama, instead of getting mad — and the laughing didn’t come off very well, I think.
29. Sometimes, McCain got bogged down in details, and did not speak broadly and thematically enough. Often, there should have been more music in his answers.
30. He talked a lot about spending cuts — how we’re going to have to reduce spending. He’s right, of course — but do candidates win talking like that? Do they win as budget-cutters? Well, maybe this year . . .
31. When McCain made his crack about how Obama can’t reach across the aisle, because he’s too far over to the left, Obama chuckled — which came off very well, I thought (different from the McCain laughs, which seemed strained and programmed).
32. Obama said, “Part of the reason is is because” — not very Obama-like.
33. He was good at rebutting the idea that he can’t work with conservatives, citing his cooperation with Tom Coburn.
#ad#34. He was very good at saying what the problem with a spending freeze is — hatchet (I think) versus scalpel. Quite right.
35. If I were an ordinary American — who didn’t know anything — I’d say, “Hmm, Obama sounds okay — a moderate fellow. And don’t we need a change?” Bodes ill . . .
36. McCain showed some sack on nuclear power — very, very good.
37. I think he said “I’m proud of” this or that accomplishment of his a few times too many.
38. Lehrer spoke about how the candidates would “rule the country.” Um, presidents don’t really “rule” in America — though some may want to.
39. Amazing to have Obama, a left-wing Democrat, denounce “tremendous spending” and “an orgy of spending.” He’s a very good campaigner, sadly.
40. McCain should have named Palin, instead of merely alluding to her — I don’t think some caught what he was saying.
41. Obama keeps saying that al-Qaeda is resurgent. I brought this up with President Karzai in Egypt last spring (after Obama’d said it). Karzai said, in effect: nonsense. And I believe that is still right.
42. Said McCain, “Senator Obama is the chairperson” — yeah, he’s a “chairperson” all right. That ugly, metro word somehow fits him.
43. Obama said, “General Petraeus has done a brilliant job” — will that sit well with the “General Betray Us” people? But I imagine they’ll sit still for anything in a general election, just to get Obama in.
44. I thought McCain was rather condescending when he said that Obama didn’t know the difference between “tactic” and “strategy” — especially because McCain has been going around saying that Obama “chooses his words very carefully.” (Think lipstick and pigs.)
45. I wish McCain had defended the damn Iraq War — saying that it was right and necessary to get rid of Saddam Hussein, given the threat he posed. But no one does that now . . .
46. His answer on Pakistan was one of his best — especially his citation of George Shultz. And bless him for defending Musharraf, if only by implication. Like Barack Obama could have done a better job in that brutal, thankless position?
47. Obama, too, was good on Pakistan — when he said that, if you see our enemies in Pakistan, you go ahead and take ’em out. And “let me know if you disagree, John.” Very, very effective.
48. I’ve never been big on candidates’ use of the military families they meet — but McCain did a good job on that.
49. Democrats have always peddled this business that we took our eye off Afghanistan, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and bin Laden, to follow some obsession in Iraq. That is such BS. How do you deploy armies, navies, etc., against those enemies? And a senior administration official once said this to me: “Assign us the lowest, crudest political motives, if you want — and many do. Don’t you think it would be good for us to capture bin Laden? And don’t you think we’re doing everything humanly possible? Come on.”
50. McCain talked about his foreign travel over and over — sort of bragged about it. I thought this was unfortunate, particularly in light of Palin.
51. He kept saying, in the same answer, about different things, “But the important thing is . . .,” leaving one unsure what the important thing really was.
52. He was quite good on Iran and Israel: “We cannot allow a second holocaust.” Of course, one could.
53. When McCain talked, Obama looked at him; when Obama talked, McCain almost never looked at him. Maybe he thought he’d be too ticked.
54. McCain had trouble pronouncing “Ahmadinejad” — don’t we all? He also can’t pronounce “Chávez” — he says “Shávez,” as so many do. (Same with “Shay” Guevara.)
55. I thought Obama defended himself on the matter of talking to tyrants without precondition pretty well. He was sophistic — but not ineffective.
56. Yet he said, “We need to look at exploring contacts with Iran” — gee, is that hedged enough? “Hedge City!” the first Bush might say.
57. Obama was so full of it when he said that we don’t talk to the North Koreans — we talk to those monsters all the time.
58. How does the Left feel, with Obama doggedly enlisting Kissinger — the hated Kissinger — to his cause?
59. Lehrer’s questions were excellent — sufficiently broad, and no gotchas. He is not from the Gibson school. He was not seeking to embarrass the candidates; he was seeking to elicit information from them. Perfect.
60. In the exchange on Georgia, I wish McCain had zinged Obama for saying that, if you’re going to denounce a nation for invading an innocent other, you have to set an example (implying that we have not, of course).
(I should clarify that Obama said that back at the time of the Georgia invasion.)
61. When the question came about 9/11 and preventing another one, McCain talked about legislation — which I thought was a little strange. You could call that more senatorial than presidential. But — it was all right.
62. Did Obama say we need missile defense? Did he really? But isn’t he strongly opposed?
63. Obama said, “This is the greatest country on earth” — the Left didn’t used to talk this way. They have learned, they have learned.
What would Billy Ayers say about Obama’s statement? Jeremiah Wright? Obama’s Columbia classmates and professors? Geez.
64. Obama even called us “a shining beacon on a hill” — he meant “city,” but hey . . .
65. When McCain went negative on Obama, I’m afraid he seemed a touch mean.
66. He lapsed into slogans at the end — maybe a little tired — where Obama was still speaking English: speaking in complete sentences and thoughts.
67. When McCain said, “When I came home from prison,” I was worried that people would forget or not know he was a POW and think he’d served time!
68. McCain’s final words were fabulous — absolutely fabulous. Probably his best moment. Were people still tuned in?
69. Obama said to him (after the debate was over), “Good job, John” — very classy.
70. I think many people will take away the following impression: “They would both make a good president. They’re both solid, centrist, centered, informed, capable. But if I want a change — and Lord knows this country needs a change — I should vote for the Democrat.”
Anyway, we shall see. I think Obama did as well as he could, and he’s pretty much always that good — A-1, from a strict debater’s point of view. And McCain did as well as he could, too. So — there’s your cherse, America.
Hang on, one more thing: I’ve just read my scribbles here. (You don’t think I proofread?) And there is a lot of negative about McCain. Could be one is harder on one’s own. In any case, I think he did fine — just fine. Held up the Republican end satisfactorily. And I look forward to more.