Debut Debate

Am I crazy, or did we just see a substantive discussion in which the two candidates laid out their differences on a number of serious policy and priority items? Haven't these two guys been paying any attention to what their campaigns are all about?

I thought that the debate mostly came across as two equals debating their different views, which is exactly the hurdle Obama needed to get over. So, while McCain did quite well for the most part -- and certainly avoided the train wreck that could very easily have capped off this week for him -- the net effect should be to keep Obama's momentum going.

A few specific comments:

--McCain clearly wanted to diminish Obama by lecturing him as someone who "doesn't understand" and is "naive." But he couldn't look at Obama when he did it. The effect was more pouty than confident -- if you want to project your superiority over a guy, rule number one is to look him in the eye and get him to look away.

--I think the Iraq discussions were bad for McCain. I think a lot of people have come to think that, with the situation there now relatively under control, both candidates intend to gradually withdraw our troops from Iraq; after tonight they may think that McCain wants to keep them in indefinitely. Also, many may be surprised to hear that McCain does not think there were lessons to learn from Iraq about when to invade a foreign country.

--I also think Obama bested McCain on Afghanistan, and even seemed to be lecturing McCain about taking his eye off the ball, and saying we could "muddle through" there.

--I think McCain's best moments, from the perspective of a swing voter, came talking about the horrible evil badness of Iran; but I think he was ill-served by getting sidetracked into a prolonged pissing match over "preconditions" versus "preparation," which mostly puts McCain into the "continuing Bush policy" box that he wants to stay out of.

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