The clearest sign that John McCain won last night’s debate is that the TV pundits immediately afterward called it a draw. Don’t take my word for it. Read the transcript. McCain clearly had the facts, figures, and experience on his side.
Barack Obama, of course, didn’t torpedo his own candidacy. He stuck gamely to his talking points and his previous positions (although he seemed a bit wobbly on the whole “without preconditions” thing). Clearly he has learned a thing or two in his long months on the campaign trail about attractively packaging his liberalism. I’m sure that those true-believers who tuned in already enamored of the first-term senator from Chicago saw nothing to dissuade them, so I won’t butt my head against that wall.
McCain, however, did something more than win this debate. He effectively refuted the insinuations coming from the Obama camp that he is old and out of touch. Fresh from the bailout negotiations, it was the 72-year-old who bubbled over with energy. As someone who initially saw the Arizona senator as the best of a mediocre Republican lot (Romney? Huckabee? Pu-leese!), I thought his command on every national security issue after little time to prepare for the debate was impressive. He had no senior moments and looked every bit the happy warrior: smiling throughout, patiently but persistently correcting his younger opponent with the telling phrase, “He doesn’t understand,” and talking about antiquated notions such as “victory.”
Obama, by contrast, while he committed no gaffes (though one could describe his whole approach to foreign policy as a gigantic gaffe), frequently seemed on the defensive and frowned a lot. One would not have been surprised had he barked at least once, Dole-like, “Stop lying about my record!” Clearly McCain has wrested the mantle of sunny optimism from the candidate of “change.”
Let’s get real. This is not a beauty contest. This is about who will be the next commander-in-chief. The candidates have talked much about that 3 a.m. phone call. Judging by what you saw last night, which of these two men is prepared to answer?