They may have very well saved the best for last. This was the most direct, most on task, most like an actual conversation debate we've had thus far. And not a moment too soon. The candidates were juxtaposed beautifully and answered questions not only on specific policies, but on the conduct of their campaigns. It was nail-biting, uncomfortable at times, but deftly handled by moderator Bob Schieffer. Here's what we thought:
Citizen: Wearing each other's "team" ties in what I hoped was a nod toward cooperation, the economy was ripped open right at the start. Both candidates spoke straight at the camera, directly it seemed, to me. It was eerie and wildly effective, with Joe the Plumber becoming an instantaneous celebrity, the cornerstone of their duel over small business taxes. Earmarks and pork barrel and budget overruns, oh my. I do like Obama's line of needing a "scalpel, not a hatchet," if only because it comforts me that he intends to cut spending as well.
When Schieffer pinned the candidates down on the negative aspects of the campaign I was breathless. It was baldly frank (seeming, I mean it is politics) talk, and when McCain whipped out the stat that Obama had spent the most money on negative campaign ads, it hit home — but was parried well by Obama's stat that six in 10 perceive McCain as negative. Then, the politest knock down-drag out on Ayers and ACORN. We knew it was coming all day, but when it did it was all the more potent. When Roe v. Wade popped up, I was actually heartened to hear civilized talk of the difference between choosing judges for their ideologies, and choosing judges for their adherence to the Constitution — it could be the most cogent debate on the issue we've had thus far.
To see the rest of my thoughts, and what Liberty has to say,
As for the "Gore sighs" the nonverbals that will kill a performance: both were guilty of the smirk, if only perhaps to relieve the tension. I know I could barely handle it, it stands to reason it had to express itself somewhere, so to speak. In all, the debate was like a floaty butterfly fairy tale meets a brick wall. The second you got caught up in the story Obama was spinning, then came McCain with his smack down of reality. Even 20 months in, it was confusing and captivating and perfectly encapsulated these diametrically opposed yet unflinching campaigns — and illuminated the very choice we all have to make in 20 short days. Now as Bob Schieffer's mother says, "Go vote now. It will make you feel big and strong."
Liberty: In the most high tension, and perhaps most conversational, debate John McCain came out looking for a game changer. McCain seemed rested and eager (did you hear the Al Gore sighs?) while Obama seemed reluctant and a little low on energy. Still, Obama's calm demeanor allowed him to rise above a potential catty debate, and focus on his issue advantages.
Coming out strong, McCain's crisp statement: "Senator Obama, I'm not President Bush" had no matching punch line from Obama, perhaps giving McCain an edge in the sound-bite battle.
In the middle, the candidates spent much time talking about attack ads, leaving me lamenting that this is what the American people get to listen to from their presidential candidates. By noting that William Ayers has become the center of McCain's campaign, Obama made McCain's campaign look deaf to the real issues facing the American people. After setting the record straight about his strained connection to Ayers, Obama then took the opportunity to make a positive and reassuring argument about the capable people who will advise him, such as Warren Buffet and former NATO head Jim Jones.
After a discussion on healthcare, which left me thinking Obama knows more about McCain's plan than McCain does, the two got talking about abortion. Obama called out the McCain/Palin refrain that he supported infanticide, pointing out that there was already a law on the books requiring care to babies of botched abortions when he voted against an Illinois bill for other reasons.
Obama then took the dialogue to another level saying that he wants everyone to work together to reduce the number of abortions and promote adoption. McCain went on to slam the pro-choice movement with the pejorative "pro-abortion." I'm still wondering if considering the country's at war and in an economic crisis, and after eight-years of a pro-life President and more Roe v. Wade, whether the abortion discussion was worth the time.
While this was McCain's best performance by far, I think Obama maintained a presidential and informed presence. Maybe I can find Joe the Plumber and ask him what he thinks.
What did you think?