Let’s be honest, we won’t really know who won last night’s debate until November 5. I’d say initially that John McCain won the debate. His performance exceeded my expectations, and Barack Obama’s did not. Of course, Obama would have had to walk on water to exceed my expectations. McCain, however, walked onto the stage at Ole Miss after a grueling week of managing his response to the financial disaster on Wall Street. He faced his opponent and defended his positions on the proposed federal bailout of failing investment banks and foreign policy issues. He didn’t go to pieces the way his vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, did during her interview with Katie Couric. So I’d say, using the twisted logic of opposites that since McCain didn’t fail miserably, he won.
However, Barack Obama strode on stage completely at his ease, shook McCain’s hand with a firm, affable two-handed handshake, briefly gripping McCain’s forearm with his left hand, and proceeded to meet McCain head on with confidence and conviction. He made the effort to engage his opponent in a spirited, civilized dialogue on both the economy and foreign policy. When McCain repeatedly prefaced his sentences with, “Senator Obama doesn’t understand,” Obama responded knowledgeably and eloquently, showing that he did indeed understand, he just didn’t agree. Yes, it was clear that Obama was not on familiar ground with regard to foreign policy as McCain was, but Obama demonstrated the ability to navigate the rocky terrain of global issues with ease. He may not be on his home turf when it comes to foreign affairs, but he is clearly familiar with the issues and the players.
Obama gave an excellent presentation. He faced his opponent directly and called by name, addressing him as “John.” True, Jim Lehrer prodded both candidates as they stood addressing the voters instead of each other, but Obama injected a moment of humor into the dialogue as he corrected himself. McCain seemed unwilling to face Obama directly, avoiding eye contact and referring to Obama in the third person. He repeated the phrase that he has not been known as Miss Congeniality in the Senate, and true to form, he was not Mr. Congeniality in last night’s debate. Obama demonstrated that he knows his way around foreign policy issues, and he also stated clearly and openly that he would not raise taxes and perhaps would even offer tax cuts to those individuals and families earning less that $250,000 a year. So much for the claim that Obama will raise your taxes.
If you want Barack Obama to win this election, then you can make a strong case that Obama won the debate. If you want John McCain to win, then you can say that McCain won the debate. Though both candidates dodged the issue of whether they would support the economic bailout package, they both presented their policies, values, and ideals with conviction and skill. They sought to highlight the differences between them on the issues and they each succeeded. They agreed to disagree, so it is up to the voters to decide which candidate with whom they agree.