Daniel Larison says he's not sure why I think it's at all remarkable that Obama debated most foreign-policy issues on Republican terms last night. Perhaps I gave too much peronal credit to McCain, but I do think there is a very clear pattern that was evident in last night's debate: Republicans "me too" Democrats on domestic policy because they think they have to politically; Democrats feel the same need to seem like watered-down Republicans on national security.
McCain just had to show that his experience mattered. He was successful in doing so. Going into this debate, undecideds likely wondered: Is Obama's experience an issue? Is McCain too old? Who will have a sensible foreign policy? What about domestic policy/economics?
First question, yes, it was, especially now that Kissinger basically stated the Obama has mischaracterized his views.
Second question, McCain seemed deft, quick-thinking, and wise. You know, like how we should probably look at older people. He turned age into an asset tonight.
Third question, McCain by a wash -- Obama suggested an aggressive-ish foreign policy and echoed McCain on a surprising number of issues. But, rhetorically speaking, it's hard for anyone to argue with someone who thinks anything short of victory is defeat. You have to come up with a number of thoughtful arguments that convinces that the optimal case is a pullout. Obama's "We'll save money, though!" point fell completely flat.
Overall, Obama didn't embarrass himself -- though he had better hope that bracelet gaffe isn't the takeaway, because that is much worse than John Kerry's global test. If I were an Obama partisan, I would be happy with the way my candidate acquitted himself on issues that aren't his strength and that he looked non-scary and presidential.
That said, I thought this was John McCain's night. I say this as someone who thinks McCain is wrong on most of the major foreign policy issues of our time, including Iraq. McCain simply pinned Obama's ears back during the foreign policy and military exchanges. I don't agree that his nonsensical campaign suspension and bailout participation aided this in any significant way. But I haven't seen an old Washington hand mop up the floor with a smarmy, inexperienced but glib pol like this since Cheney kicked Edwards's posterior in the 2004 vice presidential debate. Obama was on the defensive most of the time, and his "not true" interruptions were mostly ineffectual.
McCain's lack of interest in economics and monomanical focus on earmarks is putting him at a real disadvantage. He cannot rebut Obama's statist arguments by offering a mushier, less coherent version of the same.
It is amazing to behold the anti-government radicalism of this president. Except for Medicare Part D. And No Child Left Behind. And earmarks. And all discretionary spending in general. And the $700 billion socialization, uh, bailout program. And the plan to create a democratic Middle East. And the burden on means-tested government programs imposed by amnesty. And regulations. Well, at least we'll have tax cuts for a couple more years. Tax cuts neither of our major presidential candidates voted for. Woo-hah!