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.
The weak spots for Team McCain were as follows: He was absolutely pathetic on the domestic portion of the debate (thus my contention that the bailout business hasn’t helped him in the least) and if I were part of his campaign I’d be very worried about an economic debate. Earmarks and a spending freeze that excludes most federal spending — it reminds me of Poppy Bush’s “flexible” freeze in 1988; who would skate on a flexibily frozen river? — just aren’t going to cut it. Neither will the Obama Lite Wall Street greed mewlings.
McCain’s lecturing of Obama on Pakistan was also a gaffe. First, it isn’t as if McCain really opposes snatch-and-grab operations in Pakistan. (If he does, that makes him more dovish vis-a-vis al Qaeda than Ron Paul.) Second, did he not see the “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” reference coming? Finally, some of his geeky laughter during Obama’s responses might come across like Al Gore’s sighs.
But this is all just quibbling past the graveyard. McCain was dominant throughout the portion of the debate that concerned Obama’s readiness to be commander-in-chief, a key hurdle for the Democrat to clear. And McCain forced Obama to debate Russia, Iran, and post-2007 Iraq almost entirely on Republican terms, something that would have been unthinkable as recently as the last election. I’d say McCain did what he needed to do tonight and needs to hit the briefing books on domestic policy before their next encounter.