The first debate was an overall disappointment. As I think back to the debate, the only lines I recall are “Senator Obama doesn’t understand” and “John is right”. Despite the change in debate format where each participant could question the other, neither candidate chose to avail of this opportunity. So much for modern day debates.
As always the first question that pops to mind after a debate is “Who won?”. The truth is, its hard to say because there was no real winner. Firstly, there was hardly any “debate” so to speak. It was one moderator and two individuals answering questions! Secondly, neither of them had any memorable lines that evoked any laughter or drove home a point.
Putting the debate in context of the state of the race adds a slightly different perspective when analyzing the event for winners and losers. Going into the debate Senator McCain’s campaign was in a shaky state with his “campaign suspension”, “backing out of the debate” and other negative news. Had he stumbled in the debate, he could have been hurt beyond recovery. Considering this backdrop he did well enough so as not to damage his standing in the race. As for Senator Obama, he needed come across as knowledgeable and someone capable of being President. While Senator Obama did very well to appear calm, composed and Presidential, he did little to question or attack his opponent. In fact, it appears as though the “community organizer” in him does not permit forceful disagreement. This has been a consistent pattern with Senator Obama beginning with the primaries where he rarely went after his opponents. Perhaps it was a tactical ploy to avoid being seen as as the “angry black man”. In any case, this approach made the debate that much more boring. His responses were more like “lectures” than pointed, deliberate, tactful quips. Besides, he could use a sense of humor .
As for John McCain, he came across as someone who deeply dislikes his opponent. He never once looked at him when answering any questions or referring to him. In fact, he barely made eye contact with Senator Obama even during the initial hand-shake. He consistently referred to his opponent as Senator Obama (while Obama referred to him as “John”) more than a few times. His irritation (and to some extent grumpiness) was palpable at various points in the debate. He deliberately threw in names of foreign heads (referring to Zardari as Kadari and struggling to say “Ahmadinejad”), and of course mentioned his POW experience (which he often he reminds people he that he does not like to talk about!), and the boring “I was not voted Miss congeniality” line (he mentioned this twice).
The only hope for more exciting follow on debates is if McCain falls back further in the polls (as he appears to be doing now) making the debates that much more critical to him. The other scenario is if Senator Obama manages to get under Senator McCain’s skin and trigger his supposed bad temper. Barring these or some untoward events like the release of a new “Osama tape”, the remaining debates promise more of the same. (Aren’t you happy McCain picked Sarah Palin? At least there is something to look forward to in the debates:-)
p.s: The audience was forced to remain silent throughout the debate. This was one of the positives of the debate.