I thought both Barack Obama and John McCain did well in tonight’s debate. I went into the debate strongly favoring Obama, and nothing happened to change that. As usual, Obama impressed me with his character, intelligence, and integrity. But I was also impressed by McCain’s discipline despite my preference for Obama.
I half expected McCain to fall apart, given his performance during the economic crisis of the past week or so. But he rose to the occasion and displayed admirable self-discipline. That struck me as a sort of comeback for him.
An early poll by CBS News and Knowledge Networks suggests Obama won the debate:
Thirty-nine percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-four percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-seven percent saw it as a draw.
Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters said their opinion of Obama got better tonight. Thirty-two percent said their opinion of McCain got better.
Sixty-six percent of uncommitted voters think Obama would make the right decisions about the economy. Forty-two percent think McCain would.
Forty-eight percent of these voters think Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq. Fifty-six percent think McCain would.
Another early poll — this time by CNN and Opinion Research Corporation — found that 51% of respondents thought Obama won, while 38% thought McCain did. But the party make-up of that poll was skewed towards Obama.
These early polls do not necessarily mean much. In 2000, the early polls showed Al Gore the winner with most of the voters. But after a couple days of hard hitting spin from the GOP, most of the voters had changed their mind and come to believe George Bush was the winner. The same sea-change could happen here.
One thing that amused me during the debate happened when McCain “corrected” Obama on the minor point of whether the surge in Iraq was a strategic or tactical move. Obama said “tactical”; McCain said “strategic” and accused Obama of not understanding the difference between strategy and tactics. Yet, it was actually McCain who screwed up — not Obama.
To be precise, the strategy in Iraq at the time was to bring about a political settlement to the war. The tactic for achieving that strategy was to surge troops into the country to “create a breathing space” for the political settlement. Interestingly, the tactic seems to have been a success: violence dramatically decreased, creating the desired “breathing space”. Nevertheless, the strategy has not succeeded — there has been no political settlement and the country remains divided.
It struck me as funny that an old military man such as McCain would get the distinction wrong, while Obama, who has not served in the military, would get it right. Was McCain having a “senior moment”? Or, was he just over-anxious to tar Obama as someone lacking in understanding?(*)
Another funny moment came when McCain went on and on for a bit about how much he supports veterans, and how dear they are to him. It’s no secret McCain has voted against measures to benefit veterans about 80% of the time.
Barack Obama has been on my radar ever since sometime last year when George over at Decrepit Old Fool mentioned Obama made a speech in Detroit telling the car executives to get off their butts and build more fuel efficient cars. The more I found out about him, the more I liked him. He keeps doing little things I like. Last night was no exception. For instance: On a few occasions during the debate, he pointed out his agreement with McCain. I thought that was gracious of him. Moreover, it was in line with his habit of looking for commonality between himself and others. Any politician who is going to be an uniter, rather than a divider, had best have an instinct for finding commonalities.
Well, those are some of my impressions of the first debate between Obama and McCain. I’m curious what you made of the debate and what about it sticks out for you?
(*) UPDATE: In the comments on this post, SJS takes me to task for my take on McCain’s grasp of strategy and, I think, SJS successfully demonstrates that McCain was not actually wrong in the distinction he drew between strategy and tactics. I would maintain, however, that neither is Obama wrong in his own distinction between strategy and tactics. Instead, it seems the two candidates are looking at the issue from different perspectives, and consequently, both are right, but each is talking pass the other. See the comments on this matter here.
Also see on this blog, “Obama Won the Debate, But Who will Win the Spin?“