We can talk about who had the best lines or zingers all night, but a major subtheme of this debate was the question of Barack Obama’s readiness to be president. Obama held his own in foreign policy. McCain was a little subpar, but Obama won tonight by looking like a president.
Throughout the entire foreign policy portion of the debate McCain kept referring to Obama as naïve, or saying that he didn’t understand the issues. This is the same argument that followers of this election heard out of Hillary Clinton consistently in the primaries. For Obama, the goal was to simply hold his own and convince voters that he can handle the job.
Both of the candidates reverted back to much of their stump speech material. All of the stories that McCain told during the debate he had used either in previous debates or on the campaign trail, while Obama’s comments about the economy also have been used on the stump. This debate tonight was supposed to be McCain’s turf, but McCain didn’t blow Obama out. Obama was very prepared, while McCain was stuck in the past. McCain at various times went back anywhere from 20-40 years, and his position on Russia sounded straight out of the Cold War.
Most of all, while Americans are worried about the economy, John McCain is still arguing the value of the surge and the war in Iraq. McCain didn’t lay out a forward thinking foreign policy. Instead, he seemed content to look backwards as a way forwards. Tonight, John McCain was less the maverick and more a garden variety generic Republican. Obama was sharp and prepared tonight, but his style is not one of direct personal attack, and in some ways this hurt him, especially on the economic discussion, Obama really didn’t close the deal.
Obama won this debate by looking like a leader and presidential. Obama didn’t need to score points on the issues. He needed to assure people that he is ready to be president, and in this respect, the evening was a huge victory for the Democrat. Obama didn’t give the impression of inexperience, or look overmatched on the big stage. The biggest concern most voters have with Obama is his experience. If Obama can ease those concerns, he will have taken a big step towards the presidency. The bottom line about tonight’s debate is the Obama looked like a president, and McCain looked angry.