Well, I’ll go out on a limb and say something contrary to the "instant analysis" I just heard on PBS. I think McCain did better in this debate than Obama. I didn’t feel that way about the first debate, in fact I was at times put off by McCain’s condescending attitude toward his opponent in Mississippi, the repeated charge that Obama didn’t "understand"…
But this time, I think he caught Obama, and the professional observers, off-balance. Obama obviously came out expecting McCain, running behind, to be aggressive, so he started counterpunching before McCain could come after him. But McCain, comfortable wih the town-hall format, focused more on the questions rather than scoring points.
At no point was this more in evidence than in response to the first two questions, when McCain responded directly, including offering a new proposal to buy up bad mortgages. He said nothing critical about his opponent at all at that point, concentrating on the questions. Obama came out swinging with the usual stuff about "eight years of failed policies" causing the current financial crisis, as though John McCain had been president the last eight years (as he SHOULD have been, I might add), rather than McCain’s old rival, W. The really bizarre thing was the Obama kept doing the class warfare thing with accusing his opponent’s party of caring only for Wall Street and not Main Street, but in order to do that, he had to completely ignore the proposal McCain kept repeating about buying troubled mortgages. It was weird, as though Obama had gone deaf and couldn’t react to what was actually being said.
On the third question, McCain finally said something critical about his opponent. After that, things were more evenhanded, and I think both men did reasonably well, with some false notes (such as when McCain called Obama "that one," which contributed to the "frosty" tone described afterward on PBS).
At the very end, though, McCain again demonstrated his greater comfort with his surroundings. Obama simply didn’t answer the question about "what don’t you know?" As he was going on about his childhood, I remarked to my daughter that I knew how McCain SHOULD answer the question, but I doubted he would think of it. I was wrong. He answered along the lines of what I would have done in his shoes. He said the main thing he does not know is what the future holds, and suggested he believes he is ready to deal with what will come. That’s a particularly appropriate answer for a guy who touts his experience, but is not guided by an ideology. McCain approaches issues pragmatically, depending on what comes down the pike, rather than according to an overall program or philosophy. He didn’t develop the thought the way I would have, but in essence he got it right.
Now, do I think this reversed McCain’s fortunes? No. But it sure made me think better of him than if he had done what so many had said he HAD to do, which was to attack Obama’s character. And Obama, seeming to expect a fight, was thrown off-balance — for him. As always, he was poised, but he was off-point more than usual.
But enough with that. What did YOU think?