I was disappointed that Barack Obama did not trounce John McCain in the debate, but he didn’t. I am not certain that many independents will be moved into the Obama camp by the exchange. Of course, what will be, will be, and I am never a very good judge of such things.
As to foreign policy, I thought that in fact, there were few differences between the candidates, in spite of what the campaigns and the pundits are saying. Let’s look at what they said:
1. On Afghanistan, they both said that more troops and more effort was needed. Obama said that Afghanistan has been a step child to Iraq, but as to the future, there was no sense that they would act differently from each other. (Obama tried to paint McCain as being insufficiently concerned in the past, but that is the past)
2. The same is true with regard to Iraq. They both want to end the war, with “victory” (my take: impossible) and honor. (McCain tried to hook Obama with a ‘timeline’, but Obama said nothing about a timeline; again that was the base)
3. Russia. They both had very tough things to say about Putin and about protecting Georgia.
4. Israel. They both talk about protecting Israel.
5. Iran. They both talk about allies and sanctions (although Obama had a broader potential group of allies on the subject.) McCain brought up Obama’s previous statement about sitting down with Ahmedijad without precondition; Obama said that that did not mean without preparation and without a decision by the president that it would be helpful to American security
They both sounded tough on terrorism an al-Quaeda equally.
But Obama was more polite than McCain – McCain was much more aggressive (“Senator Obama does not understand…..”). I thought that might influence people to be more pro-McCain; you don’t want to take a chance on someone who does not ‘understand’.
On the economy, although there was attention only for the first twenty minutes or so, I thought that Obama did better than McCain, who suggested a spending freeze on all but a few categories of government programs, while Obama said that while spending was important, there were some programs that require more spending now, and some that could clearly be cut or diminished. But even here, Obama did not attack McCain’s irrationalities of the past few days.
Finally, there are very strange dynamics here. The present president is a Republican; McCain is a Republican. But McCain attacks Bush as if Bush were a member of an opposing party. So you have two candidates, a Democrat and a Republican, both arguing against a sitting Republican. Obama tries to paint McCain as a continuation of Bush, but McCain continues to attack Bush, blunting much of what Obama says. It makes Obama’s campaign harder. It must also confuse Bush Republicans to a great extent.