I've intentionally tried to keep politics out of my posts here. As I offer my thoughts on the first presidential debate Friday night, I am trying to be careful to avoid injecting my own political views. (If you're interested, my preference is given in a postscript at the bottom of this page.)
In a televised debate, it can be about much more than the actual words spoken. It's TV, after all, and appearance counts, as Richard Nixon learned after he sweated and frowned through the first televised debate with an at-ease and telegenic John F. Kennedy.
So as the candidates took to the stage Friday night with the obligatory handshake, Obama seemed to take visual control by clasping McCain's outstretched hand with both of his -- a gesture of warmth, possibly, but also one of control or dominance.
Neither candidate seemed stellar with the questions on the economic mess. Obama, who started out a bit weak, eventually got his pace and was more specific about what he would do to get through this crisis and avoid another in the future. Sen. McCain's responses seemed to fall flat when Obama attacked him for siding with Bush on actions he said helped bring about the mess.
To me, it really got interesting when the topic moved to foreign policy. Clearly, the two men have very different approaches on fighting terrorism, dealing with the war in Iraq and relations with nations like Iran and North Korea. For most of us, we agree with one or the other. Both stated their positions clearly and eloquently, but I think Obama scored some points here. To me, he showed an excellent understanding of foreign affairs. What he may lack in experience when compared to McCain seems to be offset by his knowledge and grasp of world situations. In doing so, he may have eased some of the concern many of his own supporters have had about his experience. Did it win him some new supporters? I don't know.
A few times, McCain seemed to just give up on a point when Obama kept at him by interrupting or correcting him. A few times, he appeared to sigh or roll his eyes, which came off, to me at least, as a sign of resignation or perhaps exhaustion. I can certainly understand these guys being exhausted, but neither can afford to let it show now -- especially McCain, where his age is an issue to some.
Overall, I think both men played well to their core constituencies. I don't know if either won any converts from the other side.
The key question, of course, is what do those undecided "swing" voters think. Did Obama's slightly stronger overall performance bring any to his side?
For some who are still undecided, the vice presidential debate could be the deciding factor. Based on interviews I've seen of Gov. Palin with Katie Couric, and the fact that Palin's handlers have been keeping her out of reach of the media, will she hurt or help her ticket next week? And will Biden, who is known to sometimes shoot from the hip, make some crippling gaffe?
As the new TV season gets underway this week, the most interesting TV we see may well be the debates. They are the new must-see TV.
I'm most interested in your impressions of the debate. Do you agree with my take, or do you think I got it all wrong? Let's talk.
P.S. I plan to vote for Obama/Biden. I had originally supported Hillary Clinton but went along, with hesitation and concern, with Obama because I fear McCain will give us just more of the Bush policies. I have great respect for McCain, but I don't really see that maverick label as relevant or appropriate. McCain's choice of Palin, with her ultra-conservative views, solidified by support of Obama. And as I've seen Palin in action, I am frankly terrified at how unprepared and dangerous she could be if, by something happening to McCain, she were to end up in the Oval Office.
That's my position, as promised. But the subject of this post, remember, is about the performance of the candidates in the debate and how you think they came off.