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Mccain V. Obama On "60 Minutes"

An interesting contrast in styles tonight, one that might foreshadow Friday night's first debate. McCain, as he often is during sit-downs, was stiff and slightly uncomfortable-seeming. Obama was all winning smiles and effortless cool. But there was also a contrast in tone between the candidates, one whose winner is less obvious.

McCain did an excellent job of presenting himself as a) outraged--"frankly enraged," as he put it--over the financial crisis and b) a man of action determined to shake up Washington. He made a populist denunciation of  "greed and access" on Wall Street and in DC. Repeating his call for SEC chairman Chris Cox's head, McCain acknowledged that the president "technically" can't fire the SEC chief, but added, artfully: "But I'll tell you, when I'm president, if I want somebody to resign--they resign." He offered a couple of catchy, specific ideas: moving the political office from the White House--signalling that he would rise above politics to fix problems, always one of his best calling cards) and possibly appointing New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to replace Cox, in a nod to bipartisanship. As usual he seemed out of his depth talking about the financial system, and put up wans defense of deregulation and his running mate. (Why has Palin done so few interviews? "She's being vetted by the American people.") But overall he came across as someone ready to kick ass and take names.

Any fair-minded observer would come away sure that Obama had a more sophisticated take on the financial system. He sounded extremely smart and well-informed. But he was also--in a way reminiscent of his early debates against Hillary--perhaps a little too cerebral, too analytical. He never expressed visceral outrage about the events of the past week. And when Steve Kroft challenged him for specifics about his first days in office, Obama's answer--while sensible--was a rather process-oriented. He pledged to call in his generals and say "we need to find a way to bring this war in Iraq to a close"; to "pull together a working group" to "make an assessment about where are we, what do we need to do in terms of stabilizing financial markets and the housing markets"; to offer "an energy proposal that is moved through Congress that includes increasing production but also make sure that we are making this economy more energy efficient"; and to "get moving on a health care plan that finally provides people health insurance at afforable rates."

Ultimately, Obama looked a lot smoother, more charming, and far more at ease with himself than McCain. He offered more substance about his agenda. But he didn't deliver his message with quite the gut-punching oomph of McCain's populist outrage. We saw, I think, a similar contrast in the candidates' two ads about the economy this week (Obama spoke soberly to the camera for two minutes, while McCain put up a razzle-dazzle punch-throwing spot). A major unknown question right now is: Which style will more voters respond to?  

--Michael Crowley