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When Pat Buchanan Thinks You've Been Mean...

CNN's Pat Buchanan just suggested John McCain may have come off as "mean." Ouch. That's a little like Bill Kristol accusing somebody of elitism. Oh wait...

For the record, Buchanan still thought McCain won the debate. Pundit consensus, and what network polling I've seen, seems to be leaning in the other direction--although virtually everybody seems to think neither candidate delivered a crushing blow.

Personally, I have no idea who won. I'm not even sure I know what "won" means.

What I do know is this: On domestic policy, the area I know best, the debate gave viewers a pretty clear sense of where the two candidates stand.

McCain thinks he can fix the economy by eliminating earmarks, which are a tiny portion of the federal budget and have, at best, a tiny impact on middle class living standards. He also wants to implement a tax reform that will run up tons of red ink, mostly for the sake of giving a windfall to very wealthy people who have already pocketed the benefits of the Bush tax cuts.  

Obama thinks it will take a lot more than that to alleviate economic insecurity: He thinks it takes investments in education, health care, and clean energy. And he'll pay for that--or at least part of that--by raising taxes on the wealthtiest Americans, while giving tax relief to the poor and middle class.

About the only other thing that seemed to come across was temperament. McCain is more emotional, Obama more cerebral--in each case, for better and for worse.

But that fact, like the two candidates' policy positions, hardly qualify as news to anybody who's followed this campaign.

--Jonathan Cohn