Most presidential debates don’t affect the outcome of the election--not unless one of the candidates visibly goofs up--and this one was no exception. All in all, it was a draw, which is a plus for Barack Obama, because he is ahead in the polls. What did Obama have to do? Like Reagan in 1980, he had to reassure voters that he wouldn’t bite them. In Obama’s case, that mean assuring them he was not a black radical or Muslim and that he had a sufficient command of foreign policy to run the country. He did that. McCain, on the other hand, did reasonably well--he escaped the economic discussion unscathed and showed himself knowledgeable about foreign affairs--but he needed to show Obama up and he didn’t. He did well, but not well enough to change the race.
I know a lot of Obama supporters are gnashing their teeth because he is professorial, doesn’t do soundbites or anecdotes, isn’t confrontational, can’t skewer an opponent, and sometimes seems either aloof or overly earnest. (Both men need to work on their facial expressions when listening to each other.) But look, that’s Barack. He is not going to become Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan. His strongest suit among voters is that they think he is intelligent. And he confirmed that impression during the debate. He did well enough, and that was enough.
--John B. Judis