First thoughts about the first McCain-Obama debate:

McCain did better than I thought he'd do, which doesn't mean that he was as good as the postmen here on Tybee Island would have been. All that "I've seen," "I've been," "I know" was nearly as vulgar as his refrain: "Senator Obama doesn't understand."

The disintegrating self is uglier to watch than to suffer. The McCain so eloquently seen, heard, felt, and described by David Brooks is not the McCain who is falling apart in so many ways: the choice of Palin; the behavior last week: 'I'll stop the campaign" and delay the debate; even his attempt at drama last night ("Kennedy is in the hospital" when Kennedy left the hospital today). He was never a genius (near the bottom of his Academy class) and--perhaps the result of growing up almost as fatherless as Obama and, like Reagan, the son of an alcoholic--emotionally insecure, a gambler (no accident that he crashed five planes), and now, under the pressure of campaigning, exhibiting the erosions of his 72 years, and you have McCain today. In view of all this, I expected and, yes, hoped for more incoherence (though there was God's plenty anyway), if not collapse.

Obama as well had too much "I" stuff. He was gracious ("John--is right," a graciousness the McCain campaign converted into an ad that makes Obama McCain's endorser), confident, knowledgeable enough, firm in the face of McCain's accusations, and intelligent, but there was too little nuance in him (after all, most Ossetians hate Georgian dominance and want the status Russia gave them) and too little of his rich humor. Unlike McCain's chilly discourtesy, Obama seemed like the decent man he is but not the inventive and surprising man he also is. He didn't convey sufficient appreciation of the miseries and failures he mentioned--he was too often on automatic pilot. Disappointing, but in the culture of winner-loser, he was clearly the winner.

Fear: I think that McCain could become the worst president in recent history, which is not one of Lincolns and Washingtons. Senility, impulsiveness, and blindness to them make a dangerous compound.

--Richard Stern