In a debate that opened with a prolonged back-and-forth with the candidates referencing Joe the plumber, Barack Obama set himself aside as the only serious presidential candidate.
But before the winner was decided, Obama and McCain wasted time with a futile debate about whose policies would best care for Joe and other Main Street Americans. During this portion of the debate, many of us were even inclined to support McCain as he succinctly delivered an attack on federal subsidizing for ethanol production. These policies have done little to promote true energy independence and have substantially raised world food prices. Obamas failure to support McCains ethanol position was, while no doubt in his political interest of gaining more traditional Democratic farmers votes, a disappointing slip into unrealistic populism.
Thankfully, Bob Schieffer proved to be the most adept moderator weve seen so far. Directing tough but important questions to the candidates about cutting government spending and controlling the deficit, their negative campaign ads and Roe v. Wade, Schieffer is undoubtedly responsible for the superior quality of the debate relative to its predecessors.
And when those substantial questions were posed to the candidates, Obama seized his opportunity to shine. McCain beat him over the head for excessive earmarks, and Obama looked viewers in the eye and told them the hard truth: earmark spending accounts for less than half of 1 percent of total federal spending. Certainly it is a problem to be solved, but its only realistic to acknowledge that we wont even be able to hatch our way to financial stability if the extent of our plan to is eliminating government spending on excesses like bridges to Nowhere.
Turning McCains flustered and wandering rants against everything wrong in America into smart answers intelligible to ordinary Americans ultimately won the debate for Obama. When accused of incompetence in dealing with Latin American trade negotiations, he proved his opponent wrong by authoritatively laying out his knowledge of the economic situation in Colombia and addressing face-on the question about what it would take for him to negotiate a responsible agreement with that nation.
Further, McCain took Schieffer up on his challenge to confront each other directly with the material from their negative ads and said he continued to have serious concerns with Obamas association with Bill Ayers, a 1970s domestic terrorist. Obama explained, as he had done as early as May, that the extent of his connection with Ayers was to serve on a school reform board, a board characterized by many prominent Chicago Republicans, no less. In the end, McCain seemed no more honorable for bringing up his negative ads and only ridiculous for ever making such stretched claims that Obama is a terrorist by association in the first place.
Regardless of how well they talk about policy, we have to remember most Americans vote for candidates not on their positions but rather on their emotional impressions of the candidates. Viewing both McCain and Obama simultaneously on a split screen, the American public was able to see a cool, collected and presidential Obama and contrast him with an angry McCain who was unable to substantiate his points and quick to appear angry, petty and worn.
With his combination of awkward grins, snarls and a snorted laugh into the microphone, McCain wrapped up the election for Obama.