- Think Progress (including Matthew Yglesias)
- Talking Points Memo (continued here)
9:18 - The first interesting thing I've heard: McCain responds to the argument that earmarks are a tiny percentage of the budget, so why does he make it the center of his economic plan? He gives two reasons: it's grown at a very fast rate (of course, it's grown from really tiny to somewhat less tiny), and it's "corrupt." Typically, McCain substitutes moralism for facts.
9:27 - Obama says we won't get done everything that "needs" to be done, but we'll get done everything that "has" to be done. That's a pretty fine distinction!
9:29 - I agree with National Review's Rich Lowry: "Obama is talking too fast."
9:31 - Lehrer asks a key question: are you changing anything about your previous plans based on the financial crisis? Clearly they should both have prepared a strong answer to this, right? Yet neither one seems to have anything to say.
9:34 - Obama gives it another shot. He clearly acknowledges he might have to put some of his proposals on hold, but he won't give specifics. Neither of them seems to have rethought any of their ideas on a qualitative level, as opposed to just accepting that there might be fewer funds available to do what they already wanted to do. McCain's whole answer is that he would be against "wasteful spending" -- which, of course, is no change at all to his earlier economic "plan."
9:44 - Key line from Obama: "You act like the war began in 2007."
9:46 - Good catch from TNR: Obama used the word "orgy."
9:48 - A pithy reality check on McCain and health care.
9:55 - McCain says, "I would not publicly state that I'm going to attack [Pakistan]." But doesn't that very statement imply that he would privately plan to attack Pakistan? (Or, rather, strike inside Pakistan, since that's all they're really talking about.) Now that he's publicly made that implication, hasn't he sort of . . . publicly stated that he might strike inside Pakistan?
9:57 - McCain: "I don't think Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came into power." I don't think McCain understands what Obama understands.
10:00 - "I've got a bracelet." "I've got a bracelet too!" Are these serious adults running for president, or is this summer camp?
10:04 - Subtly insightful advice for Obama:
Obama would do well not to say things like "al Qaeda are attacking our troops in a brazen fashion, they feel emboldened." It's academic language to describe something he should be passionate and visceral about. It reminds me of John Kerry.10:08 - One of the things you want to watch for in these debates is if a candidate has a tell-tale facial expression or gesture. McCain trying to pronounce "Ahmadinejad" might have been one such moment. For a split-second, he seemed crazed. [UPDATE: Here's the clip.]
10:13 - A creepy statistic from McCain: "The average South Korean is three inches taller than the average North Korean." And this comes shortly after McCain quotes Ahmadinejad calling Israel a "stinking corpse." He's apparently working on a strategy of revolting bodily imagery. I can't quite explain it, but there's something fundamentally McCain-esque about this.
10:19 - McCain's staff clearly told him in the prep sessions, "Keep repeating, 'Obama doesn't understand . . . doesn't understand . . . doesn't understand...'"
10:23 - Obama: "We have only 3% of the world's oil reserves, but we consume 25% of the world's oil," so we can't just drill our way out of the problem. Maybe Obama was reading my "How Obama lost me" list, particularly point (6)(a).
10:34 - McCain says Obama's refusal to admit he was wrong on the surge is a problem because "we need more flexibility in a president." Hmmm...
10:36 - Good for Obama for getting explicit about his exotic family background and name, and connecting it to patriotism.
10:37 - It's over. They casually shake hands — "Good job, John!" "Good job!" It's impossible to know, of course, but I'll bet they basically like and respect each other. They have to grasp at straws for attacks they can use against each other because it's their job, but it's hard to take any of it very seriously. For all Hillary Clinton's warnings about how she was just giving us a taste of what the Republicans would use against the Democratic nominee, her attacks had real bite to them in a way that's lacking here. There was plenty of negativity tonight, but doesn't it feel kind of rehashed and watered down? Does anyone really believe that either of these two guys still feels passionately about how to parse Obama's comments from last year about meeting with dictators?
Afterthought — It's hard to imagine this debate swaying a significant number of voters based on people thinking that one candidate did better than the other, though I can imagine it swaying people toward Obama if they simply weren't familiar with him before and had to get more comfortable with him. Earlier today I was listening to the Beatles song "Wait" (from Rubber Soul), which made me remember a critic's very apt comment (paraphrasing): "It has a hypothetical, unfinished quality that makes it hard to feel strongly about." That's how I feel about this debate. It's sort of like: "here are some things they might say if they had a debate." More like a rehearsal than the real thing. They both did as well as they had to and didn't say much that's likely to be remembered for very long.
One more thought — The media consensus seems to be that it was close to a draw, with maybe a slight edge for McCain. But two focus groups and two polls all show that undecided voters were much more likely to think Obama won. I have a theory to explain this discrepancy. If you're a professional journalist, you're so used to all McCain's and Obama's rhetorical and personality quirks that you look past them and focus on who scored the most points. Most normal people don't sit there with a notepad keeping score. It's not: "Oh, he was just oversimplifying about taxes, but oooh, then he made a good point about energy . . ." No — you take it all in and get an overall impression. Obama's presentation is simply more appealing than McCain's, and — obviously this is subjective, but I do believe this — Obama comes off seeming like the more reasonable and intelligent of the two.