Early Signs of Debate Fatigue

We've had our first presidential debate of the general election, and I think Obama was clearly the winner. Admittedly, I fell asleep at one point and dreamt that Obama saved a baby girl from an abandoned well. I especially enjoyed the part later when Obama rode a unicycle through town and threw out free health care packages to the residents, while from behind the rainbow McCain threw rocks into the spokes of the unicycle. So I think it's fair to say that Obama won on points, though I suppose I might have seen a slightly different debate than the rest of America.

Still, the polls seem to give a small edge to Obama among undecided voters. I can imagine the McCain campaign would say that's because Obama is so undecided himself that the undecided voters can relate to him more. The Obama campaign would respond that McCain is just old and doesn't get it. The McCain campaign would then respond that at least McCain didn't call Sarah Palin a pig, at which point we would all turn the television off.

There are less reliable numbers among undecided voters who didn't fall asleep, mainly because of the small sample size. Maybe it's because of Jim Lehrer's presence, but this was definitely a PBS debate. I'm not complaining. That's what we all want, right? Of course, 90 minutes of substance is a lot for anyone. Perhaps we should at least have some commercial breaks for these things.

In all, I think Lehrer did a good job, except for the weird moment when he tried to get the candidates to talk with each other. This little moment of therapy clearly didn't work.

"Say it to him."

"Okay, John, some of the things you say in your commercials are really mean and hurt my feelings."

Also, when the candidates were comparing bracelets, I really didn't think Lehrer needed to tell us that he was wearing a charm bracelet from Judy Woodruff. That was a little too much information.

While the debate was ostensibly about foreign affairs, the first part was largely about the financial crisis. Both candidates were somewhat vague about whether they would vote for the bailout bill, but in their defense there wasn't actually a bailout bill for them to vote on at that point. Both were also vague on how the crisis would affect their plans, although I did learn one thing. I don't live on Wall Street or Main Street, so I'm pretty much screwed.

For some reason, debates often come down to body language, and McCain seemed to be sighing about as much as Al Gore did to George Bush in 2000. I think it's clear that McCain just doesn't like Obama. He has that same "I can't believe I'm on the stage with this guy" look that Gore had when he was debating Bush. It all seemed to come down to "Senator Obama doesn't understand" versus "John is absolutely right." Condescension versus conciliation!

On body language, I think Obama did have an edge, simply because he seems to have a better, "I think this guy just called me an idiot, but I'm going to laugh graciously anyway" look than McCain does. Perhaps that will come in handy when negotiating with the Russians, but who knows?

I'm particularly impressed with the great pronunciations of foreign leaders and countries. Sure, McCain got the name of the President of Pakistan wrong, but I had never heard of the guy before, so I can't blame him too much. After eight years of a President who can't pronounce a damn thing, it's a refreshing change indeed.

McCain obviously was trying to show how experienced he is. Every time some obscure place was mentioned, McCain was quick to announce that he had been there. It felt like some sort of travelogue. At any moment, I expected him to take out his vacation slides, and I was reminded of the song "I've Been Everywhere" popularized by Johnny Cash:
I've been everywhere, man.
I've been to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Waziristan.
I've met with Vladimir Putin, Misha Saakashvili, and the guy from Pakistan.
Even Henry Kissinger, but not Ahmadinejad
I've been to Abkhazia, Tbilisi, South Ossetia, even Baghdad.
Not to mention Vietnam, young lad.
And that's not counting the fact that Sarah Palin has been to Whitehorse, which I'm sure we'll hear about on Thursday at the Vice-Presidential debate in St. Louis.
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