Let's be honest -- Barack Obama didn't really win last night's debate.
He didn't lose it, but he certainly didn't knock it out of the park.
Just how well he fared depends on how you measure victory. The glass-half-full viewpoint is that he more than held his own against a career politician who's spent most of this campaign casting him as dangerously untested; if the goal was simply to appear steadfast and, indeed, presidential, then yes, Obama can put one in the win column. But the glass-half-empty viewpoint -- and have you figured out by now where I fall? -- is that it was Obama who faced a doddering, erratic, panicked opponent who's not only completely out of touch with the problems of modern America but who spent the past two weeks making questionable judgment call after questionable judgment call, and yet he didn't completely mop the floor with him.
Barack Obama had ample opportunity last night to leave John McCain in the dust, and yet for whatever reason he didn't do it. He's smarter than McCain, more eloquent than McCain, and infinitely more personable than McCain; in my mind this should've been a blowout. But then maybe I'm being too harsh -- expecting too much from what's traditionally a very staid affair.
My biggest complaint -- and I can't help but feel that this is a pretty subjective view -- is that Obama allowed McCain to get away with far too much: He let McCain claim that he was naive and "didn't understand" over and over without hitting back hard; he never bothered to bring up the elephant in the room -- McCain's bizarre political stunt that may have contributed to the collapse of the bailout negotiations in Washington and almost killed the debate itself; and, worst of all, he kept agreeing with McCain, saying "Well, John's right about..." Even if you believe it, for God's sake don't begin every other answer by verifying it. You issue a statement like that maybe once just to show that you're magnanimous; you don't say it several times and leave yourself open to a cleverly edited ad that the other guy can throw on the air by morning. ("Even Barack Obama knows that John McCain is right!")
He didn't need to get angry; he just needed to put McCain in his place with a Ronald Reagan "There You Go Again" moment.
Make no mistake though: Obama did manage an inarguable draw, and maybe that's enough. There will be two more of these debates to come -- to say nothing of the Stephanie McMahon vs. The Rock steel cage match scheduled for October 2nd, provided McCain's people can't somehow make it go away before then -- and Obama will no doubt take what he learned from this first one and hit harder and smarter the next time around.
It's just that it would be a shame if McCain's relatively adequate performance -- albeit one tinged with plenty of Bush-like smugness and condescension -- brought his narrative back from the precipice and allowed America to forget the batshit lunacy of the past couple of weeks.