Obama Wins First Debate

Despite John McCain’s purchase of internet ads earlier in the day proclaiming victory before he even agreed to participate, the first debate turned out to be a  win for Barack Obama. Obama was cool, calm, and presidential. McCain spent the debate searching for ways to take cheap shots against Obama while making several factual errors. Errors ranged from his statement on Eisenhower’s two letters to the names of foreign leaders.

John McCain wasn’t even consistent in his attacks. Early in the debate McCain claimed “Senator Obama has shifted on a number of occasions.” Later he claimed Obama was too inflexible like George Bush. Obama can’t be both shifting and inflexible. It was particularly absurd for McCain to accuse Obama of being like George Bush when it is McCain who holds essentially the same positions as Bush on most issues.

McCain’s primary attack line was to claim that Obama doesn’t understand foreign policy or is naive. Obama shot this down when he showed that it has been McCain who has repeatedly been wrong and has repeatedly showed poor judgment:

“When the war started you said it was quick and easy, you said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.

“You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni and you were wrong.”

McCain showed that he just does not get it when he claimed that the next president will have to decide when and how to leave Iraq and what the United States will leave behind, while trying to downplay the decision of whether to go to war. While the decision with regards to going to war in Iraq is history, future presidents will have to decide whether to go to war. McCain’s poor judgment in supporting the decision to go to war in Iraq shows he cannot be trusted in the future to make decisions regarding whether to go to war.

McCain clearly had decided before the debate that he would repeatedly claim Obama did not understand foreign policy but this didn’t fool viewers who were watching Obama discuss foreign policy issues in more detail and more coherently than McCain. The networks which tracked audience reaction among independents found favorable responses to Obama’s statements on the issues and negative responses to McCain’s attacks. While McCain was engaging in cheap attacks, Obama showed his ability at seeking bipartisan cooperation when he was willing to say McCain was right when he was right and explained why McCain was wrong when he was wrong.

It seems that Henry Kissinger’s name has come up more in the past few days than in the past decade as Obama and McCain differed over negotiations with enemies. Andrew Sullivan noted that Kissinger “who was prepared to meet with Mao, is not exactly queasy about directly engaging foreign tyrants.” He cited a recent statement from Kissinger supporting high level talks with Iran without conditions. The absense of preconditions is far more important than which specific leaders are involved in such talks.

McCain distorted and attacked Obama’s position on Pakistan without seeming to realize that Obama’s view represents present U.S. policy and that George Bush had gone into Pakistan earlier this month.

McCain also appeared much less prepared than Obama, often repeating lines from his stump speech and convention acceptance speech. Was it really smart to repeat his joke twice about not being elected Miss Congeniality in the Senate when his running mate really was Miss Congeniality? McCain’s error in choosing his running mate was demonstrated in the post-debate coverage. Joe Biden was all over television supporting Obama’s positions while the McCain campaign did not dare allow Sarah Palin to appear on television. Yet we are to believe she can take over as president should they be elected and McCain were to become incapacitated?

Obama also won the pre-debate battles, both in forcing McCain to back down on his threat not to appear and in rearranging the schedule to have the foreign policy debate first and the debate on the economy second. If McCain could not win a debate in the area of his supposed strength he will have an even harder job at winning a debate on the economy. We got a preview of this at the start of the debate when the financial crisis caused Jim Lehrer to first ask about the economy. McCain could not say anything coherent on any topics beyond cutting spending and cutting earmarks. McCain sounded especially weak and hypocritical in criticizing Obama for seeking funds for Illinois when compared to the much greater requests per capita by Sarah Palin.

It is also notable that Barack Obama wore a flag pin but John McCain did not. Does John McCain hate America?

The first post-debate polls show a victory for Obama among independents. CBS News/Knowledge Network40% of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. 22% thought John McCain won. 38% saw it as a draw. Media Curves found that independents agreed with Obama on the issues discussed found that. CNN had Obama winning 51% to 38%.

For more opinions, Andrew Sullivan has a run down of comments from live bloggers tonight.