Obama, McCain Face Off In First Presidential Debate

Kicking off the final stretch of this election season, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain traded barbs and jabs in the first presidential debate last night.

Addressing the economy and the war in Iraq, neither man broke any new ground, not that that’s surprising for such an event, meant to reintroduce the candidates to voters and allow them to take on one another’s policies. And there are definitely plenty of differences, like how the government’s dwindling dough should be dispersed.

McCain played the tried and true Republican card of suggesting the government funded too many frivolous projects, while Obama reminded voters there are many unspoken programs that will miss out under a Republican administration. The Democrat then went on to blast McCain’s tacit approval of the Bush administration’s “orgy of spending:”

John, it’s been your president who you said you agreed with 90 percent of the time who presided over this increase in spending. This orgy of spending and enormous deficits you voted for almost all of his budgets. So to stand here and after eight years and say that you’re going to lead on controlling spending and, you know, balancing our tax cuts so that they help middle class families when over the last eight years that hasn’t happened I think just is, you know, kind of hard to swallow.

Obama came off stronger during the debate, repeatedly highlighting McCain’s misjudgment, telling him on multiple occasions, “You were wrong.” For his part, McCain relied largely on smug humor and tried to diminish Obama’s comments with grunting shrugs and smirks, as exhibited by this collection of cold exchanges:

Obama and McCain’s respective performances indicate an essential difference in the candidate’s approaches. For example, Obama spoke to the camera for much of the debate and watched McCain as his rival spoke. McCain avoided eye contact with the camera – an indicator of his detachment from the public – and gave Obama a cold shoulder during the Democrat’s responses. Then, at the end of the debate, Obama approached McCain to say “good job,” and McCain gave him only the minimum of acknowledgments. McCain came off cold and seemed a bit unsteady during the debate, while Obama remained poised and confident. Interestingly, as Michael Petrelis points out, Barack Obama addressed McCain as “John” over two dozen times. McCain never said “Barack.”

One a more irreverent note – do any of you remember when McCain brought up the bracelet a slain soldier’s mother gave him? Well, that spurred Barack to say, “I have a bracelet, too.” It was a small piece of political absurdity.

Speaking of absurdity, on at least three occasions McCain simply didn’t answer the question, but instead spouted obvious observations. For example, when asked what lessons he has learned from the war in Iraq, the Republican replied, “I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict.” Oh, so we should go into a war with a failed plan? This is a maverick?

As for a “winner last night” – most people are giving the advantage to Obama, but others are decidely underwhelmed. What say you, reader? Did anyone come out on top last night?