No Knockout


John McCain smirked awkwardly through a Barack Obama answer about concentrating on issues important to the American people. The curse of the split screen.

It was not a good moment for the senator in the prime time debate, the last presidential square-off, Wednesday night. In a debate in which it was generally agreed McCain needed to score a knockout punch, he didn’t.

Neither did Senator Obama, but he probably doesn’t need to.

I’m proud of the people who come to our rallies, said McCain, branding them all patriots. That came after Senator Obama relayed reports of people at McCain/Palin rallies calling Obama a terrorist and suggesting he be killed.

I’m sure most of the Mccain supporters are fine folks, but the ones who shout hateful slurs are not. And that wasn’t a great moment for Senator McCain either.

McCain did score some points, with many giving him the edge over the first half-hour.

At times, the back-and-forth about Obama’s friendships and relationships and how they needed to be looked into echoed, if distantly, the accusations at the Army-McCarthy hearings. On a Fox panel after the debate, voters were divided, with some criticizing the emphasis on relationships, while others said it was an issue of judgment, not associations, and that that judgment was fair game.

No, I don’t think John McCain is Joe McCarthy, but at times the exchange reminded me of the litany of guilt-by-association accusations of those hearings. 

Through no fault of his own, McCain’s awkward, pursed-lips expressions, with his eyes darting up and down as he takes notes, are not TV-friendly mannerisms.

Some of Senator Obama’s answers went on so long that it was tough to figure out the point at which he actually answered then, particularly an answer about why he had voted "present" while in the Illinois legislature.

Obama followed that up with a semi-knockout answer on abortion, saying "nobody was pro-abortion,’ an recording a top-line response from undecided Ohio voters, men and women, on CNN’s distracting, fascinating, addictive running graph.

Senator Obama did tell people to turn off their TV sets–not immediately–and put away the video games and start paying more attention to educating our kids.

The candidates continued to dress against type, with Obama in a red tie and McCain in a blue tie. That may have been more appropriate for Obama, however, given the number of former red states that now seem to be within his grasp.

Moderator Bob Schieffer asked some tough questions, and allowed for follow-ups without unduly clipping the answers, though sometimes he let the answers go on too long. (Read Schieffer’s interview with B&C’s David Bianculli.)

There were also far too many references to "Joe the plumber" for my liking. He’s the "everyman" whose small business John McCain wants to protect from punitive taxes.

How about an occasional Josephine the plumber? It is a TV debate, after all. CNN’s Bill Bennett said that the debate had the most plumber references since Nixon. He gave the debate to McCain, saying Obama was too professorial.

Paul Begala, former Clinton staffer, also gave McCain the edge in the first half hour.