There were no knockout blows in the first presidential debate of the fall, but John McCain outpointed Barack Obama often enough to encourage his followers that he can somehow overcome the odds and deny the Democrats the victory that has seemed to be in store for them.
It was a small thing, but I counted six times that Obama said that McCain was “absolutely right” about a point he had made. No McCain sentences began with a similar acknowledgment of his opponent’s wisdom, even though the two agreed on Iran, Russia and the U.S. financial crisis far more than they disagreed.
That suggests an imbalance in the deference quotient between the younger man and the veteran senator — an impression reinforced by Obama’s frequent glances in McCain’s direction and McCain’s studied indifference to his rival.
Whether viewers caught the verbal and body-language signs that Obama seemed to accept McCain as the alpha male on the stage in Mississippi, I do not know.
But it reinforced my impression that McCain was the more aggressive debater. He flung the adjectives that stick in a listener’s mind, calling Obama “naive” and therefore “dangerous.”
As Broder notes, McCain came to the knifefight with a gun in hand and was especially effective when discussing American policy towards Iran.