I cannot find any liveblogging that isn't stupidly partisan. So here I go. My impression is that McCain is winning this debate. In my snarky piece today for Culture11 [scroll down], I said Obama needs to show his superior grasp of policy details, especially on economic policy. He seems to me to have completely muffed that chance by wandering aimlessly in generalities. McCain made the financial collapse a morality play, somehow related to earmarks, but Obama had nothing better, nothing illuminatingly specific, which is what he needed. And now McCain is schooling him by showing his grasp of the specifics of defense and foreign policy. I am more in agreement with Obama on almost every foreign policy particular, but he seems to me to have spent almost the entire debate in a defensive posture. McCain exudes firm, experienced, competent, principled leadership. Obama seems like a gracious intelligent guy who is very ambitiously running for a very high office. That's really bad for him.
I had really thought Obama was capable of spanking McCain, who is performing exactly as I thought he would — as a “straight-talking,” pugnacious man of valor and experience. Either I was mistaken about Obama's ability to explain and motivate policy with Bill Clinton-like lucidity, or he was just poorly coached merely to hit platitudinous talking points, especially in the opening economics portion of the debate. I guess his lackadaisacal debating style in the primaries wasn't a way of making Hillary look desperately strenuous in comparison. It just turns out that he's not really a very good debater.
Love his voice, though. If this is a contest to determine who we'd rather listen to the next four years, and I promise never to overestimate the American voter, Obama can hardly lose, no matter who “wins” the debate as a matter of forensic art.
Now, on the issue of “meeting without preconditions” issue, Obama seems to be getting a bit stronger. But he's still a bit halting, and strangely seems to be groping for words rather more than the Jurassic Senator.
[UPDATE: I think Obama warmed up toward the end, and certainly “held his own,” as many are saying in the autopsy. But how good is that when you've got the substantively more compelling position? It seems like a kind way of saying “was not humiliated,” which is not a way of saying “won” — unless you had low expectations for Obama. I had high expectations, which is why I'm calling it for McCain.]