I'm amazed that so few pundits are realizing that Obama obviously dominated the first debate. Even liberal blogger Josh Marshall initially called it a draw (now, having slept on it, he's starting to come around). The post-debate polls are entirely in line with what I think, i.e. Obama appealed not only to his base, but to independents quite effectively. And McCain only appealed to his base, by simply harping on taxes, spending, and the surge success in Iraq.
As these kinds of debates usually go, there were very few details given or debated. So it's difficult to determine who won on logical grounds. Still, on content Obama was much more truthful, cogent, and candid. He rightfully took McCain to task for his support of Bush's economic policies and mistakes on the Iraq invasion. McCain however, filled his time with mendacious attacks on Obama's record, and misleading claims on his own.
I was amazed that McCain actually derided the "pork-barrel" spending of millions on studying polar bear DNA, when his running mate Sarah Palin did the exact same thing for seals. And McCain painted himself as a defender of veterans benefits, when the Disabled Veterans of America give Obama a much higher rating. And McCain even boasted about being against torture, when the record shows that he caved on this and actually voted to allow it. Interestingly, Obama chose not to mention this, praising him instead for his condemnation of torture.
And let's not forget that McCain trotted out once more the naked lie that Obama voted to increase income taxes on those earning $42,000. That's simply unforgivable as the record shows it's patently false.
Still, the first rule of television is demeanor, i.e. body language, tone, and charisma. And Obama basically destroyed McCain on that all-important aspect, which is key to winning over the weak supporters and undecideds. Much has been said about McCain's unwillingness to even look at Obama, even when Obama was speaking directly at him, and even after Jim Lehrer implored them to speak directly to each other.
This either shows disdain or fear on the part of McCain. And the picture was reinforced over and over again every time Obama magnanimously spoke directly to McCain, calling him "john" in a genuinely human way. This was a real turn off I'm sure to most everyone watching. It shows either that McCain disrespects Obama or fears him, or both.
My take is it's likely to be the latter. McCain knows Obama is the more gifted, charismatic, intelligent, and youthful speaker and this mortifies him. There's also an animal behaviorist weighing-in on this, calling McCain the low-ranking monkey. This is the level at which much communication happens in televised confrontations, and by this crucial measure, I think it's clear McCain showed he was no match for Obama.
And the striped tie McCain was wearing created a distracting feedback effect radiating rainbows down his chest. That couldn't have helped either. I'm guessing by McCain's impulsive style that his suit and tie were vetted about as thoroughly as his running mate. If you haven't seen Palin's performance in her interview with Katie Couric, this is precious.
In sum, McCain came off as tense, repetitive, inferior, and most of all, unsettling.
Obama came off as warm, steady, eloquent, thoughtful, and most of all, reassuring. And that's about as good an outcome as he could have wished for in this context.