By the end I was demoralized. I thought Obama had allowed himself to be patronized, of all things, regarding America's Middle Eastern wars, diplomacy (or at least, Dr. Kissinger's view of it), "Russia." It was McCain who spoke of building an "alliance of democracies," for God sake, not Obama, who had told 200,000 in Berlin that he was a citizen of the world.
A friend sent me this lament by Nora Ephron, with which, at first, I sadly agreed:
I was, by the way, the least pessimistic person in the room where we watched the debate, a room full of blue-state pinkos, and our hearts had collectively sunk as we watched Obama miss opportunity after opportunity to score a knockout punch -- as the men in the room tended to put it.
But then I heard surprising snap polls showing Obama had (narrowly) "won." Without quite meaning to, I actually watched the debate all over again, from the beginning, saw how much better Obama came off than what I had feared--and realized my problem.
THE FIRST TIME around, I was actually debating McCain myself. Every time he spoke, I answered him in my mind's eye, and with a righteous anger much like McCain's own. I did not try to see Obama the way an undecided suburban mother in Colorado, without time for MSNBC, might: the people who, along with young people, will actually decide this thing.
I was seeing McCain the way the people in Nora Ephron's room did, passionate intellectuals, finding openings, driving imaginary punches, as if this brilliance is what every one's waiting for. If Obama missed the "opening" I saw, I felt disappointed in him, sorry for him, and us. I did not credit (indeed, I can still hardly understand) his cool, his patient engagement, his stand-up decency.
This may not have been Obama's best night. But then, I wanted McCain to look ridiculous. He did not--and is not. Neither is Obama Jon Stewart--and cannot be if he wants to govern this country.