Again, I fail to see either candidate running away with a breakaway victory in this debate. Maybe this just reflects my tendency to put in the sweat equity to understand each side's positions, such that I can see both of their strengths and weaknesses (one of the key ingredients of truly critical thinking is the ability to think inside of more than one frame of reference, and to weigh the content and implications of each. It is something for which I strive, with variable degrees of success). Having evaluated both candidates' positions, I come down on the side of McCain's approach in general terms (though we differ on some particulars), so I found him more convincing. But I could not look at this and see any watershed moments of communication and vision which offered much in the way of traction for a definitive bounce. In the end, both candidates presented their messages articulately and managed to look presidential in their own ways.
Obama came across as cool and caring and thoughtful. McCain exuded a seasoned resoluteness. Both sides landed jabs, but no real haymakers. I'm almost relieved at this, actually. While I see Obama's record as raising serious questions about his integrity, judgment, and ability to hold a consistent position on important matters, I've always felt that red-meat attacks in Presidential debates tend to cheapen the proceedings, and have always made me uncomfortable. The purpose of these things is for candidates to compare their respective visions of where they want to take the country during their administrations, not to engage in public mud-wrestling...even if the mud comprises relevant matters of public record. That's what political ads, stump speeches, and Vice Presidential candidates are for.
I think that this debate served to introduce some of the main themes which will form the skeleton of each candidate's narrative going into the home stretch, and which will likely be amplified in the last debate. McCain's Big New Plan for buying up mortgages makes me itchy, though I see the sense in setting a floor of tangible value for these products, so that the housing market can touch bottom and begin to bob up. However, it sounds risky and more than a touch socialistic for my tastes. Still, these are unprecedented times, and may call for such extraordinary measures. I don't know yet, and await more detailed analysis before forming an opinion on the matter.
All in all, I don't see either candidate as having done any real damage nor added any qualitative value to his campaign. I suppose that will do for now. But I can hear the roaring up ahead as the river approaches the gorge.