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Obama Underwhelms, McCain Patronizes

10/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Well, for the first few minutes of the debate it was like watching a bad Dr. Phil show. "That was great -- now I want you to turn around and say what you just said, but now say it to him. Let him hear you."

It was well intentioned but goofy -- and the candidates sure didn't want to go there. Especially McCain, who by the end of the debate would not even dignify Obama with a look in his direction, or allow him to argue the misrepresentations of his views and statements that McCain kept tossing his way.

I keep trying to figure out why Obama -- who I so admire, seems to underwhelm in these debates. All I can come up with is that while everyone else aims up for these events -- they aim to score, to excite, to appeal -- Obama, who is so brilliant, has such understanding of the issues at play, such insight in how to re-shape where we are and how to proceed where we need to go... it seems like all his energy is spent pushing down: containing his thoughts. Suppressing the 20 sub-thoughts that follow each main thought. Speaking in measured tones lest he be perceived elitist or too academic. Keeping in check his healthy sense of the absurd -- like when he kept trying to get a word in with McCain plowing away - - actually saying , "John...? Uh John...? Like a guy who's lost the connection then just smiles and hangs up without re-dialing.

I hate to start sounding like all the blogs I read, but I have to say, I did want to see more fire. I did want him to let the anger loose. I did want him to slap back at McCain's endless patronizing tone. (I did like when Obama responded that he did indeed know the difference between a "tactic" and a "strategy" -- and even threw a pointed glance at McCain when he next used the word "strategy.")

But while I sure don't want to see him at this point be anything less than or different than who he is, I sure would like a little more fight. A little less patience. A bit less politeness. Did you see the moment when McCain tripped up pronouncing "Ahmadinejad?" Obama, nice guy that he is, offered a friendly elbow of support -- acknowledging, "that's a tough one," to comfort his colleague in a stumble. But it seemed like that ticked off McCain. Like he didn't hear what Obama said and thought he was busting his chops. He glared and repeated the already-corrected "Ahmadinejad" -- like "I already said it right!" It was a telling moment: Obama being the nice, considerate guy that he is, and somehow looking worse for it.

Was I disappointed by the debate? Yeah. But only because I know the fallout and spin that follows. Did it make me reconsider my vote? Of course not. Barack Obama continues to be an inspiring leader who seems to me to be exactly who this country -- and the world -- needs at this moment in history. If anything, tonight just reminded me that we may have to work a little harder to help him get there. But I am confident we can do that. As Senator McCain reminded us, the ingenuity and resilience of the American people is our greatest asset. Let's go use it.

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