Was it a debate or a sporting event? Hard to tell from the post-game coverage. It's all about "who won?" McCain seemed angry, Obama presidential. One pushed the other well, the other played a mean defense. McCain had his game face on, yet Obama wasn't easily psyched out. Was Joe the Plumber the ref or the mascot? Who knows. It's all a game playing out in prime time.
And, if the snap polls and focus groups are to be believed, Obama won and McCain lost. And it wasn't even a photo finish.
But it's not because Obama had his red power tie on (he does well with that tie), or because the close-ups on McCain were unflattering. It's not because Obama was sympathetic, and McCain "negative" (the new euphism for inaccurate). Or because McCain was dismissive or didn't understand the difference between Down's Syndrome and autism.
And, in my opinion, McCain was sharp, aggressive, articulate (not eloquent). He was internally consistent. I'd be frustrated, if I were McCain. "I was more gracious, I answered the questions more concisely. Why can't I win?"
John McCain hasn't won any of the debates because his ideas have lost.
The Senator was an effective spokesperson for these ideas, but they no longer resonate. The anti-government motif, the big government theme, however Reaganesque, are falling flat. Most Americans want more government intervention in righting a free market ship that, left to its own devices, creates wealth for the few and stagnation and loss for the many. (Even the Manhattan Institute, that stubborn bastion of conservative ideology, today acknowledged in The New York Post that markets aren't up to policing themselves.)
Most Americans want government to require that the private sector live up to its part of the bargain, to take an active role creating an economy that is consistent with our democratic values. They don't believe that a trickle-down tax policy will work because it hasn't. They don't believe that a free market solution to health care will work, because it hasn't.
If Obama wins, it won't be McCain that he beats. It will be a legacy of a conservative ideology that has failed the majority of Americans.
That doesn't lend itself as easily to the post-game show, but that's what happened.