On Friday, Barack Obama went to debate on John McCain's home turf -- foreign policy (with a healthy dose of economic crisis) -- and every independent poll and focus group scored him as the winner. Why?
Each candidate got his points across. Policies were sketched out, neither with great detail. No one scored a decisive sound bite or became a befuddled mess. It was a draw on substance; style is another story.
McCain came off as antagonistic when sparring with Obama, making him look mean and angry. He seemed to refuse to look at his opponent much of the time, grew a smug smile and contorted his face when Obama said something he didn't like or agree with.
In contrast, Obama kept his chin up and fixed his stare on McCain when his opponent spoke. He didn't shift from foot-to-foot. His stance was steady -- almost like he was clenching, bracing himself. He was tough when returning McCain's lobs, but did it without the mockery McCain employed.
Obama seemed to listen to the things he didn't like to hear; McCain made faces and derided his opponent for not understanding. By the end, it was McCain who looked like the one who doesn't get it: Americans are tired of the taunter-in-chief model of George W. Bush. They want a president with some maturity -- not one who scoffs at those who disagree with him.
This is an important lesson for Joe Biden to take into his debate with Sarah Palin. This time Biden is in McCain's shoes -- times twenty. If some Americans are unsure of Obama, you better believe they doubt whether Palin is ready.
It's likely that Palin will come into the debate armed with one-liners and hope of scoring a killer blow. And -- as she has in her three solo television interviews -- chances are she will fail to effectively employ them. So, a debate with Palin filibustering her answers with stilted rhetoric and Biden talking about specifics and objectives is probably what most expect to see when they tune in on Thursday night.
If these expectations are met, how they carry themselves could be the deciding factor. Luckily for Biden, Palin will easily slip into sarcasm and condescension, as that's the nature of her most popular lines on the stump. Biden can look even more like the mature statesmen if he takes his cue from Obama on this one.
Maybe McCain feared that if he treated Obama as an equal, he would validate his standing? Maybe McCain is just angry by nature? Either way, his condescending debate performance only made himself look smaller. Biden should treat his disagreements with Palin with the collegiality he would give Senators Byrd or Kennedy. Listen closely. State your position forcefully. Win.