“I agree with Senator McCain that. . .” vs. “What Senator Obama doesn’t seem to understand is. . .”

At the end of the day, those two oft-repeated phrases sum up tonight’s debate. McCain was the teacher; Obama was the promising but somewhat disappointing student — the one who knows lots of facts but ultimtely doesn’t quite get the big picture

In reaching this verdict, I don’t want to give the impression did Obama did badly. To the contrary, I think he debated quite well for the most past. Certainly, his performance should end the mantra of certain critics that Obama can’t handle himself without a tele-prompter. The problem for Obama was not his performance; his problem was that once McCain got past his dreadful first “round” of the debate, he excelled. McCain was more knowledgeable, more to the point, keener on the attack, and (above all) deeper than Obama.

The reality is that, when he’s in form, McCain is deeper than just about anyone. Recall his debates with Mitt Romney (and a cast of thousands). Romney was articulate (probably more so than Obama) and knowledgeable. But McCain had an octave that Romney just couldn’t reach (though Giuliani did at times). McCain hit those notes frequently tonight; Obama couldn’t reach them any more than Romney could.

Recall too how, in those Republican debates, the other leading candidates kept praising McCain, figuring that he was finished as a contender and that they could get some reflected glory by speaking well of him. But voters kept noticing that McCain was the guy everyone else commended.

Obama didn’t praise McCain very much tonight, but he sure “seconded” him on multiple occasions. Let’s hope the voters noticed.

UPDATE: John H has a very different take below. He sees the debate as a draw at best for McCain. I agree with John on one thing (which is implied in my assessment) — Obama looked like a plausible president. So, voters who are too disgusted to vote for a Republican probably got enough reassurance from Obama tonight to take the plunge. But to the extent voters are still comparing the two candidates, rather than voting up or down on Obama, I think it was a good night for McCain.

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