I've been wanting to share thoughts on the final presidential debate ever since it ended Wednesday evening. But time and work and home and other things being what they are, I'm just now getting around to it.
First of all, now that we've done the Sarah Palin/Tina Fey comparisons to death, does anyone else find John McCain's smiling face more than a little creepy? Especially on a high-definition television? I don't cast a vote based on appearance, but in Wednesday's debate, McCain gave Dick Cheney competition for "most likely to be cast as emperor in a Star Wars movie." In fact, the Obama campaign would be well-advised to stop linking McCain with Bush and start linking him with Cheney, both in terms of looks and policies.
As for the Wednesday debate itself (and all of them, really) I was bugged by what I didn't hear. I wanted McCain to advocate for things that aren't bedrock Republican policy. I wanted to hear him say, essentially, "Damn the Republican Party and damn the status quo, we need to do this for the good of the country." In other words, truly put country first ahead of politics or the individual interests of "Joe the Plumber." references.
But at least McCain went off script with Joe and threw in something I didn't expect. (And apparently neither did Obama, who should have countered by asking specifics of Joe's situation, which we now know is a real-life one.)
Obama seemed stuck on standard campaign messages and cliches about the American people and working hard for them. And when he did venture off the message, I felt he did so poorly.
I wanted him to stop accusing McCain and his supporters of harboring hate and speak to how he intends to bring out the better angels of our nature. I also wanted him to talk about the value of interaction, engagement, conversation and thorough discussion, as opposed to the politics of confrontation.
I wanted him to stop explaining William Ayres and say that it's important to understand all kinds of Americans, not just those who look like us and think like us. I wanted him to speak the way Michael Douglas did in "The American President" about free speech and free association and tolerance of views we might find abhorrent.
I wanted him to respond to Bob Schieffer's question on abortion by talking about the need to heal the divisions in the country on many issues. I wanted him to offer himself as a vehicle for new thinking on difficult issues like race, religious intolerance, morality and, yes, abortion. I wanted the kind of passion I saw in Missoula last spring, combined with knowledge and policy positions that he should have developed since June.
Colin Powell is the latest to call Obama a "transforming figure" for the country. I wish the candidate had lived up to that identity. Meanwhile, McCain did quite a bit to polish his image as the man America's enemies would least like to be in a room with.