Parting thoughts: So Bill Ayers, despite all the huffing and puffing about him going into the debate, was a no show in the debate rhetoric -- and for that, voters who wanted the candidates to focus on the future probably were thankful.
But those voters also might have been disappointed by what, to us, was the lack of a clear, clarion call from either Barack Obama or John McCain on how the country -- under a new administration -- will confront what appear to be unprecedented economic challenges.
McCain provided one surprise by using the forum to unveil what he called a new plan to have the Treasury Department come to the aid of homeowners struggling to renegotiate their mortgages. But it was unclear how that expands on the role the agency will play under the sweeping financial rescue plan signed into law last week. And McCain did not elaborate on or spotlight his proposal after laying it on the table.
Too often, the two men yammered over their Senate voting records -- symptomatic, as we noted below, of a congressional mentality that doesn't translate well in a presidential debate.
More vision -- something Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan would have spun out effortlessly -- would have better served Obama and McCain's purposes.
7:30 p.m. What Brokaw terms a question with a “certain Zen-like quality” to it ends the proceedings. The candidates are asked, “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?”
Presented with that variation of the perennial job interview query most of us dread –- what are your shortcomings? –- Obama pretty much punted while McCain gave it a shot before moving on.
The Democrat used the question to try to remind voters that he –- like most of them -– came from “modest means.” He then drove home the basic rationale for his candidacy –- a call for “fundamental change” from the eight years of the Bush administration.
McCain acknowledged that he, like all of us, doesn’t know what the future holds –- “what’s going to happen. Both here and abroad.”
He then used that to segue to the basic rationale for his candidacy -– that he offers the experience, the “steady hand” to shepherd the nation through unanticipated challenges.
7:25 p.m. As the discussion turns to Russia’s recent assertiveness in central Europe, Obama gives an answer that might have attracted little interest a month ago but may have sounded a wrong note now.
McCain said that America has to “show moral support” for Georgia, Ukraine and other nations feeling threatened by Russia. Obama....
...said more than that is needed –- he calls for “financial assistance” from the U.S. to help such countries build their economies.
Given the state of America’s finances, public support for increasing the foreign aid budget probably is not very high.
7:19 p.m. The two senators, with Brokaw’s assent, throw the debate guidelines by the board and engage directly and aggressively on U.S. policy toward Pakistan.
It begins with McCain asserting that Obama was foolish to threaten to “invade” Pakistan to fight terrorists.
Obama, in turn, charges McCain with misrepresenting his position. “Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan,” Obama says. Obama repeats the policy that he first laid out in a speech more than a year ago, when he was one of many candidates in a crowded Democratic primary field, that if Pakistan is “unable or unwilling” to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his terrorist allies, he would do so.
McCain repeats his assertion that Obama displayed his inexperience by threatening to “invade” Pakistan.
Obama takes this as an opportunity to bring up one of McCain's worst gaffes to date: the comment in which McCain joked that America should "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran."
7:14 p.m. We now bring you an update from our mole who is watching the debate over at NBC studios in Burbank, where Jay Leno just finished taping the "The Tonight Show."
Our spy reports that Leno will deliver this line about the debate on his show: "It's a town hall format, which is John McCain's favorite way to speak to crowds. As opposed to Barack Obama's favorite way, a sermon on a mount."
7:08 p.m. As the debate hits its hour mark, the subject turns to what would have dominated the discussion a year ago –- foreign affairs.