A few observations:
• McCain was much stronger than last time, and may well have won on points. But debates aren't about debating skill, or even public policy. They're about likability and not screwing up. I suspect the image most voters will take away is that of an angry, cantankerous old man with clear contempt for his opponent debating a young, articulate, good-looking guy who smiled and appeared gracious. Obama wins.
• Obama's answer on the "Obama Doctrine" sounded like it was written by Sarah Palin. He clearly didn't have an answer about what criteria he'd use in determining which humanitarian crises are worthy of U.S. military force. He was all over the place. What we're left with, then, is, "Iraq never posed a threat to the security of the United States. Which is why we should have sent troops to Darfur, instead."
• Tom Brokaw was very good.
• The most depressing part of the night for me was watching CNN's real-time reaction from undecided Ohio voters. When Obama promised health care for everyone, promised that you could also keep your employer-sponsored health-care, promised to do all of this and bring health care costs down (he really must be Jesus), and capped it all off with a pledge to maintain the current system of employer-sponsored health care, his ratings were off the charts. The Ohio group gave McCain his strongest marks when he promised to buy up all the troubled mortgages. Is there any way to pull off this "democracy" thing without using actual voters?
• Note to McCain: Don't crack jokes in a format where you'll be the only one laughing at them. It's creepy.
• Note to Obama: It's great soundbite to say everyone has a "right" to health care. But there is no "right" that can only be recognized by forcing someone else to give up time, labor, and resources.
• The choices last night on the economy: Mass government intervention pretending to be tangentially related to the free market versus mass government intervention that makes no illusions about any allegiance to the free market.
• The choices last night on foreign policy: Four years of lots more small wars versus four years of a couple more big wars.