JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Tonight’s debate

Watched it, was fascinated. John McCain had his best showing thus far—feisty, on point, intense, combative.

And he still lost.

I know … I know—I’m biased. But I sort of sat down tonight expecting McCain to win (whatever that means), and he didn’t. In myriad ways it’s not really his fault. McCain is, factually, old. He has no use of his right arm. He sort of growls when he talks. Even when McCain gave the better answers, they came with signs or grunts or—once!—a snort. Really, a snort. Obama is often full of shit in debates. Long answers that go nowhere. But he is as casual and cool as anyone we’ve seen in this arena, and the contrast is striking. As Chris Matthews just noticed, McCain is Mr. Wilson from “Dennis the Menace.” And Obama just sails along, cool, calm, collected.

To me, the best thing Obama has done is his complete and total dismissal of Sarah Palin. He doesn’t rip her, doesn’t take shots at her, doesn’t praise her—just doesn’t talk about her. She doesn’t exist. Invisible. The beauty is that Palin is the world’s easiest punching bag. He could slam her and slam her and slam her, and it might score easy points. But he doesn’t. She digs her own grave. Why pick up a shovel?

Conclusion: Obama might win, he might lose. But he’s run the most disciplined, most impressive presidential campaign I’ve ever seen.