A losing night for McCain. And worse, a puzzling one. He whiffed more times than a drunk .100 hitter. Opportunities abounded to drive home simple, direct, and perfectly legitimate arguments against Obama: his support for federally-funded and late-term abortions, his mendacity about his tax and health care plans, his associations with America-hating radicals and anti-Semites. He repeatedly tiptoed up to the line, but never quite crossed it. The effect was to discredit such accusations. The back-and-forth about Ayers ended up absolving Obama far more than it incriminated him. If you’re going to bring up Ayers, you better be ready to say something poignant and damaging. Instead, McCain served up Obama a stellar opportunity to make himself look perfectly innocent. And that is exactly what Obama did.
McCain seems temperamentally incapable of hitting Obama hard, either on policy subjects or on personal and political matters, or delivering a coup de grace when the moment is staring him in the face. He jabs reluctantly and can’t get into the role of holding his opponent’s feet to the fire; he seems to fear all the bad things the New York Times will say the next day. McCain was at his most passionate when articulating how it had hurt him when Rep. Lewis compared him to a segregationist politician. That was a good thing to do, but it was not, and will never be, enough.