It’s not a secret, so we’re just going to say it: John McCain showed his age last night. The contrast onstage with Barack Obama in mobility and appearance was obvious to anyone watching. As Ezra Klein put it, “He moves like a 72-year-old man because he is a 72-year-old man.” And as with most debates especially one pretty much devoid of any noteworthy substance it’s the candidates’ images that will affect viewers’ opinions the most. In that respect, McCain didn’t help himself by repeatedly doing and saying things that, frankly, made him seem even older than he already appears. Here are the top five moments:
5. “That one.” Only because we don’t really know what McCain meant last night when he referred to Obama as “that one” instead of, say, “Senator Obama,” “Barack,” “Barack Obama,” “my opponent” — really, anything — does this land at No. 5. But regardless of what he intended, a common reaction is that McCain sounded like a cranky old man scolding a misbehaving child.
4. Leaving the floor. After the debate finished, both McCain and Obama worked the crowd to shake hands with members of the audience. But McCain departed after a few minutes, leaving the entire place to Obama, who continued to meet and take photos for what seemed like another half hour. Why would McCain allow Obama to soak up the TV coverage of that scene — much of which continued on cable news long after the debate was over — all by himself? Our guess is that he was just pooped after standing and walking for most of the debate.
3. Walking in front of the TelePrompTer. Not that it was really his fault, but as he and Obama converged at the center of the stage to shake hands as Tom Brokaw concluded the debate, McCain ambled right in front of the TelePrompTer. “And you’re in the way of my script there, if you will move,” Brokaw chuckled as he tried to crane his head around McCain’s obstructing body. Not a huge issue, but another example of McCain and technology just not getting along in this world.
2. Herbert Hoover. Criticizing Obama’s tax policies, McCain reminded the audience that “the last president to raise taxes during tough economic times was Herbert Hoover, and he practiced protectionism as well, which I’m sure we’ll get to at some point.” We’re not sure portraying Obama as a modern-day Herbert Hoover will make a great impact on people born after the Depression.
1. Listing priorities. The moment that truly jumped out at us was when Brokaw asked the candidates to list three issues — health care, energy, and entitlement reform — in order of their priority. McCain went first, but needed Brokaw to repeat the three items he had to put in order, and wrote them down as Brokaw said them again. McCain started with entitlement reform, but sauntered back to his desk to glance at the sheet before moving on to energy. And it seemed that he took another peek at his notes once more before briefly moving to the topic of health care. Take a look: