Do you prefer someone who has learned his lines well and can speak in a clear, engaging presidential manner but who doesn't seem to grasp the complexities? Or do you prefer someone who stumbles in his speech and falls into a wincable mawkishness at times but who has a thorough grasp of the issues based on firsthand experience and whose opinions are formed not by a bank of advisers but by himself?
My choice is the latter, but for one thing. At times McCain sounded like he was running for Secretary of State or ambassador to the UN. He talked as if he wanted to be in the trenches, not running the show.
I support Obama because I think the major challenge ahead is to reform the US regulatory framework, and McCain's history as a deregulator and free-marketer make him unsuitable for the task. Let's face it; after Bush's latest maneuver of siphoning $700 billion more out of the treasury there's not going to be any money to do any of the shining reforms of either candidate, and the difference in the candidates' health care policies are moot as neither is possible. The next administration is about cutting spending, managing crises, and correcting bureaucratic problems. It's about the SEC, the world monetary system, food and safety, repairing damage in every sector of government. It's like what Jean Chretien faced times ten, and nobody is going to applaud the administration for the cuts they make, no matter how hard they try to make the cuts fair and humane. (Rae Days, anyone?)
Although I support Obama, I wish his foreign policies weren't so right wing and hawkish. I wanted to agree with him on Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and Georgia, but I couldn't. He perpetuates US policies that have been harming other countries for years. He didn't seem to have any notion that his policies towards Pakistan might destabilize the country and turn it into another failed state. He didn't seem to have any inkling that a greater US military presence in Afghanistan might create even greater local resistance against an invading force. McCain spoke of winning the hearts and minds of Pakistanis and being very careful to avoid being a bully: he seems to get it. Obama doesn't get it - or more precisely, the advisers who created his foreign policy don't get it - or more likely, Obama's advisers created his foreign policies for domestic political consumption, not real world effectiveness.
This debate was about foreign policy (supposedly), and that's McCain's area of strength. In my book he won hands down on content, if not style. He won't have the advantage in the next two debates.
But Obama risks alientating some of his supporters by failing to live up to his progressive claims. There is not a strong enough distinction between the policies of the two candidates. When voters don't feel that either side represents their views, they may opt for the candidate with the greater experience.
Increasingly I feel that neither candidate is qualified to be president. They're both great senators, but work in the senate is nothing like the executive role the president has. They are both experienced politicians and McCain is the more experienced legislator, but neither of them know how to manage a giant bureaucracy. When I read Bob Woodward's books about the Bush White House, the thing that struck me the most was the dysfunction of its organization: the lack of qualified leadership at the top resulted in second-line commanders making power grabs and confused lines of command, even in the military in Iraq; the administration was simply unable to work effectively (as has continued with this shameful plan for a Wall Street bail-out). I am very concerned that in that sense both Obama and McCain would be "more of the same."