The general verdict in the New York dailies is that last night's presidential debate was something of a draw, with Obama performing best on the economy and McCain winning an advantage on foreign policy. But the long-term impact of last night's contest depends largely on the evolution of our national economic crisis. If the economy is the main issue on Election Day, then Obama's superior performance on economic matters will give him an important advantage.
Obama's best moment on foreign policy came when he pointed out how utterly mistaken McCain was on the decision to go to war in Iraq. It is that large judgment, and not the tactical decision on the surge, that is the best measure of McCain's fitness to gauge the necessity for war. At the same time, I thought Obama's tough talk on Pakistan made him sound a little trigger happy in that part of the world. But in the end, there didn't seem to be that much difference between them on Pakistan: McCain implied that he'd stage military operations there as well but wouldn't talk about them much.
McCain tried to present himself as the candidate with a firmer grounding in American history, reaching all the way back to World War II, Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan to prop up his candidacy. Obama invoked his dad's enthusiasm for coming to the US to argue that our country was once a beacon to the world.
Yet despite such discussions of history, I don't recall anyone mentioning that Ole Miss, the setting of the debate, saw vicious rioting against James Meredith's effort to integrate the school in 1962. Two died in the riots. One of them was a jukebox repairman, a visitor to the campus out of curiosity, killed by a stray bullet. The other was Paul Guihard, a reporter for Agence France Presse. His body was found in a remote part of the campus with a bullet hole in the back of his head. In all likelihood, he was executed by people who didn't want journalists reporting on resistance to integration.
Equally forgotten in the debate was Senator McCain's involvement with the Keating Five scandal, which fed into the economic disaster of the savings and loan industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s. McCain was investigated but never charged with anything, but the aura of the episode still lingers for anyone who cares to look.
I don't expect future debates to discuss the events that took place at Ole Miss in 1962, but it will be interesting to see if Obama ever brings up McCain and the Keating Five.