I've obsessively watched all the coverage, and read the pertinent blogs. And I think they almost all miss this most important, very simple thing: Obama is winning these debates because he seems calm, confident, level-headed. And McCain seems unsteady, odd, old. It's that simple, and it's very powerful.
This difference in manner, composure, appearance is absolutely huge right now because, as a Nation, we are freaked out. Panicked. Child-like, in our fears (rational and irrational). And we want a leader who is comforting, inspires confidence, makes us feel less afraid. We want, essentially, a Dad to tell us everything will be all right.
Obama is providing that for many, many people right now, even people who didn't initially like him, who don't want to vote for an African-American, or who may even secretly worry he's really a Muslim. And just as a child feels a combination of reverence and protectiveness towards a parent, so many folks are now adopting those feelings towards Obama.
You see it in the dials used by the networks to monitor reactions of focus groups. I noticed it first in the debate between Palin and Biden. Any time Palin went on the attack against Democrats in Washington, the dials went up, in approval. But when she personally attacked Obama, the dials instantly plummeted. Attack the Democrats, these folks seemed to say, but not our man Obama. (Conversely, Biden didn't get such negative reactions when he attacked McCain).
Same thing tonight. Whenever McCain launched into an attack on Obama — they were fewer tonight than the last debate — the dials went south.
The reason Obama's victory was so overwhelming tonight is that people are making — have made — the leap towards accepting him as their President. Because he makes them feel safer in these economically perilous times. Once you make that leap, you feel pride in your choice, and protective of him. I think McCain and Palin will have a very hard time reversing that.
I would say nearly impossible but for this one, huge, and ominous issue — race. As anyone who has door-knocked or made phone calls for Obama can tell you, there is no shortage of folks, sadly, who will slam a door in your face or angrily hang up the phone after muttering something like "Damned Muslim" or "N——-r".
Even in supposedly progressive, liberal places like San Francisco. I had one, seemingly intelligent elderly man come up to me as I was canvassing for Obama in San Francisco and ask: "Have you looked at Obama's web site? He's a radical Muslim who supports terrorists." A middle aged Asian man drove by as I waved an Obama sign and shouted, almost irrationally a series of obscenities and epithets that I won't reprint here. Scarily, he came back a second time to do it again.
The point is, no matter where you live or what kind of family you have, you probably know someone — a cousin, an Aunt, a neighbor or your Grandfather — who just can't get over the fact that Obama is black. And we don't know how that will play out, ultimately. And as the McCain-Palin camp gets more desperate, it seems likely they will try to tap into this toxic brew.