McCain the Drama Queen fronts for debate

Having failed to save Wall St, John McCain turned up to the first Presidential debate, where he intended to be all along. Now his biggest worry could be his choice for V-P.

John McCain turned up to the first presidential debate in Mississippi - surprise, surprise. After all the histrionics and drama (is he the new Drama Queen, to match his running mate Beauty Queen?) of putting his campaign on ice to parachute in to Washington and save capitalism, McCain fronted.

He is a high stakes gambler (exhibit one: Sarah Palin. More on that later). But his gamble on being enshrined as the economic guru failed big time. After being asked to "butt out" and "get out of town" by those whose job it is in Washington to deal with the financial crisis, he announced that he was available to debate after all. In fact, an advertisement on the Wall St Journal's website this morning had the enticing headline that "McCain Wins Debate". Remember this was at a time when he was playing hard to get with the Debate Commission and the Obama Campaign as to whether he would or would not even be there.

Well he was - with a demeanour that appeared sneering and condescending, in contrast to Obama's way too nice. Neither was a clear cut winner. There was no knock-out blow. There was no Lange "I can smell the uranium on your breath"  Oxford Union moment.

There was much cringe-making talk about the troops who have lost their lives without ownership on McCain's part of the politics behind the war in Iraq. McCain made much of a wristband given him by the mother of a soldier who had been killed, with a plea to not let her son have died in vain. Counter-punch from Obama was a matching band from a mother who asked that no other mother be asked to make the same sacrifice. It was all discomforting, but a stalemate. When Obama finally had the guts to confront McCain on his having sung "bomb, bomb Iran" to the music of the Beach Boys, McCain went back to the topic of veterans.

We sure learned that McCain - unlike his new deputy - has punched his passport.  He's been everywhere man, but couldn't pronounce the name of the President of Iran, got the name of the President of Pakistan wrong and called that country a "failed state", then said he wouldn't sit down with a NATO ally, Spain. He did however reel off all the former Soviet states, promising to sweep them all up into the arms of NATO should they want to be there, to hell with the petrogovernment of Russia. No return to the Cold War though, he assured. Trouble is, most people will not have heard of most of the countries he invoked. Despite being told by McCain that he didn't understand what was at stake, Obama's calm style appeared awfully grown-up, and while possibly too professorial for the occasion, he was no way behind in this critical portfolio. The best response from Obama to being told he didn't understand events such as the 'surge' was to continue mentioning the word 'Bush'. That, he hopes, the country will understand. There was no master/novice foreign policy gap going on here.

The debate was supposed to focus on foreign policy...but given the Washington melt down, money had to be dealt with first, and the problem for dueling candidates facing such a gaping hole in the family cheque-book, neither could really tell how their list of election promises would be curtailed to fit the new reality of capitalism's scary demise. Obama said he would have to put some things on drip feed, McCain said freeze everything except aid to veterans.

In terms of straight body language, McCain appeared contemptuous and wouldn't look at Obama. Obama was too much in agreement and possibly his differences were therefore not clearly articulated. The toughest guy on the stage was McCain. The guy with the grace and poise was Obama. Americans sure have a real choice ahead of them.

The day had, however, been one of chaos emenating from the McCain campaign, which seemed to have sorely mistaken motion for action over the financial crisis.  The sort of action/motion that was being suggested for his deputy will be of equal concern to the camp.

McCain referred to her in the debate as the type of maverick to match his maverick. Note to McCain: just putting on the big jumpsuit with "M" on the front does not qualify as maverick. After Palin's excruciating interview with Katie Couric - "our neighbours are foreign countries" and associated Bushisms - her ratings continue to plunge. Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker labelled Palin as out of her league and needing to leave the ticket to save McCain. Parker's conclusion, "if bull...t were currency, Palin could bail out Wall St by herself". I suppose that's a version of maverick. In six days, Palin is due to debate against Joe Biden for the crown of most likely Vice President. The question is, will she still be on the ticket then? If so, that will be a debate not to be missed. Depending on your political persuasion, Kleenex will be required.