NASHVILLE -- Barack Obama and John McCain left the evil ghosts of their pasts, Bill Ayers and Charlie Keating, at home during their second presidential debate Tuesday night.
Though Ayers and Keating figured in much of the sniping in the past days, their names were never said during the 90-minute matchup at Belmont University in Nashville. The debate was billed as a town hall, but it turned out to be a hybrid with moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC News getting in a good share of the questions, supplementing queries from "real people." Brokaw had trouble wrangling his unruly debaters, who ignored time limits and other debate rules.
Athletically prowling the stage, Obama looked better than McCain. The camera shots did not treat McCain well. He looked disheveled, with one button closed on his coat, awkwardly, taking notes with his Sharpie. Nonverbal communication counts for much, and the visual contrast was obvious: Obama, 47, just looked in better shape than McCain, 72, so if you have doubts about Sarah Palin . . . you get my drift.
But if you like hearing specifics -- even if you disagree -- then McCain had the far better night as they clashed on taxes and health-care plans.
"You know, nailing down Sen. Obama's various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall,'' said a frustrated McCain, who could have used the analogy a few times.
With the economic crisis having grown worse since the first debate Sept. 26 at the University of Mississippi, McCain came to the debate with a new plan to help people refinance their mortgages to stay in their homes. The government would go out and buy bad mortgages and write new loans based on the newly devalued real estate.
Asked who they would pick as their next Treasury secretary -- surely something Obama could have anticipated because he has been asked this -- McCain said Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor and Meg Whitman, the former eBay boss. Obama agreed that Buffett may be a good choice (Buffett's daughter is a major Obama supporter) and did not offer another name.
In all, a sedate debate, with no Sarah Palin sizzle. And because there was no game-changer that I saw for McCain, Obama continues on his trajectory towards winning the White House.