Most trials are decided on the jury's assessment of the credibility of the witnesses. Judges always instruct them to use their common sense and experience, and consider a laundry list of factors in determining credibility. Two of the most important are the witness' demeanor, and how his testimony fits with the other evidence in the trial.
The evidence in the "trial" of last night's debate included the fact that Barack Obama quite obviously had an extensive knowledge of world affairs. His professorial intellect, for which he has sometimes been criticized, was well suited to this debate, and he was calm and fluent in setting forth his thoughts on a world in turmoil. He was not flashy or pompous, or, God forbid, too eloquent. His demeanor was serious, purposeful, and
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appropriate to the situation. In point of fact, he was "Presidential" in both his knowledge and presentation of the facts.
Against this background,McCain kept saying that Obama did not "understand" many of the things being discussed. This criticism simply did not jibe with what was going on in the room. Barack might be wrong about things, but he clearly had a deep understanding about what was going on in the world. It simply did not ring true that Barack was the naive rookie that McCain was suggesting, and to paint him as such, only served to reinforce Barack's core point that McCain was "out of touch."
On the demeanor front, McCain came across as petulant and combative. His claim that Barack was the one who was too stubborn and inflexible was at odds with Barack's "testimony", and Barack brushed it off with a highly appropriate chuckle. (It was Barack's version of Reagan's famous "There you go again..." line in the debate with Mondale). The fact that McCain never looked at Barack only served to reinforce the sense that McCain had things backwards. He was the stubborn one. He was the inflexible one. He was the one who would rather give our adversaries the silent treatment than try to actually resolve our differences with them.
So who won this trial? In the past two elections, the nation voted for the "tough-guy," which would suggest McCain had the upper hand. But no trial occurs in a vacuum. McCain’s "testimony" was simply not credible. It was at odds with the facts, and he delivered it in a manner that was too similar to what most Americans want to change from the last eight years. Barack took the high road and got the upper hand. He looked to be McCain’s equal on the facts, and his superior on Presidential demeanor. Having been through so much, our national jury pool has evolved. The "tough-guy" has lost his appeal, and Barack Obama was credible in reassuring us with his command of the facts and himself, that he really could be the change that we need.