I'll admit that initially I thought Obama's performance was a touch lackluster on Friday night, but upon reflection and synthesis he did just fine. The areas in which he stumbled a bit can be honed and refined. He didn't give anything big away, or have any You Tube moments. Neither did McCain... or at least, not exactly.
When comparing McCain to George W. Bush, one of the ironies is that McCain is far more eloquent and able to articulate a point than Bush II ever was. Now, I haven't seen McCain debate in awhile, but there's an element of his personality that really hit home with me on Friday: McCain is not someone you would want to have a beer with.
Granted, it's absurd that "have a beer with" is even a litmus test for political candidates, but it's there, and we have to deal with it. That said, McCain is a nasty curmudgeon. While there may have been a consensus that Bush II wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, he was a likable, affable fellow, and his contrived "folksy" ways were easier to see as byproducts of his "silver spoon jingo-jango" personality.
In McCain vs. Obama it's all about contrast, not just in policy but in affect and the physical. Obama stands tall, looks McCain in the eye (or tries to), and speaks with intelligence, eloquence, and respect. McCain on the other hand is cramped up behind that podium, refuses to look at his opponent, and exudes an air of contempt for even having to be in that room, as if it's self-evident that he should be given the Presidency and it's an insult that he should have to make the case to the American people.
In short, McCain comes off as an asshole.
I'm sure his handlers will be working hard on getting him to change his demeanor, but the problem is it's not like his nastiness is a nervous tic. It's not something unintentional, like Obama's occasional stuttering problem (which is a sign that someone's thinking as they talk, which I fully endorse). McCain's nastiness is part of who he is, and any attempt to try and reign that in will likely come off as stilted and awkward in execution.
At the end of the day, McCain is on the defensive now more than he ever has been, and his conflicting advisers and his own instincts keep handing him ever-increasing lengths of rope.