Finally: Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama squared off against each other in the first debate last night. (Here's a transcript; video of full debate after the jump.) The debate's focus was on foreign policy, but moderator Jim Lehrer opened with a 1952 Dwight Eisenhower quote, "We must achieve both security and solvency. In fact, the foundation of military strength is economic strength," as a way to ask the candidates about their points of view on the economy recovery plan (also known as the bailout). Eventually, both said they felt a plan would be passed (they spent much of the time initially trying to boost their economic visions), but didn't really commit to supporting it.
On Iraq, McCain noted that he supported the surge but Obama said, "John, you like to pretend the war began in 2007 - you talk about the surge. The war started in 2003. At the time, when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong.” McCain: "The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind."
McCain criticized Obama's approach to diplomacy as being naive, snapping, "We sit down with Ahmadinejad, and he says, 'We're going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,' and we say, 'No, you're not'? Oh, please." Obama brought of McCain's Spain gaffe, “He even said the other day that he would not meet potentially with the prime minister of Spain, because he — you know, he wasn't sure whether they were aligned with us. I mean, Spain? Spain is a NATO ally. If we can't meet with our friends, I don't know how we're going to lead the world in terms of dealing with critical issues like terrorism.”
Notably, Obama's running mate Joe Biden spoke with the press to boost Obama. NBC and CNN say that they asked Sarah Palin to speak on McCain's behalf, but she declined leaving...former mayor Rudy Giuliani to praise McCain.
Overall, many believe it was a display of contrasts. Politico noted McCain's aggressiveness and Obama's crispness, "In the end, McCain sounded most often like a trumpet, Obama more like a violin." The NY Times' TV critic Alessandra Stanley thought Obama seemed presidential while McCain was "more charming" if "choppy" while the Washington Post's Tom Shales found it "encouragingly civilized and not flawed with frivolous name-calling" (though it could have been more exciting). And NBC's political director Chuck Todd wrote both candidates left him impressed, but wondered "Who will the voters-viewers punish for what seemed like a completely tone deaf conversation between the two candidates on the economy. Neither candidate emphasized jobs and instead allowed themselves to get bogged down on taxes and spending, two issues that don't rank nearly as high with voters as other economic issues. Bottom line on the economy: they both need work."