Another presidential debate, another teeth-gritting exercise in civic duty. If you missed last night's encounter between Barack Obama and John McCain, there is probably no way you can get the sense of it from the TV excerpts. You needed to see the whole thing to get the flavor, because zingers were few and no knockout punches were scored.
The Town Hall format, which was earlier thought to favor Sen. McCain, didn't liven up the plodding proceedings. Members of the audience were preternaturally solemn and well-behaved, having been ordered to stay on their best behavior. They should have been allowed to let their hair down, which admittedly would have been difficult because it seemed as if an unusually large number of bald people were in attendance.
My final verdict is that the body language on this night was more important than the political language - although, I must say, that if some voters still have the crazy notion that Sen. Obama is some sort of tax-raising socialist, they weren't listening. He did a very good job of claiming the middle, moderate, un-ideological ground.
But the lasting impression is of Sen. Obama looking relaxed, confident and presidential and conversely Sen. McCain doddering around - and there's no polite way of saying it - looking old. At one stage, I couldn't help thinking: "Who's that elderly gentleman wandering about the stage behind Barack? Is he lost? Oh, it's John McCain!"
That unfortunate impression turns the spotlight back onto Sarah Palin, who increasingly gives even thoughtful conservatives pause. Not a great night for John McCain.