I once asked John McCain why Al Gore lost the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000. His answer was simple: the debates. It was McCain’s belief that three different Gores showed up for the three debates (who can forget the rouge-cheeked “Ronald Reagan” Gore?), which proved unsettling to voters.
During this debate season, we did not have three different McCains. We had two tepid, placating McCains, offering pleasant, affable commentary carefully chosen not to upset anyone, especially his opponent, before the “real” McCain appeared last night. The most passionate moment in McCain’s campaign so far was the moving, from-the-gut call-to-arms at the end of his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention—the fighter calling his fellow citizens to his cause. That was what we saw in the third presidential debate—McCain the fighter taking it to Barack Obama, who looked on the defense most of the night.
There were campaign-defining lines (“I am not President Bush!”), zingers (“that old washed-up terrorist,” meaning William Ayers), and personal digs (“who has never been south of our border,” meaning Obama). But the most memorable aspect of the debate was McCain’s passion. This was the in-your-face defender of the common man—one journalist once called him Citizen McCain—who was willing to lay into Obama in defense of all the Joe the Plumbers across America, who are not keen on ideas like a redistribution of wealth. Had the real McCain shown up for the first two debates how different his campaign may be today.
Check out other opinions on the debate from The Daily Beast team.