For the more than 54 million Americans who passed up a perfectly good Friday night in September 2008 to watch the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, the exchange seemed like a win for Obama.
According to a CBS News/Knowledge Networks poll conducted at the time, 39 percent thought Obama (then a Democratic senator from Illinois) won the first debate; 24 percent gave the nod to McCain (then and now a Republican senator from Arizona); and 37 percent called it a tie (which still may have helped the relatively unknown Obama as the debate was weighted toward foreign policy, supposedly McCain’s strong suit).
But while he may have gotten the most debating points, Obama blew enough smoke to raise global temperatures by several degrees. Debates are forums for signaling how you will govern, laying out ideas for change, and putting your policies up for review. By that standard, President Obama’s time actually running the country have borne little resemblance to his 2008 rhetoric. He has vindicated some of his foreign policy claims (focusing on Osama bin Laden; unfocusing on Iraq). But on what George H.W. Bush used to call “the domestic side,” the last four years have been as punishing for Obama’s truthiness as they have been for the American people.