First presidential debate was a night of contrasts

Associated Press | 10/1/2008, 4:49 a.m.

Obama, in turn, agreed with McCain that presidents must be prudent in what they say about foreign policy. Then he questioned the credibility of McCain on that principle, given that he “has threatened extinction for North Korea” and “sung songs about bombing Iran.”

In 1994, McCain said that he knew what North Korean leaders understood “and that is the threat of extinction.” He also once answered a question about military action against Iran with the chorus of the Beach Boys classic “Barbara Ann.”

On questions of international affairs, McCain showed his mastery of facts and names and history, while Obama was crisp and commanding.

It was McCain who struggled with the name of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though he clearly knows the pronunciation and spoke it flawlessly minutes later.

Given the stakes for Obama, what would the fallout have been had he stumbled?

The Republican also frequently provided a history lesson, talking of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower before the D-Day invasion, President Reagan’s decision in the 1980s to keep troops in Lebanon, Richard M. Nixon’s outreach to China in the 1970s, and his own Vietnam service.

Such comments were a double-edged sword: they underscored his experience but also reminded people of his senior-citizen status.

Liz Sidoti covers the presidential campaign for The Associated Press and has covered national politics since 2003.

(Associated Press)