Now is the time on the internets where we talk about the debates. Who won? I really don't know. The focus groups and quick post-debate polls all seem to have given it to Obama. Today's conventional wisdom seems to say that Obama won by "holding his own" by looking presidential and McCain rather creepily refused to make eye contact with Obama (when McCain wasn't downright testy - see the "horseshit" video here). I especially like the monkey analysis.
But the holding his own business assumes something I'm loath to assume, which is that McCain is some foreign policy wizard. Look, McCain's foreign policy views are pretty banal center-right views and he has no particular insight over any of perhaps several thousand DC residents. When connecting them up with empirical realities, he's actually wrong much of the time. "Holding his own" against McCain during the foreign policy debate is really not that tough for Obama.
If presidential debates matter more for appearances than anything else - and there's good reason to think that's all they do - it seemed to me a wash. With McCain behind in polls and being sunk further by the Palin choice (as her poll numbers take a nose dive), McCain clearly had to pull off a clear win. That he didn't pretty much means that Obama won on appearances. We have to keep in mind, though, that after the past five decades of presidential debates (or maybe going back to Lincoln-Douglas in 1858), it's still unclear what they're truly good for.
However, I saw maybe 20% of the debate. I mean, I watched it. I was there in front of the tv during the whole thing. But I was with a group of people here in DC all talking loudly, yelling at the candidates, getting up to grab a full beer or plate of food, carrying on little side arguments over certain debate points,.... When as a group we did quietly focus in, I thought that - frankly - the debate was a bore.