Just when I had called all TV debates meaningless, Jim Lehrer and his friends offer a vastly improved format designed to encourage more substantial interaction. The new regime was not perfect. Too often, just when the two principals began to find a rhythm, Moderator Lehrer started blowing his whistle and instructing the two contestants to reset for a new line of questioning. Having said that, this was the most fluid and meaningful debate in recent memory.

Some quick thoughts:

1. The so-called Truth Squads are all over McCain and his extemporaneous (I presume) use of Dwight Eisenhower and the Longest Day (following Jim Lehrer's prefatory remarks noting Ike's 1952 quote concerning "national security and solvency").

Some smarties are upset that Johnny Mac called D-Day the "greatest invasion in history" (numerically it was not). Many are jubilantly noting that McCain inaccurately described Ike's famous letter of responsibility (written beforehand in case of failure) as a letter of resignation.

Come on fellas. Is this the best we can do? At worst, this was a harmless error that did not alter McCain's obvious point on accountability. And, arguably, it is a semantic distinction without a difference. It is easy to read that note as a letter of resignation (one old warrior confessed to me that he always saw it as a suicide note). In any event, it is a document speaking to the tradition of falling on one's sword, which is a practice that has fallen severely out of favor in modern culture. It is a long way from "mistakes were made," which illustrated brilliantly McCain's simple assertion.

2. The exchange on the economy was less than revealing. McCain got the best of the debate with his promise to freeze spending, drill offshore, and pursue nukes--but the economy remains Barack Obama's major asset in this campaign. Nothing transpired tonight to alter that basic fact of life.

3. McCain won the battle of the Surge. Obama cannot compete with McCain on the current facts concerning Iraq. Obama repeatedly staggered under the weight of recent events, invoking the specter of Osama bin Laden, evading 2007 by emphasizing the decisions of 2003, and even reminding his audience that Joe (Biden) knows. But again--does any of that really matter right now? Remember when we thought this election was going to be about Iraq?

4. McCain gave a tour de force on foreign affairs knowledge, effortlessly integrating into the conversation unpronounceable names and obscure faraway places. During these riffs, Obama could do little more than furrow his brow and nod his head in a serious way. McCain pounded the point that Obama had no idea or understanding of American foreign relations. I believe him. But, again, does anyone really care about foreign policy experience in this election? My hunch is not so much.

5. I don't have FOX News--but it certainly seems that Obama is dominating the spin on TV (the networks and PBS). The mainstream consensus: draw (or, slight edge for Obama). Considering that this debate was McCain's strong suit, a draw for Obama equals BIG CASINO.

My sense is that McCain did better than the talking heads think right now. We will see how this all plays out over the next forty-eight hours. My guess is the "take away" (the on-again, off-again drama) generated more interest in the debate than we might have seen otherwise; therefore, I would expect some high numbers in re viewers.

My guess: not as bad for McCain as the pundits are predicting-- but, certainly, no dramatic knock down for the maverick.

Revised and extended version of the comments section here.