Fresh from mocking Sarah Palin and her supporters on Tuesday, reporter Patrick Healy analyzed the third and final presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama and came up with "Pressing All the Buttons, McCain Attacks, but Obama Stays Steady," in which he found McCain"inconsistent and testy" and his smile and eyes "a little strange."
Healy said McCain got off to a good start but started going downhill as soon as the talk turned to Obama's relationship with the domestic terrorist William Ayers.
Senator John McCain was in a groove early in the presidential debate on Wednesday night, looking Senator Barack Obama in the eye and chiding him over taxes, over his backbone in standing up to Democrats and over the Obama campaign's portrayal of Mr. McCain as the second coming of George W. Bush.
It looked like Mr. McCain might, just might, raise the level of his game in throwing Mr. Obama off his - Mr. McCain's essential goal 20 days before the election, as he seeks a comeback in the face of declining poll numbers in battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Virginia.
But then Mr. McCain began to undercut his own effort to paint Mr. Obama as just another negative politician. Mr. McCain grew angry as he attacked Mr. Obama over his ties to William Ayers, the Chicago professor who helped found the Weather Underground terrorism group. Suddenly, Mr. McCain was no longer gaining ground by showing command on the top issue for voters, the economy; he was turning tetchy over a 1960s radical.
"The facts are facts and records are records," Mr. McCain said, refusing to let the issue go. "He had a long association with him - it's the fact that all, all of the details need to be known about." A few breaths later, as part of the same answer, Mr. McCain returned to the economy and the importance of creating jobs.
It seemed as if Mr. McCain was veering from one hot button to another, pressing them all, hoping to goad Mr. Obama into an outburst or a mistake that would alter the shape of the race in its last three weeks.
Mr. McCain, after starting off comfortably, seemed increasingly inconsistent and testy as the debate wore on. At one point he challenged Mr. Obama about whether he had ever stood up to leaders in his party - reflecting the concern among many voters that a President Obama and a Democratic-led Congress would impose one-party rule on the nation.
Mr. McCain was more animated Wednesday night than he had been at the two other debates, though not always to his benefit in the split-screen presentation of television. His voice turned edgy at times, as when talking about Obama campaign attack advertisements, and his frozen smile and wide eyes - which blinked frequently and distractingly at times - seemed a little strange.