Post the second head-to-head debate last evening, several observations can be made. Firstly McCain is in big trouble and he knows it. Secondly, Obama is looking like a winner. And thirdly, in Shakespeare’s lines for Brutus, ‘there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune’; Obama is surfing that tide looking back at McCain struggling to wade through the sand.

America’s economy is in dire straits. The US faces years of slow decline brought on by a combination of laissez-faire economics (the confusion of Friedmanite ideology with political reality, Wall-Street greed, the gutting of regulators) and lack of leadership from the White House. Forget about the ‘American Dream’; the credit boom’s been financed on debt that can’t be repaid. Financial institutions, the ethos of shareholder primacy and the assumption that the market will provide have been exposed as fragile concoctions. Obama, if elected, can take the result as a clear mandate; the voters will have stated that they want more of the ‘New Deal’ and less of the ‘Trickledown’. History is with the Democrats.

McCain’s personality is looking more suspect. His testiness is no longer quirky, it’s off-putting. His contempt for Obama looks like a piqued sense of entitlement. A presidential candidate should be personally ambitious but not predominantly so. The angrier McCain gets, the more Obama gains votes. This generational battle has the a curious role-reversal in play; the cooler head of the younger man contrasts with the arrogance of old age. McCain can’t change this; he is who he is, and that, sadly for the GOP, is part of his campaign failure.

McCain’s jabs at Obama’s lack of experience aren’t landing either; if your ideas aren’t making an impact, if you look embittered and you’re unable to explain why being older makes you wiser, then criticising your opponent for being younger becomes tiresome. Hilary Clinton already tried it and didn’t succeed; why should McCain be any different? Joe Biden’s looking like a very shrewd choice of VP pick indeed for Obama – charges of inexperience against the younger man seem almost totally ineffective now.

Obama has shown that he won’t be ‘swiftboated’. ‘Say I hung around with terrorists, I’ll bring up your corporate felon friendships, say I want to raise taxes, I’ll show how you rolled over for Corparate Queens; surrogate me and I’ll surrogate you. Have Ms Palin come at me, I’ll pour a bucket of dirt over her she’ll never climb out of’. David Ploufee has learnt the lesson from 2000 and 2004; ‘we’re not going to sit back and take it like we did before’. If McCain goes nuclear in the final debate, Obama will probably be ready and it won’t be pretty.

McCain’s best hope now would appear to be a ‘Wag the Dog’ scenario – Iran shoots down a US transporter plane, North Korea does something incredibly stupid or he really, really does know how to catch Bin Laden in the next three weeks. Otherwise when even Charles Krauthammer is betting on an Obama victory, he must know the game is up.