Obama v Romney: The Not-So-Great Debate

If this were a three round Olympic heavyweight championship, Mitt Romney would be leading Barack Obama on points.

But fortunately for the champion, there are still two rounds to go, and he’s the sort of fighter who likes to win, so he should be able to make a successful comeback.

After watching the debate, I’d have to say the President might have been suffering from a bit of overconfidence and lack of training. Mitt Romney has been training with a Republican Senator once tipped to be his running mate, Rob Portman, who played Obama in the practice sessions. http://bit.ly/QyduO4

Portman also played Obama in sessions with Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, for debates with his Democratic rival. The Senator from the battleground state of Ohio told CNN Romney had a terrific night, and did everything expected of him. Romney now owes the man he passed over as his vice-presidential candidate, and who might also deliver him the crucial prize of Ohio.

The debate started with smiles: Barack Obama wishing his wife in the audience at the University of Denver a happy 20th anniversary, and Romney also congratulating his opponent, and throwing in the line: “I’m sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine, here with me.”

But it soon heated up. First up, the President explained his differences with his Republican rival: “Governor Romney has a perspective that says if we cut taxes, skewed towards the wealthy, and roll back regulations, that we’ll be better off. I’ve got a different view.” Romney hit back hard: “I’m concerned that the path that we’re on has just been unsuccessful. The President has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more — if you will, trickle-down government — would work. That’s not the right answer for America. I’ll restore the vitality that gets America working again.”

It was here I noticed Mr Obama looking down at his notes and not at Mr Romney. Somebody said he missed his teleprompter, but I don’t agree. He was thinking ahead, but forgetting that the cameras were taking two-shots as well. He just didn’t seem to be as engaged as he usually is. I think political commentator and former Clinton campaign manager, James Carville, nailed it on CNN: “It looked like Romney wanted to be there, and President Obama didn’t want to be there.”

I also don’t agree with the headline on the news agency story on the Nine News site on ninemsn: “Romney pummels Obama on jobs, economy.” http://bit.ly/SEm6AN It was not an overwhelming win as it suggests, and as a CNN snap poll showed, with 67 per cent saying Romney won, against only 25 per cent for Obama. The morning after, Chris Cillizza, in his Washington Post blog, The Fix, gave four reasons “Why President Obama was so bad.” They were: He’s not used to being challenged; he was tired; he’s not that good a debater; and he got screwed by Jim Lehrer. Details here:  http://wapo.st/RFaoJu


Tax cuts have become one of the key issues of 2012, and the President pointed out the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans: “Governor Romney’s central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut — on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts — that’s another trillion dollars — and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn’t asked for. That’s $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make, without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of this campaign.”

Again, Romney responded aggressively: “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don’t have a tax cut of a scale that you’re talking about. My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. High-income people are doing just fine in this economy. They’ll do fine whether you’re president or I am. The people who are having the hard time right now are middle- income Americans. Under the president’s policies, middle-income Americans have been buried. They’re just being crushed.”

Sound familiar? It should because Vice-President Joe Biden made the biggest Democratic gaffe of the campaign on the hustings the day before the debate, saying the middle class had been “buried” during the last four years. Oops, Joe, you and Barack have been leading the government for the last four years.

Who’s right, though, on the claims of a $5 trillion tax cut? Here’s Deborah Charles of Reuters: “The Tax Policy Center, a centrist think tank, estimated in March that the Romney plan would cut federal tax revenues by $480 billion in 2015, or just under $5 trillion over 10 years. The center noted its analysis was incomplete because Romney had not said how he would ‘broaden the base’ of taxpayers to help lower rates.” http://reut.rs/QScF4S

Still on taxes, Mitt Romney said this: “I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals … (and) I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle-income families. I will lower taxes on middle-income families.” And Barack Obama came up with a good response: “Well, for 18 months he’s been running on this tax plan. And now, five weeks before the election, he’s saying that his big, bold idea is, ‘Never mind.’ And the fact is that if you are lowering the rates the way you described, Governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class. It’s — it’s math. It’s arithmetic.”

It did get a bit boring at this stage in the debate, until poor Jim Lehrer, one of the great journalists of our times, was reduced to being a timekeeper, trying to get both candidates to shut up and move on to another topic. And in one of the lighter moments, Romney talked about where he would make his spending cuts, and yes, one of them turned out to be the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the public channel showing Lehrer’s NewsHour (also seen on SBS here) and Sesame Street: “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.” That set Twitter on fire, with the hashtag “firedbigbird,” producing many, many tweets, including this one from Brittany Cerny:  “Know why I’m not voting for Romney? Because he’s firing Big Bird.” The morning after (12 hours too late), President Obama told a campaign rally in Denver: “Thank goodness someone is getting tough on Big Bird. We didn’t know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit.” ” http://wapo.st/SAZrcT

The satellite feed I was watching also suffered from a lack of cutaways. There was one of Michelle Obama as her husband wished her happy anniversary, but no shots of the university students who might have been falling asleep at one point.

The debate got a bit lively toward the end when Jim Lehrer asked the candidates their differences on the role of government. The President was eloquent in his historical references: “But as Abraham Lincoln understood, there are also some things we do better together. So, in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, let’s help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad, let’s start the National Academy of Sciences, let’s start land grant colleges, because we want to give these gateways of opportunity for all Americans, because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we’re all going to be better off.”


But Romney’s response was to the point and used the words from the US Constitution on the backdrop behind the candidates: “The role of government: Look behind us. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents. First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means a military second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America’s military.”

Day one of the potential Romney presidency also drew one of Obama’s best responses. As he often does, the Republican promised what he would do on his first day:  “… as president, I will sit on day one — actually, the day after I get elected — I’ll sit down with leaders — the Democratic leaders, as well as Republican leaders, and continue — as we did in my state — we met every Monday for a couple hours, talked about the issues and the challenges in the — in the — in our state in that case.”

The President replied: “Well, first of all, I think Governor Romney’s going to have a busy first day, because he’s also going to repeal Obamacare, which will not be very popular among Democrats as you’re sitting down with them.” (Laughter) A bit more of that, and Barack Obama could have turned the debate around.

And the two closing statements gave the candidates a chance to shine. Barack Obama’s best shot was: “Four years ago, I said that I’m not a perfect man and I wouldn’t be a perfect president. And that’s probably a promise that Governor Romney thinks I’ve kept. But I also promised that I’d fight every single day on behalf of the American people, the middle class, and all those who were striving to get into the middle class. I’ve kept that promise and if you’ll vote for me, then I promise I’ll fight just as hard in a second term.”

But Mitt Romney was again able to outshine the President: “And there really are two very different paths that we began speaking about this evening, and over the course of this month we’re going to have two more presidential debates and a vice presidential debate. We’re talk about those two paths. But they lead in very different directions. And it’s not just looking to our words that you have to take in evidence of where they go. You can look at the record.”

For the record, Mitt Romney won the debate, but he’s not likely to win the election. A revitalised Barack Obama was on the campaign trail the morning after, talking about how the real Romney did not show up for the debate, but “a very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney.” It couldn’t be the real Mitt Romney, the president said, “because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country all year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy, but the fellow onstage last night did not know anything about that. The real Mitt Romney said we do not need any more teachers in the classroom, but the fellow onstage said he loves teachers, can’t get enough of them.” http://wapo.st/SAZrcT

The next debate will be for the V-P candidates on Thursday, October 11 (Friday, October  12, Australian time), featuring the ever “gaffeable” Vice-President Joe Biden versus the usually unflappable Republican Paul Ryan. It should be a beauty.

Only 31 days until the election. Things just got a lot more interesting.

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