Anyone who followed this year’s first Presidential debate would probably agree that President Obama lost the debate. Certainly, many supporters saw Mr. Obama’s debate performance as an aberration from the “real” Barack Obama.
Presidents are never exactly the same when they run for reelection, and when they’ve weathered a first term as challenging as Obama’s – managing two wars, a recession, and a sluggish recovery – it inevitably takes a toll. His 2012 campaign could never be a replica of 2008. The “Change” slogan works well for challengers, but incumbents, obviously, have to argue for continuity. In his case, Obama’s “continuity” argument has been particularly complicated and weighed down by the slow-growing economy.
Romney’s combinations of aggressively battling Mr. Obama while maintaining a “gentlemanly manner” were not quite my expectations. What we did not see at this first debate was Obama’s greatest strength: a charismatic speaker. Instead, we saw a tired, unprepared Obama who as reported, seemed bored.
When Obama did try to push his own agenda Wednesday night, Romney turned the tables.
“But you’ve been president four years,” was his response to Obama’s promise to shave $4 trillion off the deficit with a plan his administration was “putting forward to Congress right now.”
When Romney accused Obama of cutting $716 billion from Medicare to pay for “Obamacare,” the president replied that he “liked” the term Obamacare.
On the flipside, Romney also refused to provide any more specifics on how he would pay for 20 percent, across-the-board tax cuts and military spending increases estimated to come in at $2 trillion, on-top of the $1 trillion leftover Bush cuts, and $5 trillion. On the stump, Romney has promised to close tax loopholes, but would not name the particular deductions he planned to wipe out.
The debate was moderated by Jim Lehrer, the PBS anchor, with whom both candidates tangled over time.
“I had five seconds before you interrupted me.” This is what we need more of from the President. That Barack, “I’m the commander-in-chief-and-how-dare-you-tell-me-I-have-run-out-of-time” Obama.
Both candidates were well equipped with those much-anticipated “zingers.”
When Obama suggested Romney’s declared “love” of teachers was not supported by his budget plan, the challenger was prepared with, “Mr. President,” Romney said, “you’re entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts. All right, I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.”
Obama’s rhetorical possibility to his opponent regarding Romney’s busy first day was another stinger. “Well, first of all,” Obama said, “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.”
The Obama campaign felt good about moments when the president directly addressed voters, and faulted his challenger for being too vague in his plans to replace Healthcare and Wallstreet reform bills.
On the other hand, Romney neglected voters until his closing statement, “Republicans and Democrats both love America,” Romney said toward the end of the 90-minute meeting. “But we need to have leadership, leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together and get the job done and could not care less if it’s a Republican or a Democrat. I’ve done it before. I’ll do it again.”
Though Obama partisans saw a tired Obama, Romney partisans saw an ungrounded Romney. Mr. Romney deceived the American public by presenting a “new” Mitt Romney that had not existed prior to the debate. He denied facts that are public knowledge in order to win favor with voters and boost his chances to become President. Romney showed his dishonesty in such areas as taxes, deficit and healthcare.
So what lies ahead in the future debates? Expect the gloves to come off at the next presidential debate. If President Obama wants to win, he’s going to have to lose the “tired Obama” who showed up onstage at the first debate. As every politician will tell you, even in hard times, Americans want to see a candidate who’s optimistic. On Wednesday, that was Mr. Romney. This suggests to me that the next two debates do not go as well for the “new” Mitt Romney as the first one.