So Romney won Round One: But I Don’t Care

A CNN poll this morning confirms what the pundits were saying last night: Romney was the winner of round one. The survey shows that 67% of viewers believed Romney to be the winner.

But my question is, how much do these debates really matter? They can galvanize and inspire a base around a candidate when they do well, they can serve as a wake-up call for a candidate when they do poorly (as Obama supporters hope will happen here), and they offer independents and undecideds and opportunity to tilt one way or the other. But for the most part, the psychological phenomenon of “confirmation bias” (thanks for that, Shane Moe), means most of us have already made up our minds.

There’s a curious thing about debates: If you’ve ever taken a debate class or ever debated in college you know one thing: Winning a debate does not mean you actually believe the positions you take, and it certainly doesn’t mean you are going to act on the positions you take. It means you’ve come prepared for that debate and have argued well, persuasively, etc. It means you’ve embodied well—-convincingly– the positions you’ve taken for at least that moment in time.

Now, none of that is meaning-less. We want our presidents to be able to hold their own in an argument, to sound “presidential,” to be able to think on their feet, to be in command of the “facts,” to have clear positions, policies and vision, and–that all-important element of American politics–to be likable. And the level of sophistication and “presidentiality” last night impressed me in a way that recent past debates haven’t.

But what struck me last night (as it did most everyone else) was Obama’s failure to hit on Romney’s most vulnerable spot: his 47% gaffe. Here we have a presidential candidate who (when he assumes the cameras are off) seems to despise half the country’s population; a candidate who seems to lack compassion for the poor and the “down-and-out” and who does not seem to understand the disparate realities created by privilege versus disadvantage and marginalization. And yet, in this debate, he spoke eloquently about how states should “craft” their own policies to care for their poor. Obama’s problem was that he did not seize on the opportunity to note the disparity between what was said in the public, national debate and what was said at the $50,000/plate fundraiser. “The poor? You care about the poor? Since when?” That’s all he would have needed to say.

I know there are conservative solutions for dealing with poverty and I understand the pro-capitalist argument for encouraging responsibility and self-initiative. “You can give a man a fish, or you can teach him to fish,” and all that. And there are surely problems with the welfare system as it stands. But as a Christian who leans democrat and an Obama supporter myself. to be forthright, I can’t get the notion out of my head, said by many people in a variation of ways, that the test of the moral health of a democracy is in how it treats its weakest members. The bottom line, for me, is that we need a backstop for the disenfranchised and backgrounded of society. While ultimately I don’t trust any politician to be the answer to society’s problems, if the “weakest member” moral test is a good criterion, I frankly trust Obama more than Romney–regardless of the winner of this debate. But maybe that’s just my confirmation bias at work.

About Kyle Roberts
  • Frank

    Yes it is your confirmation bias.

    Welcome to the White House President Romney!

  • Susan

    Of course you don’t care who won, because your candidate lost! If Obama had won, you’d be gloating. And your phrase about a democracy being measured by how it treats its weakest members is true. For the disabled, elderly and those unfit to care for themselves, I think we do a pretty good job, although there is always room to improve. But for those who continue to “cheat” the system, or those who decide to turn their backs on education, or a way to help themselves out of poverty, we owe them nothing more than what is already in place.

  • GR

    If the next two presidential debates go like the first, President Obama will learn the lesson JFK taught Richard Nixon in 1960. Style and image count for 90% of the viewer’s impression and substance may reach 10%. The President looked rusty and lackluster. Maybe four years of this sapped his energy, but two more performances like that and he will follow the route of Jimmy Carter and GHW Bush.

  • Dave Mowers

    While I am a committed moderate (and unhappy with both options), I can say that President Obama’s rhetoric about caring for “the least of these” only rings true for certain populations. So long as his administration continues using unmanned drone strikes to kill both US citizens and non-US citizens without due process of law, any kind of support for the President’s supposed valuation of human life seems fraught to me.

    • Dave Mowers

      Obviously, those drone strikes are all happening in foreign nations, regardless of whom they target – they are clearly not targeting domestically located US citizens in that manner.

      Some of those foreign nations are ones with whom we are not actually at war, for whatever that’s worth (Pakistan).

    • Mike

      Amen! Drone strikes just make us better terrorists than the “terrorists” we’re killing (along with whomever happens to be near them when we decide to kill them).

    • Mel

      I couldn’t agree more with your feelings about the drone strikes. Yet, I think it’s a step in the right direction, rather than growing the military. I really wish Obama didn’t use drones, but it’s a better evil than pumping more money into the military to go to more wars and kill more people. I think it will be easier to move away from war and military action if we shrink the military and (unfortunately) use drones for a period than expecting a bulging military to just disappear and stop fighting wars.

    • Kyle Roberts

      Thanks, Dave, for commenting. I understand your point. Drone strikes make me queasy. I suppose I’m realistic enough to know that on this side of the Eschaton, I don’t trust any president, no matter the party, to dissociate themselves from the industrial military complex which has become such a tragic part of imperial life. I suppose what I’m talking about here is a “lesser of evils,” sort of thing. Given Romney’s stated enthusiasm for the military budget, I’d feel better about a second Obama term in this respect more than I would a Romney first term.

  • PJ Anderson

    I’m an independent, pretty middle of the road, voter. I must say that it is absolutely hilarious to watch and see the various ways committed Republicans or Democrats spin events to attempt to further bolster support for their candidate.

    Take away the rhetoric and points and both groups sound exactly the same.

    • Kyle Roberts

      Do you think there are no substantive, strategic differences, even on matters like health care access?

      • PJ Anderson

        Did you read what I wrote?

        In elections there are differences, when it comes to governing those rhetorically embellished differences suddenly die the death of a thousand compromises in the first day. There are differences, they just don’t matter. My point is that if you remove the “talking points” and listen to the rhetoric of truly committed supporters of either party they sound exactly the same. Your post, and subsequent comments, help show this. Just remove your Democratic talking points and issues and then insert pet Republican issues and you sound the same. This is why politics is foolishness of the highest degree.

        You want to do something about the problems we have? Fine, lets all begin by agreeing we shouldn’t spend a billion dollars on a pointless contest for an office, devote that money to helping real people, and begin to change the world. Neither party is equipped to do this and, truth be told, they rejoice in their obsfucation. Neither party actually wants to help, or hurt, they just want the power (well, the illusion of power.)

  • Laurel

    “if the “weakest member” moral test is a good criterion, I frankly trust Obama more than Romney–regardless of the winner of this debate.”
    You’ve forgotten about the unborn babies that continue to be killed.

  • Glen McGraw

    The debates are a show. In fact, most of what any politician says during a campaign is measured for effect and has little to do with how they feel or what they will do. Each word is meadured and calculated to win an election. It would seem reviewing their voting records would be a better look into their true opinions. Yet in this day and age, even those can be tainted by lobbyists and political “horse-trading.”

    In the end we are left with trying to do the best we can to pick which candidate best represents us. Like some of you, I think we are left to chose between two candidates who are not the best of either party. Regardless, there will be plenty of work for Christians to do working with “the least of these.”

  • http://theoldadam.com/ Steve Martin

    The bigger the government, the smaller our freedom.

    The Founders had it it right. And they knew that eventually it would probably go away (our freedoms).

    There’s really only one Hope for us, and it’s not in either one of these guys…or any politician.

    But I’ll still vote.

    - theoldadam.com

  • Bert Bert Bert

    Classic liberal fallacy: If it should be done, it should be done by the government. If a society should take care of it’s vulnerable, why does that imply the government should do it?

    I also really agree with the abortion comment. What’s more vulnerable than a baby who is born alive after surviving an abortion? Obama fought against legislation that would have protected them in Illinois with the Born Alive Infant Protection Act.

  • Bert Bert Bert

    Oh – and don’t forget is opposition to the partial birth abortion ban, even when it included a “health of the mother” clause. These are two of the most morally repugnant and godless positions I could imagine.

  • Bobby B.

    The President may have displayed an act of religious devotion during the debate. Expert lip readers may offer a more accurate transcript, but it looked like Mr. Obama was praying while Mr. Romney was speaking. I think he was saying, “God, get me outta here.”

  • Bert Bert Bert

    One more thing, Kyle. You say, “Obama’s problem was that he did not seize on the opportunity to note the disparity between what was said in the public, national debate and what was said at the $50,000/plate fundraiser. “The poor? You care about the poor? Since when?” That’s all he would have needed to say.” First, I like how you set the context to make Romney sound like he’s evil because he was at an expensive fundraiser. But Obama has had as many of those expensive fundraisers as Romney, if not more. He gets more from lawyers, gets more from Wall Street, gets more from the glitterati in Hollywood… Second, by all accounts Romney is a tremendously generous and compassionate man, and even the Obama camp has recognized that. He just doesn’t agree with your liberal presumption (that I noted above) that “It should be done” means “The government should do it.” Compare the amounts (in percentages of income, not just dollars) that the two men have given away. You’re just regurgitating the old liberal bromide that Republicans are blue-bloods and Democrats are common working folk. You know, like John Kerry and such. Did you know that the Democrats in Congress have higher per person net worth than the Republicans? When will this ridiculous myth die? (I suppose the answer is, Never, so long as people like you keep splurting it out.)

    • Mike

      Bert Bert Bert,
      Excellent insights in all respects. I concur with each comment you’ve made so well.

    • Kyle Roberts

      On the issue of Romney’s generous giving, you might take a look at this essay: http://www.thenation.com/blog/170105/romneys-ungenerous-donations#

      He may very well be a “compassionate and generous” man, but as a voter who doesn’t know him personally, I have to go on what I hear and read, and the policies he promotes, not about what I think I might know about his heart. Frankly, my Reformed, theological background makes it hard for me to believe that if we just taxed people far less, suddenly they would run out in masses and support the poor, fund housing for the homeless, and set up a health-care system for those who cannot afford it. I don’t doubt that some would–perhaps even many–but I think it’s not a bad bet to assume that most would probably just keep and use the extra money for themselves. Too often even the church acts this way–how much money do we put towards institutional self-preservation rather than toward actually feeding the poor? Not to say the government behaves completely righteously with our tax money or that there is no institutional waste, but I just think that strategically it’s a better option for a society to pool its resources in support of the common good and in relief of the down-and-out and marginalized. Feel free to think differently.

      • Bert Bert Bert

        Big surprise – you found a hit piece that spins his giving just the way you would have wanted. However did you do it?

        You never addressed the slaughter of millions of babies either, or made a positive case that Obama is personally the more generous of the two (which was my point).

        And couldn’t your anthropology lead you to conclude NOT to trust government with such things? That’s how the founders of our country thought about it – that because of sin we need a smaller government; you claim that because of sin we need a bigger government. (Note I said you CLAIM so, not that you ARGUE so.) And you repeat the false dichotomy again: if I oppose larger government involvement I must be in favor of NOT pooling resources. Wrong. I’m also in favor of certain similar goals, but think they should be handled privately.

        So basically, your response was comprised of a tu quoque, some spin, and some irrelevant theses.

  • James

    You claim to be a “Christian Democrat” which is something of any oxymoron. For Obama government is religion and he is god….so unless you’re following a new interpretation of the word “christian” that I’m not familiar with, I think you may be a little off target.

    • Silas

      The notion that it is an oxymoron to be both a Christian and a democrat is about as ridiculous as the claim that somehow the Christian ‘God’ is a republican. Christianity is political, no doubt, but the sort of politics it calls for transcends and exceeds the current American political spectrum. The idea that government is religion makes little sense to me. President Obama has made it clear that he believes that government should have an active role in the collective effort for the sake of the common good (a thoroughly Christian principle, to be sure!), but this is a far cry from identifying himself as divine or government as religion. In fact, Obama’s political theology is remarkably Augustinian (Cf. the City of God). It’s one thing to disagree with Obama or with Kyle, but it is another thing altogether to suggest that to be a Christian, one might always wear political red, is quite another, and a dangerous one, at that.

  • Craig

    “I can’t get the notion out of my head, said by many people in a variation of ways, that the test of the moral health of a democracy is in how it treats its weakest members.”

    Assuming this land of opportunity is a near-perfect meritocracy, conservatives like Romney tend to think the weakest members of society deserve their poverty. Since giving to people what they deserve is morally acceptable, conservatives think we’re doing just fine on this score. I’m not saying this view isn’t idiotic; I’m just saying that this often is their view.

  • John I.

    Given that the disparity between the rich and poor increased under Obama’s reign, it’s hard to make the argument that he is for the poor. He’s for being reelected, and part of such a large multi-billion dollar machine that he owes as much to various corporate interests as Romney does.

    BTW, the debates do seem to make a difference, as post debate there has been a measurable and significant shifting in voting preference for Romney (and historically debates have usually had such an effect).

    It’s rather simplistic to want an election to be based on defeating a candidate because of a single gaffe made at a partisan meeting at which the candidate was trying to garner support. I suggest it’s better to look at someone’s track record–like that of Romney who actually managed to bring a statewide healthcare plan that was not divisive nor shoved down people’s throats like the current Obamacare, and which actually has been helping the less advantaged.

    Further, if I wanted to find someone who understood the nature of faith, and who had a faith that shaped their character over the long term, I wouldn’t look to Obama. He only joined a Christian church after he began to have political ambitions and he does not seem to ever have been that committed to his previous faith (Islam). Romney, on the other hand, has consistently lived out the tenets of his faith and multiple stories have been told about actions that he took because he believed that those actions were the proper outgrowth of his faith.


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