Presidential debates are somewhat of a waste of time. Hardened partisans on either side will never be swayed to vote for the other guy by a presidential debate. That cuts out about 45% on either side. At the most these things are geared to entice between 6-10% of the people whose votes are still up for grabs. That sounds like a big prize. The problem is what you have to go through to win it.
Candidates can’t attack their opponent too aggressively or they’ll look like a bully. But if an opponent lands too many barbs on them, they come off looking weak or appear as though they don’t care. They can’t sound too smart or people think they’re out of touch. They can’t sound too confident or people will think they are arrogant. They have to sound prepared but not canned. They have to connect with the moderator, the people in the audience, and the millions watching on television. It’s really an impossible task. That being said, here’s my take on the 2nd presidential debate.
Obama won last night’s debate by the same margin of victory that Romney won the first. He won on substance and ideas, and he won on style and manner. What really surprised me was that he also won on personal appeal. No way to spin it, the president did his campaign a lot of good last night.
What I was looking for from Romney last night was the details to follow up his strong first debate. He painted in large brush strokes the first time, this time I thought he would fill in some of the facts on the plan but he never did. I came away thinking Romney will literally do and say anything to get elected. In fairness the president would too, the only difference is the president can’t. He has a record that he cannot run away from. It’s the fundamental nature of incumbency. The president cannot run from his record. So the president ran on his record last night, and made a really strong case.
The hardest thing of all during a debate is to know who is telling the truth. I think the only real way is to read this stuff constantly for years, stay up on all of the issues, and then you can spot the fakes. But, it’s much harder than one might think.
For instance, Ex: Romney’s answer on drilling on federal land. Romney said,
“Well, let’s look at the president’s policies, all right, as opposed to the rhetoric, because we’ve had four years of policies being played out. And the president’s right in terms of the additional oil production, but none of it came on federal land. As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands, and in federal waters.”
To which everyone listening said, “Geez Obama, what’s your problem.” Then the president explained what really happened. He said,
“Here’s what happened. You had a whole bunch of oil companies who had leases on public lands that they weren’t using. So what we said was you can’t just sit on this for 10, 20, 30 years, decide when you want to drill, when you want to produce, when it’s most profitable for you. These are public lands. So if you want to drill on public lands, you use it or you lose it.”
To which everyone then says, “Oh, well that was a pretty smart move.”
Romney lost on this tactic over and over last night. When he distorted reality the president was prepared to rebut. At one point even the moderator called Romney out on a distortion concerning the word terror and Benghazi. The transcript tells the true tale making it clear he saw it as part of many “acts of terror.”
In the end Romney lost the debate because the glass half-empty, sky is falling narrative is losing its appeal, if it ever had any, with independent voters. From the falling unemployment rate to new housing starts, consumer confidence to the stock market – all of the arrows are pointing up right now. You can’t win on bashing an approach that at least seems to be working.
As a Christian, I think in terms of hope. I think in terms of possibilities if we work together. Working together is a punch line to the Republicans in congress and it seems to be for Governor Romney who spent the whole night talking about how terrible America is right now. For the past 4 years everything the Republicans have done was meant to stall, thwart, embarrass, obfuscate, and oppose. Romney did very little in this debate, or the previous one, to convince me that he’d be anything more than Bush III.
Here’s where both sides lost me: Nobody talked about defense spending. Nobody talked about an undersized, underfunded state department. Nobody talked about drones & civilian deaths in Pakistan. Nobody talked about the environment. Nobody talked about poverty. Only Obama talked about education and he had to squeeze it in on a question that was not about education. I was disappointed with the lack of attention these issues got, because they really matter to me.