First Presidential Debate: Advantage Romney!

Dear Commons Community,

The first presidential debate came and went last night without any “zingers” or defining moments. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney presented themselves well and knowledgeable.   The entire debate focused mainly on the economy, government spending and deficits.  I was pleased to see that both candidates interjected issues related to education into their responses.  Romney commenting on school choice and Obama on Race to the Top and community colleges.  On these issues, I thought Obama had more to say.  However, the overall evening  was won by Romney who appeared energetic and happy to be at the debate. Obama on the other hand appeared tired and at times seemed to be someplace else.  Chris Matthews of MSNBC, commented afterwards that Obama was “enduring” the debate.  Obama never mentioned the 47 percent, Bain-Capital or any other “hot-button” campaign issues that have generally put the Romney campaign on the defensive.

A New York Times article has a good description of the evening as:

“But for all of the anticipation, and with less than five weeks remaining until Election Day, the 90-minute debate unfolded much like a seminar by a business consultant and a college professor. Both men argued that their policies would improve the lives of the middle class, but their discussion often dipped deep into the weeds, and they talked over each other without connecting their ideas to voters.

If Mr. Romney’s goal was to show that he could project equal stature to the president, he succeeded, perhaps offering his campaign the lift that Republicans have been seeking. Mr. Obama often stopped short of challenging his rival’s specific policies and chose not to invoke some of the same arguments that his campaign has been making against Mr. Romney for months.

…For much of the debate, the candidates commandeered the stage, taking control away from the moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, as they kept trying to rebut one other. At times, the moderator seemed as if he had walked off the stage, a result of new rules that were intended to allow for a deeper and more freewheeling discussion.

On a basic level it was a clash of two ideologies, the president’s Democratic vision of government playing a supporting role in spurring economic growth, and Mr. Romney’s Republican vision that government should get out of the way of businesses that know best how to create jobs.

Mr. Romney sought to use his moment before a prime-time audience of tens of millions to escape the corner Mr. Obama and his allies have painted him into, depicting him as an uncompromising adherent to policies that have been tried before. He instead turned the focus on his opponent’s record.”




  1. Aren’t you falling into the same trap as the press coverage of the debate? The issues are barely discussed. Instead, the “appearance” and “sound” of the debate are what carries its interest. Romney “won” – not because he used logic or didn’t answer questions he didn’t want to or acted like a gentleman, but because he appeared “energetic and happy to be at the debate.” Obama “lost” because he “appeared tired and at times seemed to be someplace else.”

    Admittedly I don’t know you and don’t mean to accuse you (and apologize if my comment comes off that way), but the relentless media march that privileges image and sound far above content — while it is interesting — is also cause for worry.

    • Bob,

      Thanks loads for your comments. I don’t disagree with your basic premise that press coverage focuses a lot on appearance, style and delivery more so than on substance but this was a televised debate and the candidates were in a mass media forum. Candidates need to understand how to use and work the media to their advantage. The Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960 illustrated this very well. Regardless, I thought Obama did not address some of the substantive issues that are important in this election. For instance, why did Obama neglect to mention Romney’s career at Bain Capital which is the basis for his economic prowess and expertise for turning around the economy? Why so little discussion of how Obama’s hopes to work across the Congressional aisles with Republicans?