Obama Missed Chances in Presidential Debate

Patch’s Democratic columnist weighs in on the candidates’ performances at last night’s presidential debate—and who won and lost in the eyes of anyone watching.


Last night’s big television event was a game changer and folks in the state of Massachusetts might have been able to predict the outcome. Yes, the Yankees unsurprisingly defeated the Boston Red Sox 14-2, but residents of Beantown and the Bay State might have also known that their former governor, Mitt Romney, could pull one out in a clinch during his first presidential debate against President Barack Obama.

And win this one, he did. As much as it pains me to say this, I think this first debate was one Romney could consider as a feather in his cap.

Romney headed into the first debate of the horse race a few lengths behind the president. Surprisingly, he’d been polling lower in swing states like Ohio and on topics like the economy. For a guy who on good days is thought to be robotic, on bad days makes gaffes at home and abroad, Romney didn’t need to do much to exceed expectations of his debate performance. No wonder he came out feisty—he brought his A-game, was confident—and even a little disrespectful at times.

Watching Romney often scold the president over the course of an hour-and-a-half and trying unsuccessfully on occasion to mask his smirk, he came across as bold in his challenge to the incumbent, but with an underlying bratty tone. There was the moment he seemed to be calling the president a child, when he compared Obama to his five sons. When Romney accused the president of inaccurately portraying many of his platform’s plans and ideas (like the $5 billion deficit reduction, energy spending and Medicare cuts) Romney seemed more to be saying, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

Somehow, even though he seemed to look at the president throughout the night as if he were saying, “You silly child,” Romney held his own.

His biggest zing of the night was when he reminded viewers of his own business experience and simultaneously painted Obama as clueless:  ‎"I've been in business for 25 years, I have no idea what you're talking about... the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is just not the case."

Romney’s second best win of the night? His criticism of Obama’s putting healthcare ahead of employment:  “Why focus two years on health care when you could have focused two years on jobs?”

Missed Opportunities for Obama

In contrast, the Commander in Chief had a lot more trouble even getting on the scoreboard. What happened to the guy who can usually command the room as he did when he crooned the opening line of "Let's Stay Together."

Last night his demeanor conveyed that he was more irritated to be there. Even though what Obama has mapped out for economic recovery is more solid for the long term than a Romney plan designed to get the country on a sugar-high rebound, the tone of the annoyed lecturer didn’t win him anything. He could hardly look at Romney during the challenger’s rebuttals and seemed honestly surprised to be challenged—an experience he probably doesn’t have very often in the Oval Office.

Obama wasted his best opportunity to confront Romney in person with the biggest weaknesses the challenger has shown: there was no mention of the 47 percent, Bain Capital or tax returns. It was clear where the two candidates differed on the few domestic policy issues Jim Lehrer brought up, but I don’t think we learned anything we didn’t already know. And it just seemed that Obama ceded too much ground, failing on even one of his strongest tools—his ability to connect with Americans. He couldn’t even summon up any genuinely warm, fuzzy feelings at the moment which could have been his most human—wishing his wife Michelle a happy 20th anniversary.

Winners and Losers

There were other big winners and losers last night.

Loser:  Jim Lehrer The moderator lost control of the debate from moment one. He let the candidates overstep their time limits and couldn’t keep them in line. There were no substantive challenges to anything either one of them said and it seemed as if he sleepwalked through the hour-and-a-half.

Winner: Big Bird When candidate Romney said one of the first things he’d do as President is end any subsidizing of PBS, adding “Sorry, Big Bird,” a nation collectively shouted out, “No.” Twitter activity jumped enough that Big Bird trended the rest of the night and fake accounts like @FiredBigBird sprang up and won thousands of followers before the debate was over. Romney does like to fire people, but he might have to rethink this one.

Loser: Women At no point did either candidate mention women’s healthcare. Abortion, contraception and similar topics never cracked the top 10 subjects let alone any. Given how much women voters might change the course of where the swing states swing, I would have thought women wouldn’t have been a topic kept on the bench.

Winner:  Education Both candidates gave airtime and lip service to education, acknowledging how important it was to focus and fund education efforts. Whether it’s helping middle class families afford sending their children to school or acknowledging how important it is in keeping our country competitive economically, education got its props last night.

Loser: Religious Freedom Okay, perhaps this wasn’t such a big loser, but I have to say I was surprised by Romney’s remark that, “We are a nation where we are all children of the same god.” Except, we’re not. This was clearly a line meant to ring true with the most conservative part of the Republican base, but it served to alienate those who feel our premise of religious freedom should honestly reflect the truth that there are different ways to believe.

Winner: The Yankees At least one thing on television last night made me happy.

Loser: Undecided Voters Ultimately, those who lost the biggest were those who are still unclear for whom they’ll cast their votes. If all they had to go on was this first debate, I don’t think that many of them will have come away from last night’s meeting of the candidates any closer to a decision.

Creeky October 04, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Kevin, As far as my remark that your mind was made up, I was referring to your view on Romney's comment, not whom you'll vote for. As far as the comparison game, okay. As for Jeremiah Wright and Tucker Carlson, I'd prefer not to broach the comment, as it doesn't appear you've interest in debate. Anyway, I wouldn't take any position defending Tucker Carlson. And I wasn't presenting the article, or defending it. I used that link as the only way I could find that you could see the video. The accent, can't you hear it? Ever heard Obama drop pronouns and pronounce dollar as "dolla" before? And yes, I do think that speech was racist, intentionally, for that audience. I do not think Obama is a racist. I hold him in higher regard than that. That is what I meant by intentional. I guess I explained my point poorly. I think he was imitating Jeremiah Wright's speaking style, which Obama has acknowledged he likes and is impressed with it's power. continued...
Creeky October 04, 2012 at 06:04 PM
As far as equating, I was making the point that they both pander, particularly to an audience of limited demographic, as was the case in Obama's speech, and Romney's response to questions at a Republican fund raiser (which you are referring to as a commentary). So, we disagree. You seem quite clear, you aren't engaging in debate. You are angry at my words, and what you felt was an attack. I didn't see it as an attack. I saw it as making a point. The point was, the 47% remark is taken out of context. You see it differently. Okay then, good talking.
Kevin J. Lennon October 04, 2012 at 06:18 PM
We agree to disagree on the points we each make. A hallmark of political exchange. Withdrawal by reference to a perceived unwillingness to debate is sham tactic but not uncommon. In terms of my view of your attack on the columnist I point out the following excerpt from your comment: "Or, are you so narrow-minded, you are incapable of seeing this? Or so angry and bitter at the other side, to heck with the truth, you'll use any soundbite you can to do damage?" Referring to the colmnist as "narrow minded", "angry" and "bitter" appears to be an attack on her rather than her comments. Classic ad hominem. And no, the 47% remark was not taken out of context. Not at all. And yes, good talking. Be well.
Creeky October 04, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Oh Kevin, going out on an insult? Really? As far as the attack, sure, it was fighting fire with fire. It was illustrative, that this is the type of dialogue in which you are engaging. You are clearly more educated than I am. You could have crushed me. But, you got mad. You resulted to insult. You could have made me look like such a jerk. Or, when I softened the exchange, you could have entered debate. Nope. You got mad. And no, the 47% remark was not taken out of context? You beat me in every way but the original point. You never crafted an argument on that. I won't respond anymore. Let's see if you can resist getting the last word in...
Concerned Parent October 04, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Now let's look at these percentages very closely...first off..as some people describe...the 99% are the normal working people in this country and the 1% are the richest...now the 47% don't pay taxes, but continue to hear that the 1% not paying taxes either...so what is it...is it 47% of the 1% or 47% off the 100$ or 47% of the 99% or even 47% of the 8% unemployed who have a choice if they want taxes taken out of their checks....Please let me know because I'm not 100% sure..


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