Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Debate I: A clear victory for Romney

The following are my initial impressions of the Presidential Debate that occurred between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I'm writing it from memory, less than an hour after the debate, without referring to notes or transcripts, so take it for what it is worth.

Whatever the veracity or merit of the ideas that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama put forth during the first presidential debate in Denver tonight, what mattered was the presentation.  And clearly, Romney's was the better performance. 

Mitt Romney came out feisty.  He ran roughshod over the format that Jim Lehrer set out at the beginning of the event, taking control of the debate.  He showed moxy.  He challenged the President aggressively, interrupting him on more than one occasion.  At times he seemed to bait the President.

The President, on the other hand, seemed passive. He didn't respond to Romney's aggressiveness.  He gave Romney a pass on some questionable assertions.  (I'm thinking in particular of Romney's repeated claim that the President cut $719 billion from Medicare.  You can read about the veracity of that claim here.)  As I watched the President's performance, I experienced a familiar agitation.  It was the same frustration I'd felt during the national debate over health care reform, when the administration steadfastly refused to step in and advocate a clear position.

It didn't all go Romney's way.  The President never did rise to the bait that Romney continuously dangled.  Romney no doubt hoped to elicit an angry response.  But the President is a cool customer.  Nerves of steel. 

Politics is theater.  Ideals, facts, policies --none of it matters if you don't have a script and a frontman to sell it.  Nine-tenths of the electorate believes what it will believe in spite of any facts, anyway.  I'll say this though:  this is the first time I've ever seen President Obama under-perform at the theater of politics.

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