Thursday, October 4, 2012

The first debate - our reaction

What did the O's editorial board think of Wednesday night's debate? Our early takes: 

Taylor Batten:

Democrat James Carville summed up Wednesday night's presidential debate best: Mitt Romney looked like he wanted to be there. Obama didn't.

Each candidate scored points on specific topics, but Romney's approach was more effective. He aggressively took the fight to Obama without coming off as snide or petulant. Obama, meanwhile, was sharp at times but in what was probably an effort to appear above the fray, he mostly was listless at worst or professorial at best.

Romney came in needing to win, and Obama came in needing not to lose, and that is precisely how each approached the debate.

Obama fumbled a huge opportunity by never mentioning Romney's "47 percent" comments. Those remarks at a Florida fundraiser in May had hurt the Republican, his own pollsters have said, and Obama could have connected with undecided voters by portraying Romney as a super-wealthy businessman who has written off half the country.

Instead, Obama came off as defensive, nipping at Romney on policy specifics while spending too little time convincing voters that he is the man to turn the economy around going forward.

Moderator Jim Lehrer had little control of the debate. Oddly enough, though, that may have made the event more substantive and interesting. It let the candidates go at it instead of being reined in by a more rigid format.

Some notable moments from the debate:

-- Neither was convincing that he could tackle the nation's budget deficit. Romney said he would name specifics, then came up only with cutting (miniscule) funding for PBS and repealing Obamacare (which the nonpartisan CBO says would add to the deficit). Obama, meanwhile,
applauded the Bowles-Simpson plan -- the very plan he ignored at its key moment. Obama did score a point when he reminded viewers that Romney said he would reject a deal that included $1 in tax revenue for every $10 in spending cuts.

-- Obama won on Medicare. He effectively raised doubts about Romney's voucher plan, while Romney hammered Obama on cutting $716 billion from Medicare -- the same $716 billion his running mate, Paul Ryan, wants to cut.

A barb from Romney that might work: Obama supports "trickle-down government." A line from Romney that won't work: "I like coal."

At times, the candidates said the opposite of what you would expect. Who do you think said these things?

-- "I'm not looking to cut massive taxes and reduce money going to government. ... I will not reduce the share paid by high-income Americans." -- Romney, not Obama

-- "Regulation is essential." -- Romney, not Obama

-- "The genius of America is the free enterprise system." Obama, not Romney

The bottom line: Extreme partisans won't budge from their guy, but the handful of voters who can still be persuaded are probably leaning toward Romney after Wednesday night.

Fannie Flono: 

Maybe President Barack Obama was distracted Wednesday. After all, he and wife Michelle were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. Or maybe his team decided the best possible debate strategy was to act "presidential" and stay above the fray. Or maybe he just didn't want to come across as the angry black man. Whatever the reason, Obama appeared lethargic at times and too reticent in the first presidential debate - although at points he seemed to rein himself him from
challenging Romney. So maybe it was a strategy - a bad one, if so.

Republican Mitt Romney, on the other hand, was like a bulldog, making his case boldly and putting Obama on the defensive quite effectively. Romney won the debate, and with the race tight in the polls, he's given himself a wedge to manage and overcome campaign missteps that have been persistently gnawing at him. He should be happy with his performance though he'll face challenges from fact checkers about several of his assertions and his shifting positions.

Obama though lost this debate as much as Romney won it. He made his best showing in defending Obamacare - effectively pointing out that is was pretty much a clone of Romneycare in Massachusetts and that hasn't turned into the job killer and costly boondoggle Romney says Obamacare will turn into. But he missed opportunities to go on the offensive against Romney. There was no mention of Romney's infamous "47 percent" gaffe, immigration or other issues Romney was vulnerable on.

Romney came off as more confident, energetic and aggressive. The debate itself got pretty dense with a lot of detailed information being thrown around. Some of it was lost on the average viewer who
hasn't been following the race and knew little about each candidate's proposals. The debate wasn't managed very well by moderator Jim Lehrer but that might have been the format's problem. He was frequently run over by candidates ignoring him. In any case both candidates are probably looking forward to the next debate. Obama for redemption, Romney to gain more ground with another win.

Peter St. Onge:

This wasn't the 47 percent guy, stumbling from one gaffe into another. It wasn't the candidate who made independents uneasy by giving himself up to the extremes of his party. The Mitt Romney that debated Wednesday night was the nominee moderates in each party hoped for long ago. He won the debate in a rout.

From the start, Romney sought to calm voters who may have grown uncomfortable with him. He told middle-income Americans more than once that they would not bear the pain of his tax plan, declaring plainly: "I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle income families."

Alternately, he was piercing, but pleasantly so, when explaining to those voters why they might be disappointed in the man they voted for in 2008. He reminded viewers of the promises Obama hadn't kept on insurance costs and the debt - and when Obama objected, Romney said: "But you've been president for four years, you've been president for four years." It was a line, delivered almost plaintively, that tapped into the frustration Americans feel with a stagnant economy.

Obama, meanwhile, was listless - more professorial than passionate. In the two biggest moments of this election - his DNC speech and this debate - he's been flat. His strongest moment: telling viewers that Romney had made several fine promises during the evening but wasn't backing them up with details. It was a theme Obama could've returned to several times, but didn't. And inexplicably, he didn't remind voters that only one candidate on the stage said that 47 percent of the country didn't take personal responsibility for their lives.

Romney took full advantage. Presidential challengers get an immediate bump from the first debate. Put Mitt Romney on the stage with the president in Denver, and he is momentarily not the guy who trails in battleground states, not the guy whose campaign was already getting postmortems from members of his own party. He is one of two candidates who could be president next January.

It was Romney's job to take advantage of that Wednesday. He did so and more. He was sure-footed, appropriately optimistic about his country, willing to express policy in big picture frames that resonate with voters. In doing all of that, he not only won the debate Americans care about more - domestic policy - but presented himself to doubters as a legitimate choice. A reasonable choice.


Seamus S said...

This seems like a fair assessment although- based on this performance, I look forward to seeing your endorsement in the coming weeks.

Special K said...

Every one of you mentioned the 47% remark. None of you mentioned the "You didn't build that" remark or the "build roads in OUR neighborhood" remark. Am I wrong to see a conspiracy here?

Wiley Coyote said...

The Observer will give its minimally required positives to Romney but will back Obama saying he needs four more years to finish what he started to turn the country around from a bad situation he inherited.

They will say nothing of how Obama failed miserably. They will ensure nothing sticks to him in order to setup Hillary in 2016.

Anonymous said...

Wiley Coyote said it best. The Observer is in bed with Obama. Flono was trite and predictable (please just stop).

Skippy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
No_clue777 said...

"Neither was convincing that he could tackle the nation's budget deficit."

This is the only valuable thing any of you said.......and the main reason why neither one of these men deserve to be President.

All of the just show....what a shame.

Skippy said...

And next up the genius that is Biden trying to act coherent next to Ryan.

And won't it be fun watching President Empty Suit defend the biggest cover up since Watergate in Libya.

And memo to the CO, Ryan is not the President.

And of course he was "distracted" by his anniversary, more like he just thinks he is "entitled" to another term.

Garth Vader said...

Goldman Sachs and defense contractors were the winners, because these two fraudulent cowards were too scared to share the stage with Gary Johnson.

BiBr said...

These are all good (and accurate) comments from readers. Although all three CO reporters just hated giving the call to Romney, I think Flono was the most apologetic for Obama (racial bias perhaps?)As far as the 47% remark goes, Romney just said what a lot of people think.

faithplusnothing said...

All of the media were crying over why Obama didn't bring up the %47. And the other talking point was that he didn't give specifics. EVERY news outlet are spewing the SAME talking points. Coincidence??? I think not. And I love Fanny's excuses for Obama :)

Archiguy said...

Well, nice to see the right-wing conspiracy theorists are alive and well this morning. Amazing they managed to stay awake long enough to watch the debate. Or maybe they just can't help throwing out the "liberal bias" charge that seems to be burned into their DNA at this point. Sorry guys - there's common sense and historical precedent, and then there are Republican "ideas", like trickle down economics, that have been proven failures for the last 30 years. Professional journalists can tell the difference even if you can't. They're not biased; they've just been paying attention. It's their job.

The Observer editorial board was accurate - I saw what they saw. The President was a little timid, and he let Romney control the debate. He's got to go more on the attack next time, which isn't really in his nature. He's a conciliator and someone who values reason over conflict.

You would think four years of trying to persuade the Republicans to compromise and govern for the good of the country would have cured him of that. Ultimately, their only goal is the protection and further enrichment of the financial and corporate elites that run their Party. A leopard doesn't change his spots, and the GOP has only drifted more to the extreme right in recent years.

I expect him to make a more energetic showing next time. Romney's policies would hurt the middle class and weaken the economy the same way Bush's did - there's little difference between them - and Obama has to make that point clearly and forcefully.

Karl said...

Not surprised ONE BIT that the Charlotte Observer staff overwhelmingly supports Obama, even when he failed miserably last night.

The liberal bias and distortion that our local rag publishes is absolutely ridiculous. Sad to say that a city of our size doesn't have a better paper to read that reports on FACTS and not spins them to their side.

Garth Vader said...

"Some of it was lost on the average viewer"

Nice condescension, Fannie.

Anonymous said...

Archiguy - you love to holler about trickle-down economics hasn't worked for 30 years. You're not entirely wrong. But how about admitting that increasing taxes on "the rich" and attempting to turn every normal human activity into a government spending program, which the Democrats have been doing for 75 years, hasn't worked either?

Larry Comrades said...

For how our Asian friends viewed the debate go to:

Archiguy said...

J- To say that trickle down economics hasn't worked is an understatement. If it had, than the huge tax cuts Bush Junior lavished on his favorite constituency (the haves and the have-mores, in his own words) as pay-back for financing his 2000 campaign would have produced a windfall of new investment and jobs. Instead, just the opposite happened. The rate of growth was much higher under Clinton's rates. There is no argument here, and no way the GOP apologists can spin it. It is what it was and the numbers don't lie. The President should have hammered home that point again and again last night. Perhaps next time he will.

Warren Buffet, the second richest guy in America and someone the GOP used to love before he started talking about the responsibility of the super-rich to give something back to the country that had given them so much (and oh, how they hate him for saying it), has said many times that he has known a lot of rich, powerful men in his life and not a single one of them has ever said he wasn't going to get up and work hard the next day because of the relative tax rate he had to pay. It's utterly ridiculous to claim they do since there's not a shred of evidence to support it. Yet that's one of the Big Lies the GOP uses to con middle class people into voting for them. Sadly, it works all too well.

Larry Comrades said...

Until we make those rich people pay their fair share, Archi Guy and his cohorts will never be happy.

Fairness means as long as only the rich people are paying for everything and the government has free rein to spend at will.

Archiguy said...

Wrong! It's ridiculous to have somebody like Romney taking advantage of a special tax break that allows him to treat his INCOME as capital gains thereby taking advantage of the lower rate.

It's patently unfair to allow somebody like Romney to stash much of his income in secret bank accounts in the Caymans or Bermuda or any number of tax havens simply to avoid paying U.S. income tax.

These "loopholes" were devised by conservative think tanks, written by conservative lobbyists, and passed into law by Republican legislators beholden to the first two. These are the real "freeloaders", and one of them is running for President.

If they're not paying their fair share, you & I are picking up their slack. It's like a billionaire's tax on the rest of us. Do you honestly not get that? The GOP surely hopes so.