In my reflections about the first Presidential Debate I have a couple of hard truths that I’m forced to deal with when thinking about the course of nation. The first of course is the general understanding that we are screwed, pretty badly, by either of these choices. The second is that President Obama really didn’t really exude the confidence attributed to him by the “I got this” meme in his reserved and relaxed demeanor, while Governor Romney certainly lived up to Jon Stewart’s description of him as being a pre-packaged president in his appearance and tone. The third is that, domestically speaking, I didn’t really hear too much difference between the detail-lacking plans these men have outside of their lengthy discussion on education. They don’t even disagree too intricately on taxation: Romney doesn’t want to raise them and Obama does; it’s very Coke and Pepsi right now.
While many are either applauding or criticizing Governor Romney for his railroading and…self moderating…of his role in the debate, I don’t find that to be a particularly bad thing. We have to remember that Mitt Romney is marketing himself to the Republican Party and the Right which essentially means that he is dressing himself as the embodiment of the American Exceptionalism philosophy. As the avatar of that belief what he did was right in step with what you would expect—he took what he could get, unabashedly, and dictated the rules even though the rules had already been written. Further, he spoke with an assuredness and a confidence that was reaffirming, persuasive in tone, and (even if back-peddling previous statements) consistent with his base. However, his base is wide and in the pre-election pull to center it’s hard to tell which part of his base he is trying to market himself to. Is it the far conservative right? The moderate right? Hispanic republicans? In the past few weeks his statements have been wishy-washy at best—and without a list of specific ideas in his plans (like what programs to cut, which loopholes to close, and how to “create or rather help create” 12 million jobs) it is very difficult to sign on with him. His view on education and firing Big Bird aside, I don’t know if I have any clue as to what his presidency would be like—I don’t even know if he plans on repealing Obamacare in part or in whole anymore.
Before on I move on to the President’s performance I’d like to add that I was a little shocked to hear how quickly the Affordable Care Act became referred to as “Obamacare” in the debate. Mr. Romney tagged it as such, then apologized, and then the President took ownership of the bill by stating “I like it”. From that point on, even moderator Jim Leher, referred to the Act as Obamacare. Even the President himself.
President Obama, for his part, was very relaxed and had none of the fire in his eyes that the conservative talk radio crowd was expecting when directly confronted with criticism. I’m sure he didn’t like it, but going into a Presidential debate—or rather a re-hiring interview—I’m sure he was prepared to be criticized, and we’ve heard all of the arguments already. The President didn’t seem to be taking the offensive, though he wasn’t really defensive either. He was calm and collected—if you can ignore his trademark unscripted “ums”—and simply gave a lot of empty and vague declarations about what he plans to do moving forward. The only thing that I was really impressed with—as a notion that his campaign hasn’t pushed too much—is how much the Administration could do with money that isn’t being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only thing that rings to be a problem there is that the President admitted that those problems were being paid for on a credit card—so we really can’t do anything with the money that isn’t being spent on those wars…because we shouldn’t be borrowing. Romney came strongly to the President with talking points on energy, and the President deflected and gave him what-for on education and also had a victory in publicly stating that Obamacare is the same bill, under the same advisement, as Romneycare. Romney’s only retort was that the states should have done it and not the federal government…but that seems to neither here nor there. Even Romney’s argument about the 10th Amendment was invalid because the Supreme Court held up the Act. However at the end of the day the President was really just as unconvincing with specifics, facts, or even notions as was Governor Romney.
Instead what we are clinging to are a few zingers, missteps and gaffes—because we have nothing else to work with. Romney had a few good ones, I particularly liked the one about his five sons…who I suppose didn’t watch Sesame Street growing up. I also liked Romney’s strategy of getting the last word—that was very crafty. However, If we broke down the points I’d say that Romney and the President probably stalemated in this debate—in a pure discussion they really either agreed or parried each other with nobody really landing too serious a blow. Truthfully however, people weren’t keeping score on columned paper. Not one bit—they were listening for exuding confidence (or arrogance), and forcefulness. In that area Romney was appealing—he was channeling his best “Mr. Gorbachev tear down that wall” impression. So from a qualitative stand point, most people will probably declare him the winner, quantitatively though I haven’t heard anything from either candidate that makes me exceptionally emboldened to say “That’s the right guy!”. But that’s been the issue the whole time in this election…neither of these guys has a strong enough sense of where they are going to let us know, and in that situation I don’t know if I’m disillusioned enough to change horses mid-stream. Of course, there are still two more debates and a VP show down watch. Let’s see who’s got magic up their sleeve.