[Sorry about the confusion about the posts! I accidentally posted the text of one post under the heading of the other!]
So I ended up watching the first debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
I thought the format was much better than previous ones that I have seen. It allowed for much freer exchanges between the candidates and more time for direct exchanges and thus was more like a real debate. In the process, both speakers ended up running rough-shod over the moderator Jim Lehrer and some may accuse him of having lost control. But that was better than in some ‘debates’ from years past when the moderator acted like a circus ring master cracking the whip at the candidates. The less we see and hear of the moderator the better.
What might be ideal is to not have a moderator at all, but to simply have a chess clock (also called a game clock) to ensure that each speaker gets exactly the same amount of time, in order to prevent filibustering. This may result in one or more of them simply giving speeches but we have to trust the audience to be able to judge whether the speakers are using their time valuably and engaging with each other or not.
As to the debate itself, I think that Mitt Romney got the better of it, though not decisively. He seemed more aggressive, though sometimes a little blustery and desperate in the early stages. Where he succeeded was in putting Obama on the defensive. In debates, you always want to put the opponent on the defensive and explaining away their position.
Obama is not that good a debater. A good debater has to develop a strategy that is consistent with his or her personality. Obama has a cool professorial style and he should work with it and not try to compete on blustery aggression, which is Romney’s forte. Instead, he has to learn how to go for the jugular with a stiletto or a surgical knife rather than a cleaver, and he did not do that.
Here’s an example. Romney and Ryan have been highly evasive about the details of their tax plan. Their tax plan should have two numbers: the amount by which a reduction in tax rates reduces revenue and the amount by which eliminating deductions increase revenue. Studies have said that the tax cuts they propose will increase the deficit by $5 trillion over ten years (the first number) and that eliminating all deductions will produce a second number that is less than the first. Romney and Ryan counter by saying that their plan is ‘revenue neutral’ which means that they are asserting that the two numbers are the same. Obama should have simply asked Romney to state what that number is in their plan. But he did not do so. Instead he kept repeating the claim that the tax rate cut would cost $5 trillion, which allowed Romney to seemingly deny it by countering that his plan is revenue neutral and that competing studies say different things. It is usually better in a debate to corner the other person into being specific rather than you being specific and allowing the other person to deny it.
There were a whole lot of other attack points that Obama did not bring up (the 47% comments, Bain, the auto bailout, outsourcing) but that may have been deliberate, in not wanting to make this look like a personal attack and leaving it to his surrogates and political ads to make that particular case.
I personally did not learn anything substantive from the debates but then I follow politics closely. It will be interesting to see what others think.