Review of the first presidential debate

[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.


  1. Uncle Glenny says

    I have some on-topic comments on this shortly, but I’d like to note this weird coincidence: in the process of googling the name of the ex-gay reparative therapist from a post by lousy canuck, David Pickup, I just a couple minutes ago saw a picture of Jamie Oliver. Carrying the torch ifor the London Olympics. Running with someone named David Pickup. (Not the same one.)

  2. felicis says

    One thing that struck me is how Gov. Romney almost always managed to get in the last word. For me, this reinforced my impression of his sense of privilege, and (if I may be allowed some snark) made me think that the way he works with opponents is to just always say what he wants when they’re done talking. Eventually, they’re too tired to argue anymore.

  3. Jared A says

    If this were a debate about whether or not we have destroyed our children’s taste in food, I would say that Mano has not made his case.

  4. Pyra says

    As someone pointed out somewhere, if you are just now tuning in to the political game, and you don’t know the lies, this was quite a debacle. Just a bunch of talking points and no real debate…

  5. raven says

    Here’s an example. Romney and Ryan have been highly evasive about the details of their tax plan.

    I’ve tried to figure out just what Romney’s and Ryans plans are for taxes and Medicare. As Bill Clinton said, It’s the economy, stupid!!! That is our main problem and it’s balancing on a knife edge right now.

    1. They are vague about it. Ryan claims to be able to cut taxes 20% and have it be “revenue neutral” by closing loopholes. He refuses to say how or what loopholes. This is impossible. It’s simply gibberish.

    2. Ryan plans to save money on Medicare by just not paying out much money. That will work all right, especially when old people start dying en masse.

    3. They also keeping changing their plans. Romney is an empty suit. No one knows what he believes and it is likely he believes nothing but that he deserves lots of power and money. Even if he got specific, it’s useless. You know he could say something different a day later with the same (lack of) sincerity.

    Bush managed to wreck the country and create a lost generation. The Fed projects recovery by 2018, maybe. Romney/Ryan seem determined to make that two lost generations.

  6. Corvus illustris says

    Re (1): The “loopholes” that would begin to fix the revenue that are most often conjectured are the home mortgage interest deduction, the size of the standard deduction (for renters and the olds), and the tax treatment of employer-based health insurance. That’ll fix those 47% lucky-duckies!

    Re(2): So far Ryan has implied that his cuts would be similar to the PPACA ones, namely in the “Medicare Advantage” area. Uh-huh.

    Of course, if–FSM forfend–the R/R’s win and the R’s keep the House, Ryan will be replaced. The Michigan scuttlebutt is that Dave Camp (Dow Chem’s own rep, and worse than Ryan if possible–I just got redistricted out of his [MI 4th] district) would be the replacement.

  7. Jimj says


    Point out what’s wrong with the person you support and say it’s the other person.

    The comments are even more proof of that.

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