Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rapid Response to the 1st U.S. Presidential Debate

Here is a very quick, very brief take on tonight's debate between former Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Coming into the debate, Obama had the wind at his back. The economy has been on the upswing, and the polls--both in particular "swing states" and nationwide--have been increasingly in Obama's favor.

It's clear that Obama decided to play it safe. He refused to attack Romney. I don't doubt that many liberals right now are frustrated, even angry, that he failed to mention, among other things, Bain Capital or Romney's comments about the 47%. (In fact, turn on MSNBC right now and you will get a flavor of how upset Obama's base is. Some of the anchors even look mournful.) Obama's plan, I'm sure, was to play it conservatively, to sit on his lead, so to speak. Additionally, it's likely that Obama's advisers told him that going on the attack would not look presidential to U.S. voters.

However, Obama's approach to the debate risked leaving him susceptible on several fronts. And that's what happened. He looked passive and defensive. Repeatedly, he refused to defend his record, rebut Romney's attacks, or ask for more time. In my view, that's rather astonishing.

It was Romney who set the debate's agenda. He appeared energetic and aggressive. And although Romney was vague on policy details and made several dubious claims and critiques (both about his plans and Obama's record and plans), he still passed an important eye test. He looked like a leader. Romney commanded the stage. He consistently made eye contact with Obama, while the latter often had his head down writing notes. Watch the debate with the sound off for a few minutes; it will offer an interesting and revealing view.

Line of the night: Mitt Romney: "I just don't know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the -- at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people."

My scorecard: In boxing terms, Romney won on points. But based on optics, Romney won by KO.

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