Last Wed., President Barack Obama took the stage alongside GOP nominee Mitt Romney for the first Presidential debate of this year’s election.
The debate took place at the University of Denver in Colorado; Jim Lehrer, host of NewsHour on PBS, acted as moderator. That poor old man.
For 90 minutes, former Governor Mitt Romney and incumbent Barack Obama took turns refuting what the other had just said about their proposed policies and plans regarding topics like the federal deficit, taxes, Medicare and job creation.
Both men were guilty of talking over and interrupting Lehrer, who lost control of the debate almost immediately. I figured it would have been even less civil than it was.
Romney probably delivered his best public appearance to date—he was by turns forceful and composed, aggressively attacking the President’s policies and deftly flip-flopping around to explain his own (however vaguely). He was amiable, too, cutting jokes with both Obama and Lehrer.
Because of this stellar performance, critics on both sides of the aisle agree that Romney came away from Wednesday night’s debate as the winner. Obama, though, clearly dropped the ball.
While he concisely responded to all of the moderator’s questions and Romney’s comments, Obama failed to demonstrate any of his opponent’s aggressiveness. He seemed distracted, and unless he was talking directly to Lehrer or Romney, he mostly looked down at his lectern.
He didn’t even look at the camera while giving his closing remarks. Honestly, I think that he probably could have sent Clint Eastwood out on to the stage with an empty chair and done better for himself.
This was a sharp contrast to Romney, who was perfectly at ease during the debate and more than matched the president’s rhetoric, even if it was with bull-hooey. And it was—”Mr. Etch-A-Sketch” fully lived up to his nickname, and will be paying the bills of fact-checking journalists for weeks to come.
So what gives? Obama has less than 30 days to secure re-election, and he’s goofing off during the first Presidential debate? Fervid supporters of the President were quick to come to his defense, claiming that he was merely letting Romney have his moment in the sun before he delivers a coup de grâce in the upcoming debates.
There’s definitely more to it than that, though. It’s possible that Obama and his team of campaign advisors were completely unprepared for Romney—while Mitt has participated in almost 20 GOP primary debates leading up to this election, Obama hasn’t participated in one in four years.
He should’ve known better than to go into the first debate so obviously rusty. How the candidate looks and acts on TV during election time is almost paramount to proposed policy or rhetorical logic, in this election more than any other. If he had delivered a really stunning performance at Wednesday’s debate—if he had pursued Romney on his bogus tax plan, his dislike for anyone who accepts aid from the government and his apparent distaste for the rights of women—Obama could have won himself the election.
All he had to do was expose Romney for what he is—a puppet. To borrow words from my buddy Clint, he’s a “grin with a body behind it,” and anyone who takes the briefest amount of time to look at his political convictions—or lack thereof—could see that.
With two more debates taking place before it’s time to cast the vote, I sincerely hope that Obama gets his head in the game. Remember, Mr. President: practice makes perfect, and those of us with hefty student loans really need you to come through next round.