Monday, October 22, 2012
Tonight's third debate between President Obama and Governor Romney had a different feel that the others, to my eyes and ears. Less contentious, overall - perhaps neither that that truly fighting was appropriate during a discussion on foreign policy. Nobody wants someone with an itchy trigger finger.
It had the feel of a job interview more than either of the previous rounds, with the President firmly in place, and Gov. Romney looking for every opening to usurp his position. Interestingly, on much of the foreign policy in place, the two seemed to agree on actions taken in general, which led to some interesting strategy.
Head to Head
Romney - Agree where it makes sense, even to the point of deflating the President's power point of taking out Bin Laden by conceding the point before it could come up.
Obama - Reiterate record, and point out opponents history of not wanting to move heaven and earth to capture Bin Laden. Related a touching story about a 15 year old reaching closure with her father's death, who she last spoke to when she was four, and he called from the World Trade Center.
Romney - Insist that he would be stronger even on current policies, and suggest that the President didn't act fast enough.
Obama - Suggest Romney was 'wrong and reckless' in his approach, implying the Governor didn't have the experience needed to have a finesse approach.
Romney - Painted America, and the president, as weak in the eyes of the world, in terms of foreign policy and strength of alliances, our military, and the economy.
Obama - Insisted we were stronger than ever in the eyes of the world, that Romney didn't understand our military position, and that Romney's economy would strengthen China more than the United States.
Romney - Repeated that 'the world is four years closer to a nuclear Iran' and that while he agreed with sanctions in place, insisted they were not strong enough. Mentioned '10,000 centrifuges spinning Uranium' that didn't exist before.
Obama - Described a weak and crippled Iran, a partnership of countries dedicated to keeping them weak until they backed away from nuclear. Didn't address centrifuges.
Romney - Mentioned the President's 'Apology Tour' quoting the president as saying the U.S. had been dismissive in the past, as well as his seeming indifference to Israel. Stated he would strengthen our relationship with Israel. When asked, confirmed he would stand with Israel were it attacked, but didn't want to address a hypothetical about Israel attacking Iran.
Obama - Called the 'Apology Tour' the biggest whopper of the campaign, and positioned it as a way of building relationships. Recalled his trip to Israel as a candidate as 'not a fundraising event', implying Romney's visit WAS, and that he used his time to tour the country and get in touch with what it's place in history and the present world was. Also stated he would stand with Israel in warfare directed towards them, but didn't address hypothetical.
We'll Talk About the Economy if We Want Too!
Governor Romney was the first to bring up the economy, claiming our weakened financial state showed weakness to the world, and used it as a segue to discuss his five point plan for economic success.
The President responded in kind, again insisting Romney's plans kept changing, weren't fully disclosed, and would create more debt. .
They again disagreed on Romney's stance that auto companies should be allowed to go into managed bankruptcies.
Overall, it was a repeat of the same economic rhetoric we heard in the first two debates. Perhaps it needed to be brought out simply to give them a wider opportunity to disagree, since they essentially agreed on most aspects of foreign policy.
The attack on our embassy in Libya came up first, but didn't seem to be nearly as fiery as the last debate. Both men said their peace, and it wasn't really brought up, that situation specifically, the rest of the evening.
Governor Romney, instead of going on the attack about what he has termed a failure in Libya, used the opportunity to bring up problems throughout the world, as he continued his attempt to weaken the President's image of a policy-maker. He also offered a multi-step plan to strengthen nations we're bringing democracy to, suggesting many areas are in 'tumult'
Pres. Obama, took a firm stance again as Commander-in-Chief, and reiterated that he would go after those who killed our countrymen. Then he segued into what he perceived as friend-building throughout the world, while saying his opponent was all over the map on his foreign policy, beginning his effort to bring Romney's foreign policy experience into doubt.
Both candidates felt China could be a strong partner, but Obama led with 'adversary that can become a partner', while Romney implied China was a potential partner first, and we had enough leverage to bring them in line. Both want China to play on a more even economic field, with Romney making a strong commitment to categorize them as a 'currency manipulator' and work to prevent them from stealing our technology and intellectual property, going into a story about a valve manufacturer discovering identical copies of their product, down to the serial number, sent to be repaired under warranty.
In a quick volley, the President said Romney sent jobs to China, and his economic plan to create tax breaks for companies sending jobs overseas would result in more jobs than ever going overseas, and cited Romney's record of opposing sanctions in a recent legal action against China flooding the U.S. with 'cheap tires'.
The President had some quotable lines:
- Wrong and reckless
- He also brought up Romney's statement that Russia was our biggest threat, suggesting the 1980's wanted their foreign policy back. (Editor's addendum: In a sweeping attempt to indict his opponent, he stated "you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s")
- Replying to Romney's statement about our weak military, and smallest Navy since 1916: 'we also have fewer horses and bayonets' and suggesting the Navy is different than before, not a game of Battleship.
- While not directly referring to 'Romnesia', a popularized term in the last week, he did say that Romney was 'airbrushing his record'
- When Romney suggested people go to his website to get more insight into his economic plan, Obama rebutted 'We've been to your website, several times, and don't see much'
Romney was also sharp, but seemed determined not to create more soundbytes comparable to 'Big Bird' and 'Binders Full of Women'.
- He had clearly done his homework, bringing up situations around the globe in very specific terms, from Egypt to Libya to North Korea to Mali.
- Pounded into the audiences minds the notion of 'Four years closer to a nuclear Iran' and repeatedly used the term 'tumult' to describe world political situations.
- Highlighted his financial and budget-balancing successes in business, the Olympics and government, insisting he could do it as President.
- Took a strong stance against the president of Syria, insisting he must be ousted.
- Mentioned several times that the President 'attacking me isn't a strategy for the future' - an idea that echoes his VP's comments that a candidate in trouble resorts to attacking his adversary vs. touting his own ideas.
President Obama had first draw, restating his stances on the economy, education, a strong military, and the theme of nation building at home that would benefit veterans. He again suggested we had two paths, back to failed policies, or 'Forward' to a more prosperous future. His final push was that we would bounce back as a country based on our character, sounding for all the world like someone saying 'trust me, we'll make it work'.
Governor Romney looked more presidential than ever, continuing to imply the President was weak in the eyes of the world - the overall mission, it seemed, of his debate. He stated he would bring strong leadership and create a safe country. As Obama promised in 2008, he declared America could come back by going 'across the aisle', and suggested we were 'broken' but could still be the hope for the world, and carry the torch for a better future.
Bob Shieffer, from CBS News, proved the most able of the three moderators to date. He offered pointed questions, kept the candidates moving, and both candidates seemed to show him more respect than given to either Mr. Lehrer or Ms. Crowley. He stayed calm but firm, and masterfully bridged the candidates from question to question.
So Who Won?
Both shone brightly tonight as speakers. There were fewer instances of talking over one another, though the President tried several times to break in as the Governor seemed determined to make up the minutes he lost in the second debate. The Governor wouldn't let Obama in, and occasionally talked over Bob Shieffer. Pres. Obama also battled for time, and often started going overtime with the words 'let me say this because' and would continue for up to a minute or more.
It was filled with Obama saying 'You said/did this' and Romney saying 'No I didn't' or 'That just wrong'. Each candidate continued to insist their economic plan would work while the others would not - the President on the strength of Romney's lack of specifics and bad math, and Romney on the strength of his experience vs. the weakness of the President's record.
On the strength of foreign policy, I'd give the win to the President. The Governor simply didn't have enough new ideas to add to the discussion. On the strength of the closing, Gov. Romney appeared crisper and more confident than the President. If all America remembers are the final few minutes, the debate goes to Romney.
It's certainly been interesting analyzing these debates. Both have improved since their first meeting, as speakers, and as candidates. Will these debates matter? Will the polls matter? It's tough to say. Go out and vote - whether you think it matters or not, you can only be certain it will not matter if you don't.
Click to check out my review of the First Debate, and/or the Second Debate.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Alrighty then. Tonight's debate was certainly spirited, wasn't it?
What was different?
The setting was more intimate, with the two men surrounded by undecided voters, and no lectern to hide behind as they both came out to speak directly to their questioners, and, more than once, to each other.
President Obama, no surprise, took the offensive and attacked Governor Romney's policies to a deeper level than ever before.
He took Romney to task on switching positions, saying one thing after doing another, and proposing policies he feels infringes on the rights of women, families, and the middle class.
He was attentive while Romney was speaking, he identified himself repeatedly by his title, as if to remind us of just who he is, and not only rarely backed down to interruptions, but in fact tried to appear as an ally to moderator Candy Crowley, the timers, and the 'folks' with questions to ask.
He also cut his ahs and ums down by 90%, replacing them with pauses, occasional double words/stutters, and lane changes (starting an answer then changing the start).
Overall, a much smoother and confident presentation from our Commander in Chief (another title oft mentioned).
For Governor Romney? Not much was different. Part of that was he didn't need to change his approach much after his successful first debate. He did focus more on Obama's failing, particularly in addressing the question about why a particular voter should vote for 'four more years'. It was his strongest attack of the evening, and he continued to hammer those points home throughout the night.
He was less condescending in the background, but more willing to interrupt the President and the moderator (which, considering how often he interrupted Jim Lehrer, is saying something).
Going Toe to Toe
At 16:20 in the debate, Governor Romney challenged the President on his energy policies. Obama rose, and the two edged toward each other as Romney pushed for an answer. It appeared as if the two were challenging each other for dominance in an almost animal-like manner, both physically and intellectually.
Who came out the winner? I'd say the President, by a half-point, staying relatively cool in the face of a clear attack (Romney was physically facing him, while the President was faced out more to the audience and cameras), whether you agreed with his answer or not.
Again, there was little to no respect for the timing of the answers, by either candidate, though the President seemed to pay more attention most of the time. He called for Romney to end his answers in the first half, but by the end seemed to simply take longer for himself to even up the airtime.
Dealing With the Moderator
His result may not be as strong as they were the first time around - and may be seen as more disrespectful to a female moderator than it would have to another male moderator. Squishy ground here, but middle America still has an affinity for showing respect to women, and with Obama painting him as less than a champion of women's issues, a bit more tact would have served him well.
Answering the Questions
Neither stayed on point for long, taking questions and turning them toward their own talking points. Their approach in doing so was different, with the President either answering quickly before expanding the topic, or taking a circuitous route to an answer with an anecdote, while the Governor often seemed more intent on finishing his thoughts on the last topic before addressing the new one.
In fact, it was a closing question, and a nice set up at that: What perception of yourself would you like to debunk? (loosely paraphrased)
In his closing answer, Governor Romney accused the Obama campaign as characterizing him as a very different person than who he was,.painting a definitive picture of himself as a man of God, a family man, and a businessman, someone who cared about 100% of the American people. Finally, he attacked again, insisting America doesn't have to 'settle' for the status quo. He looked more authentic in his description than through some of his stories of family life in the past debate, and throughout the campaign.
President Obama had the last word, and worked to debunk the idea that he believes government creates jobs, instead saying he believe in the free enterprise system, self-reliance and risk-takers, but tempered his statements by insisting everyone needs a fair shot, and needs to pay their fair share. He yielded to Romney's statements about himself as a family man and man of faith, but paraded out Romney's 'behind closed doors' dismissal of 47% of Americans as victims who don't take responsibility for themselves. Those victims, he insisted, are students, people on Social Security, the military, and veterans. Quickly, he asked for our vote, and another four years.
So Who Won?
Both sides will claim their man won. Both made strong attacks on the other, both defended with strength, and both were able to be clear about their own beliefs of being a successful president.
I see it as a victory for the President, but not a victory over Romney as much as a victory over his own failed performance in the first debate. I believe he has reassured his support base, and repaired much, if not all, of the damage in the two men's first meeting.
It was also a victory for the Governor, in that he not only stood his ground, but continued to work to emotionally undermine his opponent based on his first four years in office.
Who Was the Best Communicator?
Romney is still the better speaker, despite Obama's improvements. But tonight I believe the President communicated with a passion and confidence that evoked memories of the man who ran in 2008. While Romney was emotionally undermining Obama's record, Obama was emotionally connecting with his constituency.
A. The debate was a push, so the victory really goes to the incumbent.
B. The best communicator, by virtue of emotional connection, is the President
I'm sure many of you will disagree. I'm OK with that. Please do so from at least an arm's length away...
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Well, that was fun.
I'm not going to pick the debate apart for politics or policy, or about the fact that Romney's flag pin was slightly larger, but on speaking points alone:
- Romney is clearly the better debater, the better speaker of the two. For all the rhetoric four years ago about how great a speaker President Obama is, he was too tentative tonight, ahhing and uhhing all over the place, giving the impression he was making it up as he went along.
- Romney went on the offensive, and attacked at every juncture, using passive aggressive statements throughout, as well condescending body language and facial expressions while Obama spoke.
- Romney told more stories, shared more anecdotes during each segment. Obama didn't go to a story until about halfway through, and they seemed a bit forced, particularly the tale of his grandmother. Interestingly, many of my friends in Cleveland seemed to think his identification of the Cleveland Clinic as an example of strong healthcare to be laughable, on both sides of the aisle, so to speak.
- Obama was on the defensive all night, only building steam when he talked about Obamacare. He looked, to me, to be a tired, stressed out president who would prefer to be anywhere but there.
- Romney's weakest moments came when talking about cutting programs, including PBS and Big Bird. He cannot afford to speak dismissively of anything, even for the sake of a laugh.
- Two powerful moments for Romney - 1. characterizing Obama as a child, repeating the tax cut as one of his sons would repeat an untruth, hoping we'd hear it enough to believe it, and 2. zapping him with 'You are entitled to your own house and your own plane, but not your own facts' - a line he was no doubt waiting to unleash all evening long.
- Two powerful moments for Obama - 1. calling Romney out for a lack of a detailed plan to reach his objectives for the economy, federal regulations, and healthcare, and 2. comparing Obamacare with Romneycare.
Essentially the night was one of 'Will not! - Will too!' back and forth between our president and the Republican nominee, as they accused each other of fairly egregious practices and potential outcomes.
The final statements of each contrasted sharply, with Obama maintaining a defensive posture, sticking to his guns and saying it will work, and Romney painting a rosier outcome vs. more of the same. The opportunity to have the last word would have worked in either candidates favor, but certainly helped Romney's cause more than it would have for Obama.
Speaking strictly of Speaking - I'd call this one for Romney, easily. President Obama will need to come back in the next two debates with confidence, with strong factual evidence, and a presidential stature. Romney needs to continue with his approach, but find a way to look less condescending when he's not speaking.
A quick note on Jim Lehrer - I thought his work as a debate facilitator tonight was weak-kneed. He let both speakers go overtime repeatedly, allowed both of them to run over him throughout. There is a difference between showing respect for the debaters and respect for the purpose of the debate. Letting them go on and on and vie for speaking power doesn't help the audience.
The big question to me is this: will this debate actually sway you one way or another? Or is this simply a moot diversion of our time and resources?