The first presidential debate is over and President Obama probably wishes he had a do over. As I watched the debate last night I saw an ineffectual president who let an incumbent Mitt Romney dominate the conversation, while Obama sat back and took it with little or no effective rebuttal. Although President Obama actually spoke 4 minutes longer than Romney, it felt like Romney spoke for 60 of the 90 minute debate.
Before we get into the heart of this debate review I will stipulate that I am an ardent Obama supporter and wanted him to do well. Unfortunately he did not and this article will not attempt to sugar coat this debacle. A CBS post-debate snapshot survey showed that 46% of independents thought that Romney won, while only 22% thought Obama won. Personally I don't even think it was that close.
There are many ways to grade last night's debate and many have already turned to fact check websites to poke holes in statements made by both Romney and Obama. It is true that Romney was very fast and loose with facts but unfortunately debates are not won or lost based on factual accuracy. Much like the monday morning analysis of a football game, a debate can be broken down into simple categories that usually highlight the winner and loser. Below is our analysis of last night's contest; 5 criteria that clearly show how Obama lost this debate.
Offense - "D-"
While Romney was aggressive and scoring points in every exchange Obama's offensive game was non-existent last night.
There was no mention of 30 months of consecutive job growth.
No mention of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
No mention of reducing unemployment from 10.9% to 8.1%.
No mention of his end of the Iraq war to save the country billions of dollars.
No forceful defense of the Recovery Act.
No mention of Bain Capital.
No mention of the infamous "47 percent" comments by Romney
Instead he kept referring to his work in education, giving openings to Romney in the one area where Romney could actually spout gubernatorial success (Massachusetts is number 1 in the country in education).
On ObamaCare several openings were presented where Obama could have more forcefully touted the benefits of the plan, but even here he fell short. There was no critique of controversial statements made by Romney regarding "emergency room healthcare" or the disenfrachisement of millions with the repeal of Obamacare. Finally Obama did not force Romney to defend any position related to his promise of repeal of other key Obama victories. "How will you replace Dodd Frank?" and "How will you replace ObamaCare?" were not even asked by the president.
Defense - "D-"
If there was any widely accepted strategy for this debate it was that Obama needed to play a good defensive game to hold off a desperate Mitt Romney. Obama appeared to fail in this regard. Although he did try to rebutt Romney's arguments about taxes, the economy and healthcare, one would be hard pressed to find any exchange that Obama actually won. It appeared throughout the night that Obama was unwilling to expose mistruths spoken by Romney, especially regarding his 5 trillion tax cut. He also seemed unwilling or unable to recite his own accomplishments to defend his record.
His worst defensive moments came regarding facts about the state of the economy. While Romney battered Obama with facts about food stamps, unemployment, gas prices no reply was given.
"The Refs" - "C-"
Watching debate moderator Jim Lehrer last night was like reliving the whole replacement ref fiasco over and over again. He looked like a moderator and at times sounded like a moderator but when it came to doing the real work of a moderator he fell horribly short. He did not control the time of the segments, nor did he control the candidates, allowing Romeny to run roughshod over him as he mercilessly pounded on the president. In one exchange Lehrer told Romney that he could not answer a question and Romney simply refused to obey him. He told Lehrer he would answer anyway - and he did. Conversely when Obama tried to defy the inept Lehrer when he felt his time was cut short he stated "I still had 5 seconds left until you cut me off". "5 seconds?" In the words of Keyshawn Johnson, "C'mon Man".
Lehrer asked none of the tough questions on women's issues, immigration, the infamous "47 percent" comment, or fair pay. Obama did nothing to interject these things into the debate. He basically let Romney skate away from the most controversial issues much like a coach refusing to throw the red flag on an obviously wrong controversial call.
Intangibles (Body Language) - "D"
Just like sports many debates are won or lost on the intangibles. The ultimate intangible in a debate is body language. Last night Obama's was terrible. While Romney stared down Obama in calm defiance, Obama spent much of his time looking down as he took copious notes. Romney smiled while he answered tough questions, while many of the smiles displayed by Obama looked forced as if someone were speaking to him through hidden microphone reminding him to do so.
When answering questions Obama often seemed to pause and hesitate, sounding unsure of his answers. Conversely Romney sounded sure and confident; rattling off answers in bullet point format. The bottom line is that Obama looked tired and at times, seemingly caught off guard by Romney's attack. Romney looked poised, professional and yes - presidential.
Close-out - "F"
Obama ended the debate with about as weak a closing statement that I have ever heard a president give. While Romney closed with rapid fire bullet points outlining one failure after another of the economy and Obama's presidency, Obama spent the time highlighting his own frailty and imperfections. To paraphrase "I said I was not perfect man or a perfect president, but I promised when you first elected me that I would fight for you and if you elect me for a second term I will fight just as hard."
Are you kidding me? After getting your clock cleaned for 90 minutes the LAST THING we want to hear about is how imperfect you are. This narrative just fuels the fire that you are inept and incapable of leading the country for another term. Obama gave no reason to vote for him except that he will "try hard". That just doesn't cut it.
Obama did not highlight any of his accomplishments in his closing, and gave no discussion on what he would do in the next four years to improve the country. He also gave no response to the pointed, crisp attacks presented by Romney in his closing. Even worse, he presented his closing argument with no fire; looking and sounding like a man who was tired and knew he was defeated.
Overall Grade - "D-"
Last night's debate in no way reflected the Obama that the country has come to know, respect and trust as the leader of the free world. If he wants to win re-election he will have to show more fire and realize that he is in a contest with an opponent who is energized and willing to lie, cheat, scratch and claw his way to the presidency. Obama has the tools to defeat Romney with honesty, integrity and forceful argument. Let's hope that Obama shows up at the next debate.
Note: Immediately after the debate MSNBC surrogates spent much of their air time fighting the battles that Obama should have fought during the debate (see Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow). This may be the biggest example of the failure of Obama in last night's contest.
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