Debate: Romney and Obama Fight it Out
Incumbent presidents often take it on the chin when they return to the debate stage after a four-year absence. Wednesday night in Denver added another such instance to the history books. It’s not that Mitt Romney was particularly stellar, but rather that President Obama fell short.
In an untested format for presidential debates, with two-minute opening statements followed by open-ended discussion, the candidates found themselves having to move fast and think on their feet. On this point, Romney came across as the more nimble performer. He seemed alert to his surroundings in a way that Obama was not.
Still, for both candidates, the long weeks of intense coaching stood in the way of genuine dialogue. Each man appeared so intent on regurgitating his canned lines that direct interaction took a back seat. Despite the best efforts of moderator Jim Lehrer to get the candidates to talk to each other, they too often engaged in parallel monologues. For both candidates this meant passing up a huge opportunity.
Consider a few specific moments from the debate.
Romney’s reference to having learned about fibbing from his five boys represents a classic of debate prep: the premeditated one-liner that combines a positive statement about its speaker (in this case, I’m a family man and a wise parent) with a smackdown of the opponent (don’t believe what Obama and Biden have been saying about me.) This double-pronged approach offered Romney a way to call his opponent a liar with a coating of sugar on top. Whether or not the ploy actually worked rests with the beholder, but Romney deserves credit for successfully shoehorning the line into this debate.
Obama’s response was to smile, which is fine. But it would have been much more effective for him to come back with a line of his own (citing his own experience as a parent, for example) as a means of reminding everyone that Romney was not the only dad on the stage. Obama should never have let himself be compared to a naughty child.