The English teacher in me thinks if I had a classroom right now I would watch the debates with my students and expect them to write a response paper–anything to get students writing and thinking. So I decided I should take up the challenge myself but in order to not be completely irrelevant when I posted I gave myself the time constraint of “48 hours”. Also influenced by my English teacher hat I decided to assess each candidate’s performance. Here are the categories for assessment: Style–Did the candidate seem at ease? Did he stumble or appear confused? What did his body language communicate? Message–Did the candidate leave his audience with a clear sense of the issues he considers most important in this election? Truthfulness–Whether talking about himself or his opponent was the candidate honest? Leadership/Impression–Does the audience get a distinct impression of how the candidate will lead? Does the candidate have a plan for solving or addressing the issues he identified as most important? If we have a bias were we bolstered by our candidate’s performance or were we disappointed? If we were undecided did the debate help us decide or cause us to lean in one direction more than the other? Leadership/Information–Do we know more after watching the debate than we did before we watched the debate? And finally, what part of the debate was most memorable/notable?
Most media commentators agree that former Governor Romney won the first debate. If our only criteria were style I would have to agree. Romney was personable, smiling, and relaxed. He didn’t stutter, never seemed confused, and had great eye contact with the mediator, President Obama, and his television audience. He looked healthy, appeared energized, and frankly seemed well rested. President Obama on the other hand looked haggard. His energy was low and his frustration level seemed high. He rarely smile and one of the few times he showed energy was when he joked with Jim Lehrer that he had had “five seconds left” before Jim had interrupted him. The President lacked the assertive presence we have come to expect from him. In short he seemed flat. To his credit Obama spoke succinctly. What he said we understood. He was kind and somewhat fatherly. Yet he wore his wisdom with a weariness. His hair has grayed and his face has become even more gaunt. Romney’s energy while most often a positive aspect of his debate, at times–the multiple times he interrupted or talked over the top of Mr. Lehrer as well as the President–bordered on rudeness. Therefore, on a point scale of 1 to 5 Governor Romney gets 4.75 points for Style and President Obama 2.75.
Luckily for President Obama style isn’t everything. Message matters as well. In this category both candidates achieved an above average mark. I am fairly certain Romney’s handlers were ecstatic. Their candidate stayed on message, hammering away at his three main talking points–Obama cut $716 billion from medicare. He spent $90 billion on green energy. And, He doesn’t think there should be an unelected board to determine what kind of health procedures an individual can get. President Obama on the other hand covered a wide range of topics in order to lay out his plan. Obama reminded us that his administration cut 77 government programs, $1 trillion dollars out of our discretionary budget, reduced the tax burden of the middle class by $3600 dollars per family, and got the auto industry back on its feet. He also talked quite a bit about his on going plan to invest in education. The one place he seemed to get stuck repeating himself was to insist that Romney would not be able to make a $5 trillion dollar tax cut by lowering the rates in the way his plan calls for and add 2 trillion to the military budget–that the military didn’t even ask to receive–without creating a bigger deficit or further burdening the middle class. Obviously the way in which the candidates delivered these messages affected how well the audience heard them. For this reason the former Governor again “beats” the President with scores of 5 and 4.5 respectively.
Having a message does not mean the same thing as telling the truth. Despite the fact that Governor Romney is “used to people saying the same thing that is not always true but repeating it and ultimately hoping [he’ll] believe it”, he fell into the same problem during the first debate. Briefly, Obamacare will not add to the deficit nor will 20 million people lose their healthcare. Furthermore, the board he kept insisting would decide what procedures individuals could have is in truth prohibited by the law to do so. Additionally 11.5 million fewer people are out of work than the 23 million he quoted and 25 percent not 50 percent of new grads remain unemployed. His example of the father and son business that has four employees does not fit the criteria the President uses to determine which businesses will be taxed at a higher rate so implying that the President’s plan will burden this small business further than it is already burdened was false. Finally, his criteria for cutting government programs implies that China is the largest holder of American debt however the truth is China holds only 8 percent of American debt and two thirds of the debt is held by the federal government, primarily the Federal Reserve and the Social Security Trust fund. Alternatively, President Obama included in his $4trillion dollar deficit reduction plan $2 trillion which is already in place. Additionally, healthcare costs not insurance premiums are at an all time low. The money “saved” by the winding down of the war won’t be money we can put back into the economy. It will actually slow down our borrowing. Finally, Obama explained only once that what he continually referred to as a $5 trillion dollar tax cut was actually the amount of revenue that would be lost by Romney’s tax rate reduction proposal. Thus Governor Romney was able to take advantage of a bit of semantics claiming he was not proposing a tax cut. At the same time the President’s analysis was projected over a 10 year period of time. As a result Obama scores 4 points for truthfulness while Romney scores 2.75.
Our next category, leadership/impression, is mostly based on feeling. When well practiced and somewhat scripted, Mitt Romney is poised, confident, and articulate, even presidential. Likewise, Barack Obama had a command of his facts and was able to present them in a comprehensible manner. He spelled out what his administration has already accomplished and both men laid out the principles which would guide them if they won the election. Obama’s weariness and Romney’s interruptions tainted their overall presence slightly but neither became a huge distraction when one was focused on what was said. Therefore, based on leadership impression from this debate alone, I give each candidate 4.5 points.
Unlike our previous category, leadership/information has little to do with emotion. As Jim Lehrer said at the top of the debate he wanted to focus on the differences between the two men and expected each to provide specifics so the public would have a clear sense of our choices. In other words, this is the category in which the rubber hits the road. Throughout the debate the former Governor reiterated his principles as if they were unique to him. The difference between the two men is that while Mitt Romney was content to present himself as a man of high principles, Barack Obama took those same principles to the next level. He laid out a plan to achieve his goals and showed evidence as to having already made a start. Governor Romney would be a fool to say he want to increase the deficit, raise taxes on the middle class, leave millions uninsured, ignore education, or increase unemployment. But he’s given the American public little solid to stand on. Discontinuing subsidies to PBS, shifting the cost of various programs to the states, and repealing Obamacare jist ain’t gonna hack it! Thus while President Obama gets 5 points for information, former Governor Romney only gets 2.
Total grade: Mitt Romney–74% or a C, Barrack Obama–83% or a B/B- PS: I missed my deadline. Lets hope we all do better next time.