Thursday, October 04, 2012

A debate that promised more

kw: politics, debates

I have vacillated for most of the day over whether to write about last evening's Presidential Debate, the first meeting between Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. I have read and heard a variety of opinions, including a headline "Romney Wins!", and a diatribe by former PA Governor Ed Rendell about how badly the President did. I judge that people of both political persuasions wanted to see blood run across the stage, and they didn't see it.

Firstly, the debate itself was much closer to a real debate than many I have seen in the 52 years since the original Kennedy-Nixon debate. I am partial to Gov. Romney, and I think he did well. I also recognize that the President did equally well, and I think Ed Rendell's comments are misguided. The President has two key advantages. He is a sitting President, and has experience being Commander in Chief. This played little part in this debate, but I expect it will come out in the future two debates. He also has a better poker face, an ability to appear unfazed no matter what his opponent says. This is something the Governor would do well to work on, if he can avoid looking stiff. However, he has his own advantage, an ability to make his points more succinctly, so he can get more said.

A key moment came after the debate (which I watched on ABC; I am not sure every network kept the cameras going as long). Michelle joined Barack on stage, and quite a gaggle of Romneys came up with Ann to greet Mitt. I could hear a commentator saying, "Mr. Obama requested that as many Romneys were welcome as he liked." I watched the whole group mingle. Mr. Romney introduced quite a number of his offspring to the Obamas, and I could see they all were relaxed and enjoying themselves. I can't read lips, but I wonder if either candidate said, "Boy, was that fun!" These men do not dislike each other the way some pairs of opponents we have seen in the past.

People, if you want to see blood, wait for a future debate (2016 or beyond). This is rightly turning into a battleground of ideas (finally!), and both candidates are working on presenting clear ideas to the American public, and particularly those who still can't make up their minds. They also both know that some who answered polls one way or another are likely to change their mind in the next few weeks.

I expect this election will be a squeaker, whoever wins. The next President is very unlikely to have the kind of mandate that Mr. Obama had four years ago. That's a good thing. He doesn't collaborate across the aisle as well as he claims to, so if he becomes a Lame Duck President, I think we are in for some surprises; he may become a better collaborator than before. And unless there is a strong mandate that sweeps Mr. Romney into office with a "turned" legislature behind him, he will be in for a first term very different from what he might expect. He'll need a heck of a mandate to be able to overturn "Obamacare" (which name the President now claims he likes), for example.

Do I expect more of the same for the coming debates? Only partly. The Vice-Presidential debate next week could be a very different affair. I don't yet have a feeling for whether Messrs. Ryan and Biden like or dislike one another. The coming two Presidential debates could be sharper and stronger, but I don't expect a "Mondale Moment" (when Ronald Reagan's one-liner about Walter Mondale's "youth and inexperience" cracked up Mondale, and effectively blew him out of the race). I do expect a heady set of comparisons between the ideas of two men who have quite different views of the direction America ought to go.

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