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I’m not going to go into any detailed fact checking or analysis of body language. You can get your fill of both from other sources. (“Pundit” comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “learned,” but these days it usually means someone who doesn’t have to know what he’s talking about because he’s talking about what somebody else already talked about.)
I am going to make a few personal observations about this so-called debate:
- I don’t think there’s any doubt that Romney made a better impression. Try to visualize the debate as though the sound were off. Pay no attention to the words, just think about the way they looked. Romney looked comfortable, enthusiastic, and steady on his feet.
- Obama, on the other hand, was controlled but obviously upset and angry at times. His constant smiling at Romney’s remarks didn’t mask the fact that there was a twitch in his jaw, as though he were grinding his teeth.
- Now turn the sound back on, but pay no attention to the content. Romney generally spoke in complete thoughts and sentences; Obama, on the other hand, often paused. Perhaps he intended to look as though he were thinking about his answer, but (just as in any other job interview) he should have had all of those thoughts already fully formed.
- Now as to the content: both candidates hammered away at the same talking points, over and over again. I kept waiting for them to expand on their themes. I’m hopelessly naive.
- Obama made his case as much as he needed to, given that he has a record of action that goes back three years and a record of speaking that goes back four. I doubt anyone was surprised at anything he said. Given time and a different format, I’m sure he could have given a slide presentation on his policies and only surprised those who have been previously misinformed (if they paid attention or believed him).
- Romney, on the other hand, surprised the dickens out of me! Although he gave no real details about his plans, the little he did give seemed to be at odds with many of the things he said during the debates and in his campaign rallies. He moved back to a more centrist (for a modern Republican) position. I don’t know how that will sit with his party’s far right, but it doesn’t matter to the election. They’d vote for him if a spiked tail suddenly popped out from under his jacket.
- One thing that Romney said that was particularly disingenuous was that he wouldn’t raise the tax rates on anyone. He talked about eliminated loopholes and deductions, but he didn’t say which ones nor what that would do effective tax rates. Eliminating the home mortgage deduction, for example, would hit middle class homeowners pretty hard without changing the tax tables one iota.
- Obama confronted Romney about his lack of details, but he didn’t tackle the issue of effective tax rates. He let that slide. I suspect he did that because it would have led to a classroom-style lecture that would not have fit into the debate forum.
- Romney was also being disingenuous when he talked about working in a bipartison way with Democrats and Republicans together. Since he expects (or at least hopes) that there will be Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, he won’t be needing any bipartisonship. Certainly the current Republican-controlled House hasn’t cooperated in any way with Obama. If you were very cynical you could suspect that the Republicans hoped, and tried to ensure, that Obama would be unable to accomplish anything positive in the last two years.
Don’t forget that this was not a debate, in the formal debate-society sense of the word, so there really wasn’t any way of really keeping score. It wasn’t even thumb wrestling.