Obama Missed Chances in Presidential Debate

Patch’s Democratic columnist weighs in on the candidates’ performances at last night’s presidential debate—and who won and lost in the eyes of anyone watching.


Last night’s big television event was a game changer and folks in the state of Massachusetts might have been able to predict the outcome. Yes, the Yankees unsurprisingly defeated the Boston Red Sox 14-2, but residents of Beantown and the Bay State might have also known that their former governor, Mitt Romney, could pull one out in a clinch during his first presidential debate against President Barack Obama.

And win this one, he did. As much as it pains me to say this, I think this first debate was one Romney could consider as a feather in his cap.

Romney headed into the first debate of the horse race a few lengths behind the president. Surprisingly, he’d been polling lower in swing states like Ohio and on topics like the economy. For a guy who on good days is thought to be robotic, on bad days makes gaffes at home and abroad, Romney didn’t need to do much to exceed expectations of his debate performance. No wonder he came out feisty—he brought his A-game, was confident—and even a little disrespectful at times.

Watching Romney often scold the president over the course of an hour-and-a-half and trying unsuccessfully on occasion to mask his smirk, he came across as bold in his challenge to the incumbent, but with an underlying bratty tone. There was the moment he seemed to be calling the president a child, when he compared Obama to his five sons. When Romney accused the president of inaccurately portraying many of his platform’s plans and ideas (like the $5 billion deficit reduction, energy spending and Medicare cuts) Romney seemed more to be saying, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

Somehow, even though he seemed to look at the president throughout the night as if he were saying, “You silly child,” Romney held his own.

His biggest zing of the night was when he reminded viewers of his own business experience and simultaneously painted Obama as clueless:  ‎"I've been in business for 25 years, I have no idea what you're talking about... the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is just not the case."

Romney’s second best win of the night? His criticism of Obama’s putting healthcare ahead of employment:  “Why focus two years on health care when you could have focused two years on jobs?”

Missed Opportunities for Obama

In contrast, the Commander in Chief had a lot more trouble even getting on the scoreboard. What happened to the guy who can usually command the room as he did when he crooned the opening line of "Let's Stay Together."

Last night his demeanor conveyed that he was more irritated to be there. Even though what Obama has mapped out for economic recovery is more solid for the long term than a Romney plan designed to get the country on a sugar-high rebound, the tone of the annoyed lecturer didn’t win him anything. He could hardly look at Romney during the challenger’s rebuttals and seemed honestly surprised to be challenged—an experience he probably doesn’t have very often in the Oval Office.

Obama wasted his best opportunity to confront Romney in person with the biggest weaknesses the challenger has shown: there was no mention of the 47 percent, Bain Capital or tax returns. It was clear where the two candidates differed on the few domestic policy issues Jim Lehrer brought up, but I don’t think we learned anything we didn’t already know. And it just seemed that Obama ceded too much ground, failing on even one of his strongest tools—his ability to connect with Americans. He couldn’t even summon up any genuinely warm, fuzzy feelings at the moment which could have been his most human—wishing his wife Michelle a happy 20th anniversary.

Winners and Losers

There were other big winners and losers last night.

Loser:  Jim Lehrer The moderator lost control of the debate from moment one. He let the candidates overstep their time limits and couldn’t keep them in line. There were no substantive challenges to anything either one of them said and it seemed as if he sleepwalked through the hour-and-a-half.

Winner: Big Bird When candidate Romney said one of the first things he’d do as President is end any subsidizing of PBS, adding “Sorry, Big Bird,” a nation collectively shouted out, “No.” Twitter activity jumped enough that Big Bird trended the rest of the night and fake accounts like @FiredBigBird sprang up and won thousands of followers before the debate was over. Romney does like to fire people, but he might have to rethink this one.

Loser: Women At no point did either candidate mention women’s healthcare. Abortion, contraception and similar topics never cracked the top 10 subjects let alone any. Given how much women voters might change the course of where the swing states swing, I would have thought women wouldn’t have been a topic kept on the bench.

Winner:  Education Both candidates gave airtime and lip service to education, acknowledging how important it was to focus and fund education efforts. Whether it’s helping middle class families afford sending their children to school or acknowledging how important it is in keeping our country competitive economically, education got its props last night.

Loser: Religious Freedom Okay, perhaps this wasn’t such a big loser, but I have to say I was surprised by Romney’s remark that, “We are a nation where we are all children of the same god.” Except, we’re not. This was clearly a line meant to ring true with the most conservative part of the Republican base, but it served to alienate those who feel our premise of religious freedom should honestly reflect the truth that there are different ways to believe.

Winner: The Yankees At least one thing on television last night made me happy.

Loser: Undecided Voters Ultimately, those who lost the biggest were those who are still unclear for whom they’ll cast their votes. If all they had to go on was this first debate, I don’t think that many of them will have come away from last night’s meeting of the candidates any closer to a decision.

Cliff Cuming October 04, 2012 at 10:22 AM
We clearly saw its impossible for anyone to effectively defend Obama's policies when confronted by principle, morality and facts.
Joe Burke October 04, 2012 at 10:27 AM
Heather- The media has worked tirelessly to ensure that this race is not about the issues and that their guy is never held accountable for his record. That changed last night. As you correctly pointed out, Jim Lehrer lost control at the very first moment. However, Governor Romney forced the debate to be about the issues that polls tell us are most important to the country-specifically the economy, the unemployment/underemployment rate, Social Security and Medicare. This was not a case of Obama just "missing opportunities", he was soundly beaten by a better prepared candidate. Had this been a boxing match it would have been stopped in the 2nd round.
E October 04, 2012 at 10:52 AM
As an undecided voter, I took written notes on what each candidate said. And while they both had their good points -- not to mention not-so-good ones -- Romney was not the only one who tried to slam the other. On the segment about Partisan Gridlock, Romney had just finished saying that if he were president he would continue to reach across the aisle like he had done in Massachusetts as well as have weekly bipartisan meetings with both parties. Obama responded smugly with "well, you're going to have a busy first day" and by repealing "Obamacare" that same day you're not going to make the Democrats very happy. In my opinion, Romney did win the debate. And most of America agrees. So far, I am leaning toward the candidate that didn't waver from topic, didn't stumble on his words, and overall had numbered facts to back up a lot of his points. If I am not mistaken, Obama tried to say that Romney would do things that Romney never proposed to do -- like cut educational funds and grants to schools and that Romney had no insurance plan for those with pre-existing conditions. Before this debate, I was not exactly enthusiastic about either candidate, but now I am starting to see clearer. And Romney has my vote.
E October 04, 2012 at 10:58 AM
Oh, and Twitter asked 500 undecided voters their opinions before and after the debate -- a landslide of people in favor of Romney, according to these results.
Alethiologist October 04, 2012 at 11:08 AM
Obama had an extra 4 minutes but it did not help him. I preferred the toe to toe format that Lehrer enabled. Who do you want pressing our case against Russia, Iran, china, the EU, Congress?
Todd Fox October 04, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I would say that devaluing the currency, as we are doing now, under Mr. Obama, is the very definition of a sugar high economy. Forcing older middle class savers in to the stock market by maintaining a near-zero interest rate would also qualify as serving up a "sugar high" in the stock market. Retirees should be in safe 5% CDs, not desperately seeking yield.
Lorna October 04, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Heather, I agree with much of what you wrote, but I don't think the undecided voters are "losers." I would only consider them that if they don't pay attention to the remaining debates and make up their minds based on this first one. Romney seemed he had a fire lit within him -- far from his usual robotic self. Obama did not have the same fire, and I think he disappointed a lot of his supporters. I can't understand why he didn't bring up the "47 percent" callousness of his opponent.
RD October 04, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Beacuase he got the crap beat out of him by a superior opponent
Jeanie C. Riley October 04, 2012 at 01:57 PM
"Abortion, contraception and similar topics never cracked the top 10 subjects ..." That's because they aren't among the top 10 problems facing America at this point in time. They are, as Obama famously said in 2008, "manufactured issues" that target people who aren't intelligent enough to grasp the more germane issues. You, Heather, seem otherwise intelligent. I'm sorry to see you're drinking the "right to choose" Kool Aid.
the man October 04, 2012 at 02:04 PM
The real irony is that The New York Times is "Fact Checking" The debate
Ipso Facto October 04, 2012 at 02:08 PM
You certainly live in a parallel dimension. Rmoney did indeed survive the debate as he had to. And he didn't make any gaffes or act robotic. But he either flip-flopped on all the policy issues he has embraced as a "severe conservative"...or lied in order to appeal to those who are repelled by those extreme positions which are in fact the GOP Platform. So much for principle. As for "facts", more smoke and mirrors from Rmoney. Obama for his part did not go on the attack as he could have on many issues -- 47%, tax cuts for the rich, etc.
Ipso Facto October 04, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Not Mitt the Twit. Anyone who has exported as many jobs to China as he had is certainly not to be trusted to help America. For heavens sake, Rmoney insulted one of our most important allies, the Brits!
Ipso Facto October 04, 2012 at 02:11 PM
RD -- Mittens had to win or he would have been toast. By not making any of his famous gaffes and appearing to be less robotic he won. On the specifics, he's still a flip-flopper. And he's still losing in all the battleground states. So you'd be wise to not be popping any champagne bottles yet.
Ipso Facto October 04, 2012 at 02:13 PM
You should be embarrassed to support the war on women that the GOP is engaging in. Always so sad to see a woman chugging Teanderthal Kool Aid.
Jeanie C. Riley October 04, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Ipso, I am pro choice. But re-read what I said. Based on the number of posts you've made, you're clearly hysterical this morning -- the way you must have felt the day you learned there is no Santa Claus.
Connecticut15 October 07, 2012 at 03:36 PM
To Ipso Facto: GM has promised to expand their workforce in CHINA - 55%. A government 'saved' American corporation who with the help and control of the existing administration invalidated bond holders in their financial bailout. So contracts are meaningless to this administration.
harpers October 11, 2012 at 09:34 PM
The punk Kenyan and his Marxist experiment got it's clocked cleaned. Nov 6th and the punk goes back to Chicago. God Bless The U.S.A.
EMR October 11, 2012 at 11:37 PM
The punk Mormon and his 47% experiment got it's clocked cleaned. BTW....His pop George was a much better man in many ways... you use Kenyan, I use Mormon...
RD October 12, 2012 at 12:01 PM
how about kenyan/muslim, that should cover him


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something