Debates

Game, Set, Obama

(AP Photo/David Goldman) President Barack Obama laughs as he talks with audience members after the second presidential debate at Hofstra University. President Obama did what he needed to do tonight. He took the debate to Mitt Romney. He was relaxed, even jaunty, as he scored one point after another. He seemed to be enjoying himself at Romney’s expense. He looked more comfortable and commanding as the debate wore on, while Romney looked more stiff, edgy, and salesman-like. Obama needed to remind voters that Romney is a very rich man out of touch with regular people, and he did that well. He got in Romney’s face and he got under his skin, but stopped just short of being overly aggressive. You could tell right from the beginning that this was a very different Obama. When Romney touted his five-point plan to fix the economy, Obama responded scornfully, “Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan, he has a one-point plan” and that plan is more tax breaks for the very rich who are...

Obama's Town Hall To-Do List

Here’s what President Obama needs to do tonight: Show leadership, resolve, and toughness Directly call Romney on his evasions and deceptions Demolish several of Romney’s outright lies Not pass up several opportunities to make points, as he did in the first debate Not make any major mistakes Take advantage of any Romney blunders Specifically: Refute Romney's claims that the Benghazi attack was Obama’s failure, and shame Romney for trying to make political hay of it Destroy Romney’s credibility on the budget, tax cuts for the wealthy, and Social Security Press Romney directly on which tax loopholes he’d close Remind voters that Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy, whose new-found identification with regular working people is a sham Associate Romney with Republican blockage of Obama’s efforts to promote a stronger economic recovery Push Romney hard on issues where he has changed his position or denies his real current position, such as abortion rights Demolish Republican talking points...

Five Fool-Proof Tips for Winning a Town Hall Debate

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/Joe Marquette, File) In this October 15, 1992 file photo, Moderator Carole Simpson, background center, presides over the Presidential debate between, from left, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, Independent candidate Ross Perot, center, and Republican candidate, President George H.W. Bush, at the University of Richmond, Virginia. The every-four-years ritual of a national "town hall" style debate began as a nerve-racking experiment in live television. Simpson was so nervous about turning over the microphone to regular folks and their questions that she spent days mapping out the presidential candidates and their issues on "a zillion 3-by-5 cards," in case she had to take over the questioning herself. T uesday night, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet in a "town hall" debate, which doesn't actually much resemble a town hall, but does provide an opportunity for ordinary voters to ask the candidates questions. So does this kind of forum actually give us any...

Let's Talk about Climate, Mr. President

(PRNewsFoto/American Electric Power)
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip) Drought-stricken corn crops bake in the sun as temperatures continue to hover around 100 degrees Monday, July 25, 2011, in Tomball, Texas. Very little rain has fallen across the state this year. About 70 percent of Texas rangeland and pastures are classified as in very poor condition, which means there has been complete or near complete crop failure or there’s no food for grazing livestock. T he night of the first presidential debate, I showed up at a watching party unusually sweaty. It was a heavy, humid night in New York City—too hot for October, reminiscent of an evening in late June. I know that weather’s not climate , but I couldn’t help wondering: without climate change, how likely could it be that a night a few weeks into the fall would feel like this one? Was I experiencing the creep of days hotter than they should be, nights that just won’t cool down? Most Americans, it turns out, are asking themselves similar questions. The latest research from...

Time to Try the "Romney Is Lying" Debate Strategy

You're getting sleepy...
One of the triumphs of Mitt Romney's performance in the first debate was that he told an enormous number of outright falsehoods ( see here ) with virtually no response from Obama, or at least no effective response. So one of Obama's challenges tomorrow night—perhaps the key challenge—is how to handle it when Romney says things that aren't true. What he can't do is what he did in the first debate, offer a muttering response filled with details and failing to emphasize his central point. I realize there's at least some chance that the President is too busy to be reading this blog today. But just in case, let me offer a suggestion. What Obama needs is a set of responses that cover the topic at hand, but that all follow a single theme . He needs, to put it bluntly, a single phrase that he will repeat every time he's refuting a Romney falsehood. It could be something slogan-y, like "That's another Romney Reinvention," or could be something simple, like "Once again, Governor Romney thinks...

Laughing All the Way

The most pressing question that Joe Biden faced, heading into Thursday night’s debate, was a tricky one: How do you handle an opponent who’s going to be lying his well-defined buttocks off for 90 minutes? The lack of a strategy for dealing with serial dishonesty had left President Obama dumbfounded in his first debate with Mitt Romney. He shouldn't have been taken aback: The Republican ticket-mates know perfectly well that being honest about their policies and platform would make it impossible for them to win a general election. You can’t advocate deficit-reduction and a $5 billion tax cut and a few extra billion in defense spending and be up front about what all that would actually mean—or whether it’s even mathematically possible. You can’t say that you’ll do everything possible to see that Roe v. Wadeis overturned. You can’t say what replacing Medicare with “premium support” really means. Which means Romney and Ryan can’t not lie—unless they want to spend election night wondering...

The Questions That Haven't Been Asked

Although Martha Raddatz's moderation of the vice-presidential debate went leaps and bounds above that of Jim Lehrer's, the questions haven't veered far from the insider baseball that leaves pundits cheering.

WikiMedia Commons
Coverage of the presidential and vice-presidential debates has generally focused on the horse race issues—the damage done by Obama's somnolent performance, how much the damage has been contained by Biden's substantive destruction of the overrated Paul Ryan. But its also important to consider what has been excluded from the discussions so far. To a remarkable extent, questions and subsequent discussion have focused on a (very narrow) discussion of economic issues. And while nobody can doubt the importance of economic issues in an era of ongoing mass unemployment, crucial issues of individual rights and equality over which presidents have major influence were left unmentioned. During the 180 minutes of debates so far—despite the presidential debate's sole focus on domestic policy—there has been a grand total of one question about civil rights and civil liberties issues. Yesterday, moderator Martha Raddatz finally asked a question about abortion. But, as Salon 's Irin Carmon points out...

Phew!

Keep talking, buddy. I'm coming for you.
We all know that vice-presidential debates don't matter, or at least that's what we knew until last night. This one, however, may turn out to matter quite a bit, even if it doesn't produce any major movement in the polls, for two reasons. The first is the obvious one: it has already made despondent Democrats feel a lot better. They wanted to see their guy aggressively take on the other side, and that's exactly what they got. Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos probably spoke for most Democrats when he wrote , "Tonight felt great, didn't it? ... we base liberals are happy again, which means we'll be productive bees because no matter what some of you claim, no one likes to work hard for the team that is 10 points down (or feels that way)." Conservatives, on the other hand, are unanimous in their judgment that Biden was overbearing and mean. Last night on Fox, Brit Hume called him "a cranky old man." "Biden Bombed," reads the Fred Barnes piece on the Weekly Standard web site. "Classless Joe,"...

Nailing Jell-O to the Wall

Biden did a lot better than his president did in the first debate. But Obama still needs to hammer home all of the inconsistencies and evasions in the Romney-Ryan positions on such key issues as Social Security, Medicare, and taxation. Between moderator Martha Raddatz’s questioning and the vice-president’s persistence, the viewer just about grasped that the Romney-Ryan arithmetic was entirely bogus when the Republicans claim that there were $5 trillion worth of loopholes that can be closed to pay for new tax cuts without cutting programs, giving further breaks to the rich, or increasing the deficit. But Biden did not quite demand in so many words: Which loopholes would you close? What would they add up to? And (since the Republicans have no plausible answer) why aren’t you telling us? The Romney-Ryan position that these details would be worked out with Congress is, in Biden’s term, malarkey. But the viewer had to be paying careful attention to appreciate the full phoniness of the...

The Vice-Presidential Face-Off, GIF-ified

Raddatz, right out the gate: Ryan gives props to Beau Biden. "MALARKEY!" "Let's move on to another war." :( Biden is a real-time, one-man fact-checking team. Ryan: Biden: "Mitt's a car guy" line transitions to Biden's car accident story. Biden addresses the camera directly. 47%, 47%, 47% Ryan launches into his five-point economic plan. Then Biden explains that plan's feasibility. Ryan: Biden: Ryan is anti-choice because of "reason and science." Biden demands time to speak Martha Raddatz at the end of the night:

Revenge of the Biden

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
(AP Photo/Eric Gay) Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, representative of Wisconsin, listens to Vice President Joe Biden during the vice-presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. “This is like the Avengers, when the Hulk grabbed Loki and smashed him on the floor.” I watched this debate in Chesapeake, Virginia, with a group of local Democrats, and it’s fair to say that they were excited by Vice President Biden’s performance in tonight’s debate. They cheered his jabs—“This is malarkey”—and cheered when he directly attacked Paul Ryan for his rhetoric. In other words, if Biden’s job was to cover for President Obama and rebuild Democratic enthusiasm, then he accomplished it with flying colors. From foreign policy to Medicare to taxes and national security, Biden defended the administration’s policies and offered a strong retort to claims from Paul Ryan and the Romney campaign. Biden was dominant throughout the debate, but there were particular areas where he...

Memo to Joe, Re: Debate

TO: VPOTUS FROM: Robert Reich RE: Debate Beware: Paul Ryan will appear affable. He’s less polished and aggressive than Romney, even soft-spoken. And he acts as if he’s saying reasonable things. But under the surface he’s a right-wing zealot. And nothing he says or believes is reasonable—neither logical nor reflecting the values of the great majority of Americans. Your job is to smoke Ryan out, exposing his fanaticism. The best way to do this is to force him to take responsibility for the regressive budget he created as chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan won’t be able to pull a Romney—pretending he’s a moderate—because the Ryan budget is out there, with specific numbers. It’s an astounding document that Romney fully supports. And it fills in the details Romney has left out of his proposals. Mitt Romney is a robot who will say and do whatever he’s programmed to do. Ryan is the robot’s brain. The robot has no heart. It’s your job to enable America to see this. I suggest you...

Brown Versus Warren, Round III

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Unless you live in Massachusetts—or maybe even if you do—you probably missed the Elizabeth Warren/Scott Brown debate last night. That’s too bad, because it was a kick-ass debate—a model for political debates—run by Jim Madigan, from Springfield, Massachusetts’s public television station. (I know, I know—like Big Bird, he has to be careful, lest Romney fire him.) Here’s the truly groundbreaking part: Madigan actually moderated. He asked substantive questions about policy, drawn from those voters sent in. He kept the candidates to strict time schedules, giving them 20 seconds here and 5 seconds there, forcing them to articulate their beliefs quickly and crisply. He actually cut Brown off mid-sentence as Brown meandered around one point. Imagine that! As the debate went on, they started speed-talking to beat the clock. There was no time for Scott Brown to hurl his ludicrous accusations about Warren’s ancestry, although he did go ad hominem as often as he could. But we actually heard...

Stuck in Second-Class Debate Gear

(AP Photo/Laura-Chase McGehee)
The 2012 election is the fifth straight presidential election to feature no third-party candidates in the debates—and as a result, there's also a lack of engagement with issues that the two major-party candidates don’t want to discuss. The debates are organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a 501(c)(3) organization created by the Democratic and Republican national committees and funded by corporate sponsors. This year, as usual, the commission extended invitations to only the Democratic and Republican candidates—much to the chagrin of third-party candidates and the handful of nonprofit organizations committed to including more voices in the debates. “The commission survives on deception. ... It sounds like a government agency, but of course, it’s not,” said George Farah, executive director of Open Debates, a group leading the charge to include third-party candidates in the presidential debates. “Every four years, it allows negotiators, the Republican and Democratic...

Could the VP Debate Be a BFD?

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
(AP Photo/David Goldman) A banner made by a local middle school depicting Republican vice presidential candidate, Representative Paul Ryan, at left, and Vice President Joe Biden, at right, hangs on the wall inside the media center ahead of Thursday's vice presidential debate, Wednesday, October 10, 2012, at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. I f you find yourself moved to prepare for tonight's debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan by watching the 2008 vice-presidential debate , your first response will be, "Holy cow, I'd almost forgotten what a nincompoop Sarah Palin is." But after that, you'll be reminded that before he became the shirtless, Trans Am-washing guy so hilariously lampooned in The Onion , Biden was known as one of the most eloquent speakers in his party. He was well prepared for his meeting with Palin; not only did he talk fluidly about a range of issues, but he came armed with an array of factoids that he parceled out effectively and he was ready with practiced...

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