Debates

Click Your Talking Points Together Three Times, and You're Home

The third Massachusetts Senate debate between Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren Wednesday night showed one thing: how good a debator any politician can be after three chances to say the same things. Unlike the last debate , the two candidates were unfailingly polite to each other. When Brown said that Warren's regulatory policies would hurt the middle class, Warren responded, "I'm glad you mentioned regulations!" (She then went on to mention that her support of regulations led to a new agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.) Brown complimented Warren on the creation of the CFPB (but then, of course, he mentioned that he was the deciding vote in the Dodd-Frank bill that created it.) The moderator, New England public television's Jim Madigan, apologized when he had to mention the candidates were out of time. The hullaboo came from the audience that—despite being told several times not to respond to their candidates—clapped or booed when...

Obama: Giving Away Social Security

(AP/Rex Features)
Here is Mitt Romney’s proposal to cut Social Security benefits, from the Romney campaign website : First, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that the retirement age should be slowly increased to account for increases in longevity. Second, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that benefits should continue to grow but that the growth rate should be lower for those with higher incomes. In other words, cuts in benefits. In the first debate, I was waiting for President Obama to go to town on this. Instead, Obama had this to say: LEHRER: "Mr. President. Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?" OBAMA: "You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill." He’s got a similar position to Mitt Romney’s? On Social Security? Does this man just want to hand the...

Debate Prep with Joe

(Flickr/People for Cherry)
(AP Photo/Jim Cole) Joe Biden at a debate at Dartmouth College in September 2007. Even presidents need a little practice from time to time, something immediately clear to anyone who tuned into last week's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama, busy with his day job of running a country, had supposedly been skimping on debate preparation sessions. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate had bunkered down over the past several months, practicing his zingers and perfecting his 90-second pitches. The result: The incumbent was left fumbling for words when they finally met onstage. Historically debates haven't shifted the final election results, but a slight Romney bump seems to be emerging in the latest tracking polls . Clearly Barack Obama should have spent a few more hours in mock debates against John Kerry, the stand-in actor the campaign selected to play Mitt Romney. A dependable politician from the party is selected to play the opponent’s role. Ohio Senator Rob Portman, for...

Liberals Need to Get a Grip

Do not let these people make you anxious.
As a liberal who writes about politics for a living, I've spent the last few days talking to increasingly panicked Democrats, who have begun to overreact to the fact that President Obama had a poor debate performance, which then produced a movement in some polls toward Mitt Romney. I think David Weigel put it well yesterday: "The first presidential debate has come to remind me of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace . Democrats walked out of the theater/turned off the TV saying 'huh, well, I wanted it to be better.' After a few days of talking to friends, it changes from a disappointment into the worst piece of crap in human history." Andrew Sullivan kind of went nuclear after seeing the Pew poll I discussed yesterday, writing a post titled, "Did Obama Just Throw the Entire Election Away?" I can answer that: No. For many years, psychologists and sociologists have known that in small groups, a uniformity of opinion can push opinion to the extremes. For instance, if you get a group...

The Worst Debate Performance Ever, Really?

(AP Photo)
Twenty minutes into the debate between the president and his challenger last week, I sent a friend an email: “Romney is winning this thing.” So I’m quite literally on the record as agreeing with the consensus view about the debate before I knew there was a consensus. Or rather, I should say that I did agree with the consensus—that Barack Obama didn’t do well—as it existed so long ago (six days) that now it seems like the Dawn of Man. The current conclusion, to the extent I can keep up with it, is that it was the worst debate performance in the history of rhetoric. In a fashion typically frenzied when it comes to politics, the consensus has fed on itself and gotten worse by the moment, helped along in no small part by people who claim to be the president’s partisans. Some of the most bitter language I’ve heard about Obama in five years has been muttered in the last five days by Obama supporters, who you would think might have ire left over for a Republican nominee as audacious as...

Why Can't Candidates Bring Notes to the Debates?

(AP/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP/Charlie Neibergall) No, there's nothing fishy going on here. Apparently, there are a few liberals out there concerned (or maybe just bored) that Mitt Romney brought some kind of a cheat sheet to the debate the other night, because he was seen taking something out of his pocket and putting it on his podium. The participants aren't supposed to bring any notes with them, but his campaign assures us that it was just a handkerchief. I'm not even going to get into the George W. Bush suit bulge affair, because I wouldn't want to encourage any tedious Zapruder-style analysis, but here's my question: Why the hell shouldn't they be allowed to bring notes? Presidential debates shouldn't be a memorization contest. I'm fairly sure that Mitt Romney would win that hands down; I marveled during the primaries at his ability to say things like, "The answer is yes, Jim, and there are eight reasons why," then rattle off exactly eight things. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'd make a better...

We're All Values Voters

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
As recently as last month’s convention, Democrats were getting their narrative back. They were uniformly praised for their message discipline and for laying out an inspiring vision for the country, reflected in a string of rousing speeches that told a story and signaled (instead of concealed) their values. After last night’s debate, Dems risk falling back into the lost decades when the party could offer only a grab bag of policy goodies to its fragile coalition instead of a coherent governing philosophy. If Barack Obama’s debate performance is any indication, they seem poised to forget a key lesson from the last three elections: We’re all “values voters.” Yes, we in the commentariat always clamor for more specifics. But policies mean little if they’re not communicated as part of a larger narrative that speaks to voters’ values. I don’t mean gay marriage and abortion, per se, but the belated understanding by Dems (decades after the GOP) that voters make choices based on whether a...

B Is for Bad Moderator

(AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
(AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds) President Barack Obama answers a question of moderator Jim Lehrer during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, October 3, 2012, in Denver. A ll spinning aside—and if I read the term "rope-a-dope" one more time, I may lose it—Wednesday's debate was a bummer for Obama's partisans and a lift for Mitt Romney's. But let's not slight the night's one great contribution to American unity. Who among us can forget the thrill of realizing we were all fed up with Jim Lehrer? From blue, red, and even purple throats alike, a roar of "Put a sock in it, you dweeb" rang through the land. Beware the man whose signature boast is his modesty. The comedy got underway when Monday's New York Times reported that the crypt-keeper of PBS's Newshour was "seething" over complaints that he might not be the hippest cat to moderate Denver's mano a mano. It's not unknown in Washington that Lehrer can be awfully prickly whenever anybody doubts his bland...

Obama the Apologetic

Obama and Romney, yukking it up.
As I read over the transcript of the debate, a couple of things struck me. First, on the page it doesn't look nearly as bad for Obama as a lot of people are saying. Of course, the debate doesn't exist for most people on the page, but what I found frustrating wasn't so much that Obama said things that were bad in and of themselves, but that he let so many opportunities pass by. And what a lot of it comes down to is his seeming inability to use direct language. We heard leading up to the debate that his advisers were encouraging him to make his answers shorter, but length isn't his problem. It's that he uses passive constructions and language that hedges when he should be speaking more clearly. To show what I mean, here are a few of the things he said during the debate when he was criticizing Romney, and how they might have been put more clearly. Here's something he said about Romney's tax plan: Now, Governor Romney's proposal that he has been promoting for 18 months calls for a $5...

At Long Last, Romney Shifts to the Center

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, October 3, 2012, in Denver. F or some time now, I've been wondering when Mitt Romney would finally make that "shift to the center" that candidates supposedly do after they win their party's nomination. The need was particularly acute for Romney, since his party is particularly unpopular with the public, and he spent the primaries working so hard to convince base Republican voters that he was, in his immortal phrase, "severely conservative." But it never seemed to happen. Until last night. There's no question that Romney performed better than Obama in most every way. But what was really striking to me was how different he sounded than he has up until now. If you hadn't paid any attention to politics over the last year and a half, you'd think this Mitt Romney guy must have been the most moderate Republican running this...

Where's the Policy?

Like so many people—most, I would argue—I don’t so much listen to the presidential debates as watch them. As the words drone on in the background, I watch how they stand, where they look, what they emphasize. You’ve already read Bob Moser’s and Robert Kuttner’s detailed critiques of the President’s debate performance, and you don’t need my echo. But what I saw last night—whether accurately or not—was this: An exhausted President Obama isn’t completely sure he still wants the job. I’m not saying that is true; I am saying that that’s how he looked. Sure, he might have been preoccupied with the fact that, yesterday, Turkey made a preliminary foray into war with Syria—the man does have a demanding day job—but my fellow spectators on Twitter were crazed as Obama failed to make the case for his continued presidency. Someone tweeted, “Does Canada make you self-deport? Asking for a friend.” Others urged Team Obama to send Bill Clinton in as his designated hitter for the next two debates,...

"And Now Begins the Overreaction."

Opening Remarks Opening gambits: Obama croons "Let's Stay Together," Romney counters with "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain." — Paul Waldman (@paulwaldman1) October 4, 2012 I'm confused. I was led to believe this would be a debate between Jeremiah Wright and Orly Taitz. — Jesse Walker (@notjessewalker) October 4, 2012 This is like watching a tax law professor debate an investment advice infomercial host — daveweigel (@daveweigel) October 4, 2012 Moderator Bashing ... — Silent Jim Lehrer (@SilentJimLehrer) October 4, 2012 Jim Lehrer is watching "Homeland" on his iPad. — John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) October 4, 2012 Jim Lehrer seems kinda crotchety, but we really need Eastwood moderating this debate. — Molly Ball (@mollyesque) October 4, 2012 JIM LEHRER IS A REPLACEMENT REF — Kevin Lincoln (@KTLincoln) October 4, 2012 I like when Twitter moves this fast, because it means we're all just shouting into the ether, and not actually reading any of it. — Alex Koppelman (@AlexKoppelman)...

The Debate in 17 GIFs

Obama Shouts Out to Michelle for Their Anniversary Mitt Says He Loves Coal Obama Nods. Mitt Offers Some Simplistic Platitudes. Obama Nods. Obama Name-Checks Bill Clinton. Twice. Mitt Tells Another Anecdote about a Down-on-Their-Luck Couple in Schenectady. Jim Lehrer Won't Shut Mitt Up. Obama Nods. Everyone Loves the Middle Class Mitt Claims He's Way into Regulation. Obama Smiles. Mitt Throws the Phrase "Trickle-Down" at Obama. The President Winces. Liberals Facepalm. It's Over. THANK GOD.

Romney Wins ... and It Won't Matter

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney embraces granddaughter Chloe at the end of the first presidential debate. For the last two weeks, I have argued—consistently—that the debates don’t matter for the outcome of the presidential election. And now that we’ve had the first debate , I still think that’s true. Which is not to say that this wasn’t interesting. For the first time since he began running for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney looked comfortable. During his debate with President Obama, he took command, clearly explained his points of disagreement, and offered a little humanity with stories of the unemployed and suffering. He even shook the Etch-a-Sketch; on everything from tax policy—he disavowed his plan to cut taxes across-the-board—to health care (where he praised his Massachusetts reform bill), Romney made an abrupt move to the center, and it was hugely effective. It’s no exaggeration to say that...

Obama: Game Off

(AP/David Goldman)
President Obama listens to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday. Not since George H.W. Bush’s “I’m so bored I’m looking at my watch” turn in the town-hall debate against Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992 has a sitting president performed as lethargically as Barack Obama did in Denver. The juice that the Democratic Convention injected into his re-election effort was leeched out, in the span of 90 minutes, by his faltering, small-ball effort. The president didn’t just play it safe; he didn’t play at all. That was not merely the reason Obama lost; it was also the reason Mitt Romney gave him a good old-fashioned stomping. The Mittster came across as a man who can’t wait to be president. Sure, he was overeager at times. Yes, he was unappealingly aggressive at times, especially as he mercilessly steamrolled the hapless and foggy Jim Lehrer. And of course, his “plans” made no sense whatsoever, as the...

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