After just watching the debate, I have a very different take.
Frankly I do not agree with all the hand wringing and gnashing of teeth about President Obama's performance. Nor the universal judgement that Mitt Romney won hands down and that President Obama lost abysmally.
I don't see it that way at all.
(This past week I have had the cold from hell; went to bed early on Wednesday and today was the first day that I felt like I rejoined the human race. I was curious to finally see the debate about which there has been such a firestorm.)
I watched and listened to the debate very carefully. And these are my take aways:
1) Jim Lehrer's framing of the debate was a recipe for disaster. He said:
Tonight's 90 mins will be about domestic issues and will follow a format designed by the commission. ...... I made the final selections... the segments...3 on economy, 1 on healthcare and 1 on governing, with an emphasis throughout on differences, specifics, and choices....."Framing the debate in these terms (bolded) led to a very shaky enterprise. Given that the Romney campaign for the duration of their campaign refused to give specifics on almost every issue and when they did, those specifics were immediately corrected or denied or the opposite thing was told to a different audience, this question was not going to lead to clarification. Rather I think, it was an invitation to further prevarication. It seemed custom designed to give Romney another opportunity to spin another self.
As Lehrer opened with the first question he said,
The economy, lets begin with jobsSo, Lehrer was asking each of them to compare and contrast their policies with those of their opponent. With that question Obama was cornered. He was asking Obama to state what Romney's position was. Disaster alert.
What are the major differences between the two of you about how you would go about creating new jobs. Mr President you go first.
I studied/study Sun Tsu and have learned a lot from his approach to conflict, battle and war. I am not going to quote his actual words but rather speak in terms of my understanding and applications of his words.
His foundational strategy is to know yourself, your opponent, the conditions of the conflict and your resources. As a part of this analysis, it is critical that you assess your own strengths and weakness as those of your enemy. And then, it is critical to assess how your strengths and weaknessess interact with the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent. (Think of it as setting up a matrix.) So, for me, the first principle as a result of this analysis, is to decide in this current conflict, what are my greatest strengths that are ALSO the greatest weakness of my opponent. That becomes my 'strongest playing field' and his weakest 'playing field' (in relation to this conflict with me.) It then becomes my strategy to keep the battle ON MY PLAYING FIELD OF THIS STRENGTH as much as possible. Always drawing the opponent back there, where they will be weaker in the combat.
This frame by Lehrer firmly put Mitt Romney on his strongest playing field. And immediately placed Obama at a disadvantage, on a weaker playing field. If Lehrer had been paying attention to the campaign and Romney he would have realized that Romney (maybe deliberately) has not said anything consistently and has been ridiculed for that very thing. This question was bizarre; did Lehrer think that Romney would all of a sudden become consistent? There is no there, there with Romney. This is Romney's strength; he's gotten away with it the whole campaign.
It seemed to me that Obama then spent the debate trying to answer Lehrer's questions and accepted the frame of having to articulate Romney's positions. Obama conceded to debating on Romney's playing field. It is no wonder that many thought he lost the debate because he was not on his field of strength.
So, continuing with Sun Tsu. The next major lesson I have learned is not to let myself be put on and/or stay on a bad playing field. Once recognized, there are several ways to change the playing field back to your advantage. With regards to the debate, if someone asks you a question to which there is no good answer or the answer puts you on a weaker playing field, refuse to answer the question as framed, rather than argue through the question. "I cannot answer the question as you frame it. However, a better question would be...." Or words to that effect. This is very useful for types of questions such as 'are you still beating your wife?" You immediately change the playing field to your playing field of strength or at least refuse to stay on a weak playing field.
So, Obama could very easily say: "Jim, I can only speak for my positions; frankly I do not know what Mr. Romney's positions are; he has so many on each issue You will have to ask Mr. Romney about his. Maybe we can ask him what his position tonight is on 'xyz.' Etc. Etc.
Obama accepted being on Romney's strong playing field during the debate. Bad Move. I believe Obama could have moved it to his own playing field. So to me that was Obama's big fail of the night. He allowed Lehrer to put him in a position of articulating Romney's positions, which Romney then sweetly denied. I also think strategically, it would have gotten Romney's goat, if Obama kept asking what his final position tonight was on 'xyz' and so the 'snake oil salesman' would have become more edgy and lost his carefully crafted persona.
2. However, given that Obama didn't move the game to his playing field, I thought that his answers were clear, logical and that he spoke directly to the American people several times most effectively. I followed everything he said and it made sense to me. He communicated with the audience rather than debated the 'many faces of mitt.' That was a good choice, considering the options.
On a non verbal level, President Obama came across to me as calm, reasoned, rational and likeable. I did not find him distant or browbeaten by Romney. His looking down did not distract me. The body language reassured me, calmed me and kept my attention. The net effect was that I felt very comfortable with him.
Romney, on the other hand, came across as desperate, conniving and the word that persisted most for me during the debate, was 'ravenous as a wolf'. Mitt looked at Obama as prey; as though Mitt was an animal in the jungle getting ready to pounce and devour him. Frankly the condescending smirk sent chills through me. He smelled of overdrive and huge insincerity. His nonverbals were very unsettling and disturbing to me. My instinctual self said to walk away from this person; he was very dangerous. He was not someone to be trusted.
So, I definitely think that President Obama came across so much more presidential and trustworthy than Romney, the Ravenous Wolf.
I believe Obama won the likeability and trustworthy contest by miles. It wouldn't surprise me at all if other people felt that same way.
3.) I have read much about the frustration by liberals that Obama didn't hit back at Romney's lying. Call him out on the lying. That's a real conundrum. I totally can understand people who said that they were screaming at the tv sets, etc., and got very frustrated that Obama didn't strike back.
Although I can definitely understand the 'tell Romney that he is lying' feeling, to me it didn't fit into the debate. I do think that all of this could be headed off at the pass, as I expressed earlier, by not accepting Lehrer's framing of the debate.
However, to be blunt about it, it would be worse for Obama to be seen calling Romney a liar. It would immediately devolve into 'he said, she said.' And it then would all be about how awful Obama was. Think about it. The target audience is the undecided. If someone is undecided at this point, it goes without saying that they haven't been paying attention and to be suddenly hit with someone 'attacking another person' saying that they were lying, would be very jarring. I agree with Obama just patiently talking to them and trying to help them understand what he was saying.
Clearly, however this lying issue must be dealt with. Romney acts like a shapeshifter. If you challenge any one of those shapes, you are drawn into his craziness and lying world. And he will just deny what he has said. Just as he did at the debate. Obama will have to seek professional advice on how to deal with someone who acts as though he is a multiple personality sociopath. Directly arguing with him or saying he is lying is not the solution.
Mitt has recreated himself. Once again. This iteration however is uber creepy. The 'centrist Romney' is like a horny guy on the prowl, trolling the bars. Clearly he has now morphed into the 'I will say anything to get you to go to bed with me' mode. I will tell you that you are beautiful, the love of my life, I've never met anyone like you before, that it is love at first sight... etc. etc." What he doesn't tell you is that he gets turned on by giving pain and will leave you the minute he is finished with you. He will say whatever he has to, in order to get you to do what he wants you to do. This is what he is doing to the electorate.
That is the Mitt Romney that came across the screen to me.
4) Since I missed watching the debate in real time, I learned what I could when I read the diaries on Thursday. I was very surprised when I woke up on Friday morning when one of the first thoughts in my mind was:
How incredibly callous of Romney to tell Lehrer that he would not fund PBS and would fire him. All the time with that sickly sweet smile on his face. I'll bet that there were plenty of men and women watching the debate who did lose their jobs from someone telling them that their job was cut. Those men and women would have had a chill going down their spine when they heard Romney say that to Lehrer. Lehrer just looked straight back at him. Losing one's job is not a joke. But it became so for Romney by threatening Big Bird. I shuddered at the thought that Romney would find pleasure in another's pain.5) The Media. Aren't we all sick and tired yet about the media's drive to make politics into an ever growing circus? Frankly they do a great disservice to the country insisting that the candidates should live up to their ever hyper 'infotainment' model.
The way the pundits were talking about the debate (pre and post,) it was as if they were covering the semifinals on American Idol. They wanted adrenaline, drama, a reality show. They wanted raw moments, sensation, something to talk about. And they expected that the American public wants this approach to choosing a president, as well.
Frankly it disgusts me. People's healthcare, jobs, not to mention the actual health of the planet is at stake. Can you imagine the present day media covering Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement with their same 'infotainment' model? UGH! To say the least, it would have been demeaning to the geniune struggle that the movement represented.
Its not that I don't think 'optics' or 'moment' isn't important. In a media age this reality must be honored as well. However, I believe that the media is shaping the presidential race to its model of entertainment and we are all the losers for that. For them, Mitt got the highest ratings of the night. Forget the fact that he did so by morphing into another person with a totally different story; truly an actor playing a fantastical role. They found this person new and exciting. And Obama was just samo, samo. Not fodder for the 24 news cycle. Their ratings system did not care or take into account that Romney told all the lies he did. You see to them, he told those lies so well. And that's all that counts for them. Even when some of them admitted immediately that Romney lied through his teeth. Telling a lie in an exciting way is much more preferable to telling the truth in a calm way. Where have we come to?
And the supposed liberals of the bunch (some of MSNBC) lost it, imo, in their hubris that their standards represented reality. The media is now in the position of reporting the news they believe should exist.
What's could possibly be wrong with that picture?
So, to sum up:
Romney The Liar will have to be dealt with, without a doubt. The Obama Campaign is already doing that with all the ads that are coming out. And more and more is being written about and spoken about his lying. Romney's performance was nothing short of chilling. I don't think he will escape this performance scott free.
All in all, I think Obama did well in the debate with the opponent who showed up. I do regret that Obama didn't immediately seize/change the playing field, as I mentioned. However, given that Obama didn't, I think it would have been disastrous if he had started arguing with Romney, calling him a liar or getting upset in any fashion. I think Obama spoke well to the undecided. Obama didn't abandon himself; he came across reassuringly to me. I think he handled a very, very difficult situation very well.