Where was the passion? Obama falls flat at debate
The US election is going to be a squeaker. An absolute squeaker, if the presidential debate today (mostly about the US economy and the president’s health care reforms) was any indication.
Obama sounded like he needed a strong cup of coffee. Maybe with a double shot of something much stronger.
He was lethargic and mathematical - sometimes incomprehensibly so. That was particularly the case in the first half of the debate, which focused on the economy.
Instead, Romney was grandfatherly (the guy has five adult boys and isn’t afraid to reference his enormous family), vague about his plans and surprisingly empathetic.
The Republican nominee’s campaign has been sinking in the polls for the past month. Remarks he made in May to wealthy donors that “47 per cent” of the country were dependent on Government and not willing to work their way off welfare struck a sour tone with voters.
This time was different. He sounded energetic, punching in all the necessary buzzwords with gusto and empathy. Hello, battling “small businesses”! Hello, repeated examples of his encounters with female voters on the campaign trail (he’s struggling with the fairer sex).
But passion - that was supposed to be Obama’s forte. One of his rallying cries during the ‘08 campaign was “Fired up! Ready to go!”, but Obama was holding a pretty weak flame this time around.
Persuasion is all about perception in these debates. It has been since the first televised debate, that of Kennedy v. Nixon, where Nixon looked old and unconvincing whereas Kennedy was fresh and vigorous (and victorious).
But Obama only tapped into a vein of passion talking about healthcare - his pet issue – and how Romney’s plans for office are mostly hidden from voters. The rest of the time he looked lame against an punchy Republican.
And then there was the moderator, Jim Lehrer. If Obama needed a super-sized coffee, then the moderator needed a vodka redbull to give him a bit of buzz.
There was no fact-checking and the two candidates, particularly Romney, just talked over the top of him. It was a pissweak effort of journalism. Who cares about keeping the candidates accountable to the facts?
Anyway, the Obama camp will probably be spinning that he’s too busy off running the country to practise being a compelling debater. Romney has been practising for this debate for a month, learning things by rote.
This was immediately apparent in the very first question when Obama waffled about how he’d create jobs and, in contrast, Romney listed a five-point plan. Which he’d clearly committed to memory in anticipation of that precise question.
But Obama’s communication skills have been a problem for the president his whole term.
Over the past three-and-a-half years, his efforts to connect his policies with voters’ aspirations have been fleeting.
And when he’s gone out of his way to talk to the Average Joe, he’s done well, passing crucial job-supporting tax cuts.
Voters in some must-win American states have already started voting. Most of them won’t line up until November 6.
Now, Romney has looked like a loser the whole campaign, flapping around four points behind Obama in the polls of late. But he looked like a winner tonight.
Obama has been leading the country for four years, but he didn’t sound he had the fight in him for another term in this debate. He’s got 33 days and two more debates to change that.
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