In the first of three scheduled presidential debates, critics and analysts from both major political parties chalked one up in the win column for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Romney and President Barack Obama met Oct. 3 in Denver for the nationally televised face-off, which was not exactly the “Clash of the Titans.”
The presidential debates are a forum where the candidates present their plans and ideas to the widest possible audience. Here they have the greatest opportunity to speak to the American voters en masse and sway undecided voters before the November election. Where the candidates stand on major issues should be the mitigating factor but to many Americans, image and perception have become more important than plans and results.
Obama, usually an upbeat and eloquent speaker, turned in a lackluster performance causing unrest among his supporters and much of the Democratic Party. The president seemed tired and withdrawn, as if he wanted to be anywhere but on that stage.
Romney strutted and preened, spouting rhetoric that flip-flopped on much of the platform he has built his campaign upon. However, what the experts based their opinions on was not what Romney said but how he looked saying it: confident and exuberant.
At times while Romney was speaking Obama looked down at the podium as if he wanted to say something but held his tongue.
It is possible that Obama’s advisers’ strategy was to allow Romney to speak without rebuttal, essentially giving him enough rope to hang himself. After all, that is what he had been doing in recent months with incredible statements such as the infamous “47 percent” speech, in which he accused almost half of American voters of being non-taxpaying leeches. If that was the plan, it backfired horribly.
Surprisingly, Obama did little to defend his record against Romney’s accusations, even when they were deliberate untruths, such as Romney’s statement that the national debt had doubled during the Obama administration. Obama failed to rebut.
To make matters worse, PBS newscaster Jim Lehrer, who acted as moderator for the debate, was asleep at the switch. Lehrer allowed the candidates to stray off-point and to interrupt him as well as each other.
Many of Lehrer’s questions began with, “Is there a fundamental difference between you on…” This was a dangerous line of questioning which easily led to attacking opponents instead of a truthful answer. Unfortunately since the first televised debate in 1960, when Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy faced Republican opponent Richard M. Nixon, the debates have become more of a contest of image then a discussion based on issues. In that debate, even if Nixon had been the better man for the job, Kennedy would have won. Nixon, an unattractive man in a rumpled, ill-fitting suit and sporting a dark five-o’clock shadow, had no chance against the young, handsome and well-groomed Kennedy.
The situation has only gotten worse over the years. With so much access to digital and social media along with television news and the traditional daily paper, we are deluged with information containing partisan views of events. The prevailing media pundits put their own spin on what is said or done, twisting facts and reality for their agenda. Some of what is reported is completely untrue.
In past debates, excluding Kennedy/Nixon, the polls have only shown marginal change, maybe a percentage point or two, but in this debate, Romney, who was trailing in previous polls, took a leap ahead, tipping the scales in his favor.
CNN’s Poll of Polls, which factors in all major national polls, indicated Romney at 48 percent of likely voters and Obama at 47 percent adding a new dynamic to this race.
Image-makers are paid millions to analyze and groom the candidates for public appearances. Candidates are coached on presentation, posture and voice inflection. They are dressed, coifed, doused with make-up and thrown in front of bright lights and TV cameras from around the nation and the world.
There are so many important issues facing Americans in this election: unemployment, healthcare, under-funded educational systems, debt, foreclosures, wars on foreign soil and much more. This is not a time for rhetoric and lies.
We need a definitive course of action. Maybe more time should be spent on preparing answers than putting on game faces. The only solution is for the voters to take matters into their own hands by educating themselves on the issues they care about. Americans must gather and disseminate information from multiple sources, fact-check and make their decisions based on what they learn.