The first of three presidential debates aired on Oct. 3. Did I say a debate? Sorry, I meant to say a sh-t show. This debate was the sorriest excuse for a presidential debate I’ve ever seen, not only in terms of relevance and substance but also in its moderation.
Professional doormat and journalist Jim Lehrer just let Mitt Romney and President Obama steamroll their way over any semblance of rules or organization into 90 minutes consisting of regurgitated and memorized talking points. Multiple times, the candidates went over their allotted two minutes and continued to speak unabated without any pushback from Lehrer.
The conventional wisdom is that Romney won the debate last Wednesday night. CNN stated that “Romney appeared practiced, at ease, confident and fluent in all things Obama. He aggressively criticized the president’s record while also outlining, however vaguely, his own ideas about taxes and the deficit. Obama — his answers slow, dry and cautious — looked shaky.”
Indeed the president performed poorly at the debate. However, to his credit, he had to counter Romney’s constantly shifting policy positions. It’s an exhausting feat to keep track of Romney’s actual position, so much so that a video of Romney debating himself has gone viral on YouTube.
The Maddow Blog highlighted why Romney won the debate, “Indeed, it seems to me Romney thrived in large part because he abandoned the pretense of honesty. And as it turns out, winning a debate is surprisingly easy when a candidate decides he can say anything and expect to get away with it.”
Romney’s untruths were so apparent, ThinkProgress created a list of 27 blatant lies told throughout the campaign. One of the main points that ThinkProgress contested was that “Romney is claiming that Obamacare siphons off $716 billion from Medicare, to the detriment of beneficiaries. In actuality, that money is saved primarily through reducing overpayments to insurance companies under Medicare Advantage, not payments to beneficiaries. Paul Ryan’s budget plan keeps those same cuts, but directs them toward tax cuts for the rich and deficit reduction.”
Romney evaded challenges to his policy by President Obama by blatantly lying about what his policies are. Rolling Stone challenged the most egregious lie of the night, where Romney stated, “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut.”
The article challenged that line by stating, “Romney flatly lied about the cost of his proposal to cut income-tax rates across the board by another 20 percent (undercutting even the low rates of the Bush tax cuts). Independent economists at the Tax Policy Center have shown that the price tag for those cuts is $360 billion in the first year, a cost that extrapolates to $5 trillion over a decade.”
It takes some serious chutzpah for Romney to come into a debate with 65 million people watching and completely refute everything he has campaigned on for the last two years and lie about his policies. As nicknamed by several media outlets, the “etch-a-sketch candidate” stayed true to his name.
Despite the audacious lies mentioned by Romney, President Obama for his part came into the debate asleep at the wheel. Most of his answers were muttered and disjointed statements that seemed to imply a sense that he was just winging it. Some of the president’s harshest critics were from his own supporters.
A Huffington Post article had this quote from an Obama supporter, “I watched the first 10 minutes and then I had to turn it off, because I didn’t really think Obama showed up to debate it.” The fiery debater from 2008 became a professor speaking in long convoluted statements rather than clean concise responses.
The consensus that Romney won for the most part rings true, especially if one values style over substance. However, the days following the debate showed that the president won in substance as multiple media outlets questioned the lies told by Romney.
It is important to note that according to push polls, John Kerry overwhelmingly won the first debate against George Bush in 2004 and ultimately went on to lose the general election. Debates matter, but they do not shift opinion as much as Democrats had hoped in 2004 or Republicans hope they do now.
Nate Silver, the statistics prodigy at the New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight, characterized how little the presidential debates actually shift electoral outcomes. “In 2000, CNN instant polls deemed Al Gore the winner of both the first and third presidential debates. But he lost about three points to George W. Bush in head-to-head polls after each of them. In 1996, Mr. Clinton was declared the winner of the first presidential debate in the CNN poll, but Bob Dole gained slightly in the head-to-head polls after that. Overall, the relationship between the winner of the instant-reaction poll and the change in head-to-head polls is positive, although not statistically significant.”
This analysis by Silver has been almost dead-on as the post-debate poll by Gallup on Sunday has President Obama still leading Romney by 3, only down from a pre-debate lead of 5.
The debate results were not a game changer, and although Romney gained in the polls, it still has not been enough to surmount President Obama’s lead. Indeed, the Obama campaign was bolstered by good news with a jobs report being released Friday, Oct. 7 that showed unemployment had dropped from 8.2 percent to 7.8 percent. The campaign disclosed they had raised an earth shattering $181 million in the month of September.
Despite a rocky debate performance, I would definitely bet on the president to win at this point in time. Romney has shown himself to be a habitual liar based on post-debate analysis by the media. And the president, despite coming off as timid and withdrawn, has more than enough to show for his time in office to merit re-election.
Alex Caraballo can be reached at email@example.com