By all indications Mitt Romney won Wednesday night’s debate hands down. He came across as excited and enjoying the challenge of the debate – highly personable, engaged, in command and – I hesitate to say – Presidential.
The President’s demeanor, by contrast, came across as aloof, uninspired and even pained – like he really didn’t want to be there.
While Obama clearly came out much better in the fact check published on the front page of Thursday’s Daily Star, he failed to resonate with his audience. Two different polls of undecided voters gave him grim reviews. In the CCN poll, Romney outshined Obama by a margin of 67 percent to 25 percent. Likewise, in the CBS poll Romney bested Obama by 46 percent to 22 percent. In a poll of “Wal-Mart Moms” in Las Vegas conducted by a bipartisan polling team, Romney’s image climbed 20 points while Obama’s inched up only 5. A polling team spokesperson reported that initially many of the women had basically “tuned out Mitt Romney”. After last night’s performance, however, many of the women were re-engaged and wanted to learn more about him. At the same time, they were disappointed by Obama’s performance and felt that he had failed to make a convincing case justifying re-election.
In short, by virtue of his aloof demeanor and lackluster posture, our President failed to make a compelling case to voters sitting on the fence that they should ride with him for another four years.
What he should have said
Obama came on stage as if he had ran into a phone booth and changed from Superman to Clark Kent. He should have donned the garb of Obama the campaigner – a fighter and charismatic champion of the people – as he did in his closing speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Where was our ever charming, dragon slaying “national orator”? Why was he unable to muster up even a modicum of enthusiasm for what should have been the crowning moment of his campaign? Instead, he seemed adrift and lost numerous opportunities to score big points by blowing holes in Romney’s statements which, while elegantly presented, were clearly lacking in anything remotely approaching credible specifics.
To cite a few examples:
Regarding Obamacare and its impact on Medicare, Obama failed to provide an effective rejoinder to Romney’s assertions that Obama’s plan to cut $716 billion from Medicare will have a devastating impact on Medicare recipients. He also failed to fully exploit Romney’s inability to reconcile his successful implementation of a universal health care program while Governor of Massachusetts, which in many ways has served as a model for the Affordable Care Act, with his staunch assertion that he will vigorously set forth on his first day in office to repeal this “terrible legislation”.
What do I wish Obama had said here? I wish that he had assertively confronted Romney on these dichotomies while at the same time extending the olive branch as a bipartisan bridge-builder. More specifically, I wish he had held himself high and said something like:
“Governor Romney, I deeply admire your accomplishments and the bipartisan approach that you demonstrated as Governor of Massachusetts. I am particularly impressed by the statesmanship and wisdom you demonstrated in implementing your statewide universal health care plan during your tenure.
What I don’t understand, however, is your staunch resistance to our Affordable Health Care Act, in light of your track record in your home state. I often wonder whether this might reflect your bending over backwards to gain favor with the arch conservative wing of the Republican party, at the expense of forsaking your loyalty to ideals that you may personally cherish.
Governor Romney, while the Affordable Care Act as it currently stands falls short of perfection – as is the case with all legislation – in my heart of hearts I only wish that you and I, and your Republican colleagues, could earnestly work together to implement this legislation, perhaps tweaking it where necessary, to fulfill its promise to make high quality, affordable health care available to all Americans. Our nation’s people deserve nothing less!”
And on the issue of creating jobs while concurrently tackling our spiraling deficit crisis, our President clearly lost the opportunity to score some key points on these pivotal concerns.
While his rejoinders to Romney’s questionable assertions in this realm were well thought out and logically presented, they fell flat as his delivery was almost totally devoid of passion.
Rather than dwelling obsessively on the failings of the Reagan and Bush administrations in these areas, he should have stayed with the moment and strongly driven home the salient facts. Namely, that the Romney/Ryan plan to reduce income tax rates by 20 percent, while retaining the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy and drastically boosting the military budget, cannot possibly have any impact on deficit reduction – unless the cost of deficit reduction is to be borne on the backs of the middle class and our nation’s poor. I emphatically believe that the Romney/Ryan budget roll out, if implemented, will take our nation down the wrong road by imposing draconian cut-backs in health care, education and essential social services, while severely curtailing funding for police and fire protection, road repair and other essential infrastructure needs.
Obama should have passionately, and repeatedly, pounced upon these points – while emphatically driving home how his own plan will tangibly benefit our nation’s people while effecting a responsible reduction of our deficit over a prescribed period of time. He should have been prepared to cite concrete proposals here, and taken a page from his opponent’s book by citing compelling examples from the lives of people he had spoken with on the campaign trail.
Addressing the budget gridlock, I wish our President had said something similar to the following:
“ Governor Romney, myself, Vice President Biden and our colleagues have labored countless days and nights over the past two years – often foregoing being with our families on weekends and holidays – in an effort to negotiate a viable compromise on our nation’s budget. Our earnest efforts toward bipartisan cooperation have been met by like efforts by numerous participants on your side of the aisle. However, the breaking point has always revolved around the utter refusal of your party’s ultra conservative faction to give serious consideration to any tax increases, particularly those affecting the wealthiest segment of our population. As a result we are now approaching a fiscal cliff that threatens to wreak total havoc on our nation’s economy. Governor Romney, I emphatically submit that the urgency of this situation demands that both our parties must act courageously and set aside ideological “sacred cows” in working together to forge a solution to this imminent crisis!”
What lesson’s can Obama’s team draw from his dismal performance in the opening debate? In the remaining Presidential debate, Obama must launch into his charismatic campaign mode in spades! He must come across as a knight in shining armor who eagerly embraces the challenge of the debate. He needs to “rally the crowd” while at the same time presenting a compelling case to thinking voters that he deserves a second term.
How can he accomplish this? He must resoundingly impress his viewers that he genuinely cares for them and their concerns, and that he can be entrusted to effectively champion their cause for another four years. He must genuinely portray an aura of confidence and determination, together with an appropriate dose of humility which would, indeed, be refreshing. Above all else, he must call forth the courage and fortitude to speak from his heart and convincingly come across as someone who truly cares and is sincerely committed to building on his successes – and learning from his mistakes – in serving the best interest of our American people.
And on a lighter note, he might also take a cue from Romney’s wardrobe advisor and invest in a new suit (smile).