Commentary Magazine


Topic: presidential debate

Romney Leads by Six in Gallup Tracking

Today’s Gallup seven-day tracking poll shows Mitt Romney with a solid lead against President Obama among likely voters. At NRO, Charles C.W. Cooke reports on why this poll is historically meaningful:

Mitt Romney is up six points on Gallup’s seven-day likely-voter tracker, 51–45. Romney is also winning the seven-day registered-voters poll, 48–46.  These statistics are there to be broken, but it is worth pointing out for the record that, in the history of Gallup, no presidential candidate has ever been over 50 percent in mid-October and gone on to lose.

Read More

Today’s Gallup seven-day tracking poll shows Mitt Romney with a solid lead against President Obama among likely voters. At NRO, Charles C.W. Cooke reports on why this poll is historically meaningful:

Mitt Romney is up six points on Gallup’s seven-day likely-voter tracker, 51–45. Romney is also winning the seven-day registered-voters poll, 48–46.  These statistics are there to be broken, but it is worth pointing out for the record that, in the history of Gallup, no presidential candidate has ever been over 50 percent in mid-October and gone on to lose.

Going into the 2008 election, Obama had a 7-point lead on Sen. McCain, 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent in the same Gallup tracking poll. This is almost a complete inversion of that. We’re less than three weeks away from the election, but there’s still time for Obama to halt Romney’s momentum. The president scored a narrow victory in last night’s debate, but it’s not clear whether it was enough to make a difference in the race. The CNN snap poll found most debate-watchers said it didn’t influence their vote, and the ones who said it did were split evenly between the two camps:

The president’s edge on the question of who won the debate appears to be the result of his much better than expected performance and his advantage on likeability. But the poll also indicates that debate watchers said Romney would do a better job on economic issues. And the two candidates were tied on an important measure – whether the showdown would affect how the debate watchers will vote. Nearly half said the debate did not make them more likely to vote for either candidate, with the other half evenly divided between both men.

That doesn’t mean Obama won’t get any boost from last night, but the benefit for Romney was apparent almost immediately after the first debate.

Read Less

Candy Crowley’s Journalistic Reputation is Debate’s Biggest Loser

CNN’s Candy Crowley has always seemed like a tough, sharp and relatively fair reporter. So when she said earlier this week she was going to take an active moderator role in last night’s debate, that didn’t immediately seem like a bad thing. There’s no problem with an impartial moderator keeping the candidates on topic and pressing them with follow-ups.

But by the end of the night, it was clear Crowley had done damage to her own reputation of objectivity. It wasn’t just because of the Benghazi question, either. Matt Latimer lays out the instances of bias at the Daily Beast:

Read More

CNN’s Candy Crowley has always seemed like a tough, sharp and relatively fair reporter. So when she said earlier this week she was going to take an active moderator role in last night’s debate, that didn’t immediately seem like a bad thing. There’s no problem with an impartial moderator keeping the candidates on topic and pressing them with follow-ups.

But by the end of the night, it was clear Crowley had done damage to her own reputation of objectivity. It wasn’t just because of the Benghazi question, either. Matt Latimer lays out the instances of bias at the Daily Beast:

By far the biggest loser of the debate (after my former boss, George W., that is) was Candy Crowley. She is one of the most seasoned political reporters in Washington, but she came very close to becoming a participant in the debate. At some points she almost lost control, then seemed to interrupt Romney more often than Obama. The president also was given more time to speak overall. Ms. Crowley’s decision to buttress Obama’s declaration that Romney was being dishonest on Libya, however, will go into the Republican Party’s media-bias file for decades to come. Enjoy that moment—you’ll be seeing it again and again for years.

As Jim Lindgren noted, Obama was also given the last word on nearly two-thirds of the questions — and not for Romney’s lack of trying.

That’s not to say Romney would have done any better (or Obama any worse) if Crowley hadn’t played an active role in the debate. Both candidates came off fine, with Democrats calling the game for Obama, and Republicans calling it for Romney. In the end, it was a small win for Obama. That was Romney’s fault for being unprepared to discuss Benghazi, and Crowley is in no way responsible.

But Crowley hurt herself by jumping to Obama’s defense on an arguable point. When Obama followed up with “Say that again, Candy” and the audience of “undecided voters” cheered, the image was a moderator and the president ganging up on the Republican candidate. What’s more, the moderator didn’t even have her facts right. As WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler explains why the issue is not as cut-and-dried as Crowley claimed:

What did Obama say in the Rose Garden a day after the attack in Libya? “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation,”  he said.

But he did not say “terrorism”—and it took the administration days to concede that that it an “act of terrorism” that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad.

Whether it was due to personal bias or incomplete information, Crowley was wrong. She had no business intervening on an ambiguous point, and as a long-time journalist, she should have been more careful.

Read Less

Boo Hoo Hoo, Sniff Sniff Sniff

Apologies, O Ladies of the Internet.

Mitt Romney mentioned “binders full of women” in describing his (extremely successful) efforts to hire women for top-level jobs when he was governor of Massachusetts.   We all knew exactly what he meant, but really; boo hoo hoo, sniff sniff sniff — the phraseology!

Read More

Apologies, O Ladies of the Internet.

Mitt Romney mentioned “binders full of women” in describing his (extremely successful) efforts to hire women for top-level jobs when he was governor of Massachusetts.   We all knew exactly what he meant, but really; boo hoo hoo, sniff sniff sniff — the phraseology!

So shocking that Mr. Romney seems to have forgotten about your too, too delicate sensibilities.

In my day, people with too much time on their hands and an axe to grind filled up their empty hours writing (by hand) lengthy and dense letters about their obscure obsessions to newspaper and magazine editors.  Now, it seems, they fill up their empty seconds tweeting, memeing and tumblring.

Asinine as it all is, at least the kerfuffle has provided us with this priceless gem.

Read Less

On Economic Issues, Romney Wins Big

The post-debate polls taken last night seemed to more or less line up with the conventional wisdom forming on social media: President Obama won a narrow victory over Mitt Romney, helped late by escaping the Libya question—thought to be his Achilles’ heel—when Romney dropped the ball.

But that Libya exchange—in which moderator Candy Crowley intervened on Obama’s behalf and only afterwards seemed to realize that she had been wrong on the facts—also revealed the flip side of Romney’s lack of focus on Benghazi: his fluency and preparation for questions on the economy, and Romney’s continuing bet that the economy will overshadow the other issues in voters’ minds. Polls back this up, and the post-debate polls seemed to as well. While both the CNN and CBS polls gave Obama a hard-fought win on points, respondents to both polls gave Romney the win on the economy by wide margins. CBS reports:

Read More

The post-debate polls taken last night seemed to more or less line up with the conventional wisdom forming on social media: President Obama won a narrow victory over Mitt Romney, helped late by escaping the Libya question—thought to be his Achilles’ heel—when Romney dropped the ball.

But that Libya exchange—in which moderator Candy Crowley intervened on Obama’s behalf and only afterwards seemed to realize that she had been wrong on the facts—also revealed the flip side of Romney’s lack of focus on Benghazi: his fluency and preparation for questions on the economy, and Romney’s continuing bet that the economy will overshadow the other issues in voters’ minds. Polls back this up, and the post-debate polls seemed to as well. While both the CNN and CBS polls gave Obama a hard-fought win on points, respondents to both polls gave Romney the win on the economy by wide margins. CBS reports:

Moments following the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., 37 percent of voters polled said the president won, 30 percent awarded the victory to Romney, and 33 percent called it a tie. After some particularly animated exchanges between the two candidates, 55 percent of voters said Mr. Obama gave direct answers, but 49 percent also said that about Romney.

As for who would do a better job of handling the economy, the president made some headway on closing that gap. Before the debate, 71 percent said they believed Romney would, while only 27 percent said they thought Obama would; after the debate, 34 percent said the president would better handle the economy, with 65 percent saying Romney would.

And here’s CNN’s write-up of its in-house poll:

According to the survey, Obama had a 47%-41% edge on which candidate was more likeable. But on some key issues, Romney came out on top, including an 18-point lead on the economy.

“Mitt Romney was seen as better able to handle the economy, taxes, and the budget deficit among the debate audience, but it seems that issues were trumped, or at least blunted, by intangibles, including the expectations game,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

Obama’s victory on the “intangibles,” such as expectations and demeanor, should not be dismissed. Those are often what people remember most about debates. Additionally, a major goal for Obama was to fire up the base. They were despondent after the first presidential debate because of the old adage about parties: when the host no longer appears to be having fun, it’s time to go. But if Obama was able to inject some enthusiasm into his party faithful last night, he’ll take it.

Yet it must be acknowledged that in the voting booth, it’s probably a safer bet that intangibles won’t drown out issues. Romney has raised his favorability ratings and made himself seem judicious and presidential, so voters will probably consider this election as one between two plausible presidents. In such a case, it really does come down to issues.

Should Obama be concerned that he got flattened on the economy even in a debate in which he eked out a narrow victory? If the electorate thinks Obama is marginally more likable than Romney, but wildly inferior to Romney on the issue that determines most presidential elections and is expected to determine this one as well, how would such voters cast their ballots?

Additionally, the CNN pollster says Obama won last night in part by beating expectations. That amounts to: The president wasn’t nearly as terrible as he has been or as awful as voters expected him to be. That’s not a ringing vote of confidence; it’s a condescending pat on the shoulder.

CNN’s pollster also says Romney was better on taxes—there goes one of the pillars of Obama’s yearlong attack on Romney. Obama ran on cutting the deficit—he called George W. Bush “unpatriotic” for running up deficits that Obama is only rapidly adding to—and voters give Romney the edge there too. Obama hopes to gain some momentum after last night, but a campaign betting on a minor lead on “intangibles” suggests a campaign still spinning its wheels.

Read Less

Obama and the “T” Word

When did President Obama refer to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror”? According to Candy Crowley and White House spin artists, it was in his Rose Garden speech on September 12. But as I wrote last month, the reference was ambiguous at best. It was never clear whether Obama was referring to the Benghazi attack, the 9/11 attacks, the unrest across the Muslim world, or just terrorism in general.

However, at Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin dug up a transcript of Obama referring to the Benghazi attack more directly as an “act of terror” on Sept. 13 — at a campaign event in Colorado:

Read More

When did President Obama refer to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror”? According to Candy Crowley and White House spin artists, it was in his Rose Garden speech on September 12. But as I wrote last month, the reference was ambiguous at best. It was never clear whether Obama was referring to the Benghazi attack, the 9/11 attacks, the unrest across the Muslim world, or just terrorism in general.

However, at Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin dug up a transcript of Obama referring to the Benghazi attack more directly as an “act of terror” on Sept. 13 — at a campaign event in Colorado:

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sparred over whether Obama called the Sept. 11 murder of four Americans in Benghazi a “terrorist” attack. In fact, Obama did refer to the attack as “an act of terror,” but he did not do so directly in the Rose Garden the next day.

Romney said during Tuesday night’s debate that it took 14 days for Obama to acknowledge that the attack was a terrorist attack, while Obama and CNN’s Candy Crowley agreed that Obama said so Sept. 12 in remarks in the Rose Garden. In those remarks, journalists noticed, he did not explicitly refer to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror,” though he did use those words. …

But on Sept. 13, at a campaign event in Colorado, Obama again used the phrase “act of terror” and this time tied it directly to the Benghazi attack.

“So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished.

The bottom line? CNN’s Candy Crowley seriously erred in “correcting” Romney on that point, since Obama’s comment in the Rose Garden speech was debatable from the context. However, if the president now wants to clarify that he was referring to the Benghazi attack as an “act of terror” on September 12, let’s take him at his word.

Of course, clearing that up raises more questions than answers.

For one, why, if the president immediately knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack, did he fly to Las Vegas for a fundraiser the very next day? Why didn’t he inform UN Ambassador Susan Rice before she went on the Sunday shows and blamed the attack on the anti-Islam film? Why didn’t he tell his own spokesperson, who insisted days later that “We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack…And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of, or to U.S. policy”? Why did the president himself go on “The View” nearly two weeks later, and — when asked point-blank whether Benghazi was a terrorist attack — say that “well, we’re still doing an investigation” and “it wasn’t just a mob action”?

More importantly, if President Obama believed it was a terrorist attack from Day One, why didn’t he share this with the American public? Why would he make a vague one-line reference to it in a single campaign stump speech in Ohio, but not give a full address to the American people, outlining what he knew?

Read Less

Nasty Smackdown Won’t Alter Race

President Obama didn’t repeat his mistakes in the first presidential debate in Denver two weeks ago. He looked interested in the proceedings on Long Island and responded strongly to attacks and got in plenty of stingers as well as making some clever tactical strokes at Romney’s expense. Romney had his moments, especially when speaking about the president’s economic failures. The Republican also missed some wide-open opportunities to nail the president on issues like the Libya terrorist attack. But that won’t necessarily translate into a complete reversal of the losses Obama experienced after their previous encounter. The question that pollsters will be wondering most about won’t be which of the two candidates scored the most points but whether the bruising and nasty tone of the confrontation turned off more voters than it engaged.

The president’s palpable anger at Romney was barely contained. He fulfilled the Democratic base’s desire to bash the GOP candidate relentlessly but he did so at times by taking the cheapest of shots such as a hypocritical swipe about Romney’s investments and by filibustering and taking up more than three minutes more of airtime than his opponent. Though he stopped short of repeating Vice President Biden’s bullying act last week, it’s far from clear that the most of the public — especially undecided voters — will regard the evening as anything but a muddled slugfest.

Read More

President Obama didn’t repeat his mistakes in the first presidential debate in Denver two weeks ago. He looked interested in the proceedings on Long Island and responded strongly to attacks and got in plenty of stingers as well as making some clever tactical strokes at Romney’s expense. Romney had his moments, especially when speaking about the president’s economic failures. The Republican also missed some wide-open opportunities to nail the president on issues like the Libya terrorist attack. But that won’t necessarily translate into a complete reversal of the losses Obama experienced after their previous encounter. The question that pollsters will be wondering most about won’t be which of the two candidates scored the most points but whether the bruising and nasty tone of the confrontation turned off more voters than it engaged.

The president’s palpable anger at Romney was barely contained. He fulfilled the Democratic base’s desire to bash the GOP candidate relentlessly but he did so at times by taking the cheapest of shots such as a hypocritical swipe about Romney’s investments and by filibustering and taking up more than three minutes more of airtime than his opponent. Though he stopped short of repeating Vice President Biden’s bullying act last week, it’s far from clear that the most of the public — especially undecided voters — will regard the evening as anything but a muddled slugfest.

Whenever he spoke about the economy and jobs, Romney did well. He did much worse when forced to respond to questions like the one about equal pay for women when he responded with a lengthy off-the-point reminiscence about hiring staff in which he got “binders full of women.” He also made some mistakes in terms of debating strategy by asking the president questions and then letting him out talk him.

Most memorable was his meandering response to President Obama’s non-response to a very clear question about whether he knew the Libya incident was a terrorist attack. Instead of hammering Obama with all the times he talked about the video, he harped on the one moment when something the president said could have been interpreted as a saying it was a terrorist attack when his comments were actually, as Commentary pointed out at the time, was a general comment rather than a reference to Benghazi. That allowed moderator Candy Crowley to chide Romney with an instant less than accurate fact check that helped Obama wiggle out of the trap.

Romney also failed to adequately answer Obama’s claim that he opposed contraception coverage when his disagreement is about the ObamaCare mandate that would compel religious institutions and believers to violate their faith and beliefs.

Though he closed with a moving testimony to this faith and his record of caring about and helping people, he also set up Obama to finally mention his “47 percent” gaffe in his concluding statement when the Republican had not opportunity to respond.

Nevertheless, on the key issues of the economy, taxes, fuel prices and health care, Romney clearly bested the president who once again failed to explain his record or to say what he would do in the future. His energy and focus remained very much at the same level as the first debate meaning the inroads he made with a public that has begun to understand the Democrats’ mischaracterization of him was false. For all of the punches landed by Obama, as many Americans are turned off by the nastiness displayed at Hofstra than enjoyed or admired it.

The president’s base will be energized by the fact that he scored more points in this encounter than Romney. But whatever advantage he may gained they won’t bring the race back to where it was before Denver. That’s better than another loss for Obama but not enough to really alter the current direction of the election.

Read Less

Presidential Aggression is a Tricky Thing

Democrats will be tuning into the presidential debate tonight in hopes of seeing a more aggressive performance from President Obama. For two weeks, we’ve heard little but endless analysis about what the president needs to do to improve on his performance from his first debate with Mitt Romney with most of it centering on his passivity in Denver. There was plenty to critique in what Obama did that night but the idea that his big problem was that he needed to muss up Romney’s hair says more about the disdain Democrats have for their opponents than it does about the president’s problem.

The expectation is that Obama will show up at Hofstra ready to mix it up with Romney but hoping to stop just short of Joe Biden’s bullying act at the vice presidential debate. It is doubtful that the evening will not contain mentions of Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe or attempts to question Romney’s credibility. But if that’s his main focus, he will be making a mistake. Contrary to what Democrats say, Obama’s main shortcoming in the debate was not his lack of aggression so much as it was his lack of interest as well as his disdain for the proceedings. What Americans sensed when they saw that debate was a man who thought having to explain his positions and record was beneath his dignity. Zingers at Romney’s expense tonight may help but they will avail Obama little if he cannot muster more respect for the voters.

Read More

Democrats will be tuning into the presidential debate tonight in hopes of seeing a more aggressive performance from President Obama. For two weeks, we’ve heard little but endless analysis about what the president needs to do to improve on his performance from his first debate with Mitt Romney with most of it centering on his passivity in Denver. There was plenty to critique in what Obama did that night but the idea that his big problem was that he needed to muss up Romney’s hair says more about the disdain Democrats have for their opponents than it does about the president’s problem.

The expectation is that Obama will show up at Hofstra ready to mix it up with Romney but hoping to stop just short of Joe Biden’s bullying act at the vice presidential debate. It is doubtful that the evening will not contain mentions of Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe or attempts to question Romney’s credibility. But if that’s his main focus, he will be making a mistake. Contrary to what Democrats say, Obama’s main shortcoming in the debate was not his lack of aggression so much as it was his lack of interest as well as his disdain for the proceedings. What Americans sensed when they saw that debate was a man who thought having to explain his positions and record was beneath his dignity. Zingers at Romney’s expense tonight may help but they will avail Obama little if he cannot muster more respect for the voters.

The first debate exposed qualities that Obama’s critics have long complained about.

The president was not so much passive as he was arrogant and contemptuous of the views of others. As much as Democrats longed for him to come out swinging at Romney, what the public saw that night was the same lack of respect for opposing views that made compromise on the stimulus, ObamaCare, the debt and anything else that he tried to negotiate with Congress over the last four years impossible.

More aggression from Obama will please the Democratic base and that is essential to his hopes for victory. But, as many astute analysts have pointed out, the decline in his standings in the polls in the last two weeks is not a matter of a defecting liberal base as it is Romney’s holding on to his base while picking up independents and wavering centrist Democrats. A president who bashes his opponent and calls him a liar is exactly what many Democrats want. But it may not be what undecided voters in swing states desire.

It is not just that a fire-breathing Obama will turn off undecided voters but that what the president needs most is to demonstrate the sort of post-partisan hope and change persona that helped him win the hearts of Americans four years ago. That may have been merely a pose but it was far more effective tactic than any attempt to beat up Romney on stage.

An outright win at any presidential debate is always a long shot since it requires a gaffe or a candidate acting as if he didn’t care (as Obama did two weeks ago). The most the president can accomplish tonight is to remind voters that he is the same man they elected four years ago. If his staff and debate coaches have focused the president on getting tough with Romney rather than playing to his strengths, they will have sent him on a fool’s errand.

Read Less

It’s Not About Obama’s ‘Vision Thing’

There’s much talk to the effect that tonight Barack Obama needs to get “the vision thing” back. This is exactly wrong. After four result-free years, all this president has is the vision thing. What he needs is “the policy thing,” “the accountability thing,” or, you know, “the record thing.” Which is why he’s in a lot deeper trouble than the popular analysis suggests.

What he needs can’t be conjured in campaign headquarters, and it can’t be faked in front of a Mitt Romney who’s tuned up like a dazzling and encyclopedically informed one-man policy-review team.

In the last debate, Obama’s “vision thing” stuck out so bizarrely against the facts that it was revealed as “the mirage thing.” The mirage took shape with his first answer and only grew more fantastical as the debate proceeded. How, Obama was asked off the bat, did he intend to put America back to work? His answer: by supporting math and science in community colleges. Yet, the Washington Post’s’ supposed wonk wunderkind, Ezra Klein, thinks Obama is too strong on policy details and only weak on the big picture. Today, Klein writes that “Obama can’t describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he’ll get it done.”

This is, of course, a perfectly reversed description of Barack Obama—in 2008, 2012, and always.

Read More

There’s much talk to the effect that tonight Barack Obama needs to get “the vision thing” back. This is exactly wrong. After four result-free years, all this president has is the vision thing. What he needs is “the policy thing,” “the accountability thing,” or, you know, “the record thing.” Which is why he’s in a lot deeper trouble than the popular analysis suggests.

What he needs can’t be conjured in campaign headquarters, and it can’t be faked in front of a Mitt Romney who’s tuned up like a dazzling and encyclopedically informed one-man policy-review team.

In the last debate, Obama’s “vision thing” stuck out so bizarrely against the facts that it was revealed as “the mirage thing.” The mirage took shape with his first answer and only grew more fantastical as the debate proceeded. How, Obama was asked off the bat, did he intend to put America back to work? His answer: by supporting math and science in community colleges. Yet, the Washington Post’s’ supposed wonk wunderkind, Ezra Klein, thinks Obama is too strong on policy details and only weak on the big picture. Today, Klein writes that “Obama can’t describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he’ll get it done.”

This is, of course, a perfectly reversed description of Barack Obama—in 2008, 2012, and always.

For the millionth time, the president’s problem isn’t metaphysical. He’s not lacking vision or “narrative.” The Obama mirage is full of both. It’s a vaporous panorama landscape of a social-democratic United States, a republic of brothers’ keepers and citizen Julias kept afloat by a federal redistribution apparatus and newly funded by the repurposed proceeds of the rehabilitated rich. That’s “what he wants to achieve.” How will he “get it done”? That’s the policy desert in which the mirage pops up. On the extraordinarily rare occasion that this president of the United States is challenged to explain his transformative genius, he wings it with some elliptical nonsense about community college teachers.

If you’re an adolescent the Obama mirage sounds nice. If you’re an adult it’s the blueprint for a dystopian nightmare, and if you’re the American president it’s an unfeasible non-starter. For Mitt Romney, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show Americans that not all visions are equal. Some are hallucinations.

Read Less

Should PBS Try to Supplant Private Sector?

One of the more memorable moments from Wednesday’s debate came when Governor Romney doubled down on his pledge to cut federal grants to PBS. Bethany has already spoken to the notion that Romney doesn’t really want to kill Big Bird. And I certainly agree with Bethany that Sesame Street is a model program, one which brings in profit which allows PBS to fund other programs. That’s the way PBS should work. Nevertheless, Paula Kerger, the CEO of PBS, has already pushed back on Romney’s comments. “With the enormous problems facing our country, the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me,” Kerger told CNN. “This is not about the budget, it has to be about politics.”

Actually, it is about the budget and about waste. Certainly, I grew up watching Big Bird. And, when I was 5, I also enjoyed the Electric Company, though when I see clips now, 35 years later on Hulu.com, I wonder what the heck I was thinking.

Read More

One of the more memorable moments from Wednesday’s debate came when Governor Romney doubled down on his pledge to cut federal grants to PBS. Bethany has already spoken to the notion that Romney doesn’t really want to kill Big Bird. And I certainly agree with Bethany that Sesame Street is a model program, one which brings in profit which allows PBS to fund other programs. That’s the way PBS should work. Nevertheless, Paula Kerger, the CEO of PBS, has already pushed back on Romney’s comments. “With the enormous problems facing our country, the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me,” Kerger told CNN. “This is not about the budget, it has to be about politics.”

Actually, it is about the budget and about waste. Certainly, I grew up watching Big Bird. And, when I was 5, I also enjoyed the Electric Company, though when I see clips now, 35 years later on Hulu.com, I wonder what the heck I was thinking.

It just seems hard to believe that PBS feels it lacks money when it takes what little it receives to start websites and programs that compete directly with private initiatives. Take, for example, “Tehran Bureau.” PBS sells this often-conspiratorial website as providing an independent source of news about Iran. That’s fine. But, isn’t that what www.iranian.com and www.payvand.com have also long since done? The politics between Tehran Bureau and Iranian.com aren’t that different and, indeed, share some of the same contributors. Why on earth do Kerger and her associates at PBS believe that it should be their mission to fill gaps which the private sector filled a long time before?

Now, I don’t want to pick on Tehran Bureau. It’s just the example I know because I tend to follow the Iran-interest websites more than others. I suspect that this sort of duplication is the rule rather than the exception. Simply put, taxpayer money should never be used to duplicate what already exists (several times over) nor should it be used to try to out-compete or to try to beat with private enterprise.

Read Less

“Fact-Checking” Pushback Falls Flat

Even the self-proclaimed “fact-checkers” in the media can’t save President Obama from his dismal debate performance on Wednesday, but they gave it a try yesterday. Critics pounced on Mitt Romney’s claim that Obamacare would give an unelected board (known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board) decision-making power over what treatments patients can receive. According to the fact-checkers, this assertion was a blatant lie because, well, the Obama administration told them so.

Actually, the way the board will work isn’t clear-cut at this point, contrary to the reassuring promises of the Obama administration and “gotcha!” cries from fact-checkers. Megan McArdle knocks down the argument (read the whole thing) at the Daily Beast today:

Read More

Even the self-proclaimed “fact-checkers” in the media can’t save President Obama from his dismal debate performance on Wednesday, but they gave it a try yesterday. Critics pounced on Mitt Romney’s claim that Obamacare would give an unelected board (known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board) decision-making power over what treatments patients can receive. According to the fact-checkers, this assertion was a blatant lie because, well, the Obama administration told them so.

Actually, the way the board will work isn’t clear-cut at this point, contrary to the reassuring promises of the Obama administration and “gotcha!” cries from fact-checkers. Megan McArdle knocks down the argument (read the whole thing) at the Daily Beast today:

Medicare already has a payment-setting body; they don’t need a special independent board to tell them that the rates on everything should be 2% lower.  What they need, or at least want, is a body insulated from political pressure that will start cutting the reimbursements for some services so deeply that providers will stop offering them, or at least, stop offering them so indiscriminately.

In other words, IPAB is going to cut benefits for Medicare patients, and determine which treatments they can get. We’re just calling it something that sounds a little bit less like “Fire up the mobility scooter, Harry!  We’re going down to Congressman Smith’s office to give him a piece of our mind!”

The administration is essentially arguing that IPAB will cut costs only by reducing provider incomes, not by curtailing in any way the consumption of Medicare beneficiaries.  This is possible, I suppose, but it is not supported by either economic theory, or historical evidence.

Romney’s tax plan also caught the attention of fact-checkers. President Obama claims the plan will give $5 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy (ignoring the closing of deductions and loopholes that Romney has proposed to offset the cut). PolitiFact rated Obama’s claim about the $5 trillion tax cut “half true,” though they might want to recheck that since the Obama campaign’s Stephanie Cutter has since acknowledged that Obama’s comment wasn’t accurate.

The problem with media fact-checkers is that they’re basically political reporters, but they’re expected to play the role of an expert on whatever subject(s) they’re writing about that particular hour. Because they have to churn out articles quickly, they’re highly reliant on campaign flaks, who in turn often exploit them to fight political battles. As WaPo’s Eric Wemple pointed out today, the fact-checkers had differing opinions on how valid the same debate claims were.

There was a reason the media previously stayed out of the fact-checking business, and left that job to policy experts and campaigns. While some claims can be rated “true” or “false,” many of them aren’t that clear-cut. Better to give readers several arguments and allow them to make up their own minds.

Read Less

Did the Denver Debate Matter? Swing State Polls Say Yes as Romney Surges

President Obama’s supporters have been consoling themselves in the aftermath of his disastrous performance at the presidential debate in Denver by repeating over and over again that debates don’t really matter. If that didn’t work, they would say that the verdict of the people would differ from that of the pundits, although the unanimous opinion of even the left-wing crew at MSNBC and the wishy-washy liberal/establishment types on CNN should have worried them more than anything that was said on Fox News. But today we received the first answers to the question of whether public opinion will be altered to any degree by the debate, and the answers are not what Democrats wanted to hear.

The poll of likely voters in three key swing states taken yesterday by We Ask America shows a remarkable swing in favor of Mitt Romney. Previous surveys by this firm as well as virtually every other pollster in Florida, Virginia and Ohio had shown Obama holding on to a firm lead. But according to the latest numbers, Romney has forged ahead in all three states. The Republican leads Obama by a margin of 49-46 percent in Florida, 48-45 percent in Virginia and 47-46 percent in Ohio. All three results are significant and very good news for the Republicans, but none more so than that in Ohio. Romney’s rebound after a tough few weeks in which his leads in Florida and Virginia had been turned into deficits is clear. Obama’s growing strength in Ohio had been moving it from a swing state to one that was starting to be considered to be firmly in the president’s column. Romney’s post-debate bounce has put it back into play on Real Clear Politics’ Electoral College map.

Read More

President Obama’s supporters have been consoling themselves in the aftermath of his disastrous performance at the presidential debate in Denver by repeating over and over again that debates don’t really matter. If that didn’t work, they would say that the verdict of the people would differ from that of the pundits, although the unanimous opinion of even the left-wing crew at MSNBC and the wishy-washy liberal/establishment types on CNN should have worried them more than anything that was said on Fox News. But today we received the first answers to the question of whether public opinion will be altered to any degree by the debate, and the answers are not what Democrats wanted to hear.

The poll of likely voters in three key swing states taken yesterday by We Ask America shows a remarkable swing in favor of Mitt Romney. Previous surveys by this firm as well as virtually every other pollster in Florida, Virginia and Ohio had shown Obama holding on to a firm lead. But according to the latest numbers, Romney has forged ahead in all three states. The Republican leads Obama by a margin of 49-46 percent in Florida, 48-45 percent in Virginia and 47-46 percent in Ohio. All three results are significant and very good news for the Republicans, but none more so than that in Ohio. Romney’s rebound after a tough few weeks in which his leads in Florida and Virginia had been turned into deficits is clear. Obama’s growing strength in Ohio had been moving it from a swing state to one that was starting to be considered to be firmly in the president’s column. Romney’s post-debate bounce has put it back into play on Real Clear Politics’ Electoral College map.

We Ask America reports its margin of error for this poll is three percent, which means all these states are up for grabs. Unlike some other polls, its survey sample is also not heavily skewed toward the Democrats. For example, its Ohio figures show that 38 percent of respondents identify themselves as Democrats with 34 percent Republicans and 28 percent independents. It should also be noted that they listed libertarian candidate Gary Johnson as a choice, which is something that might have hurt Romney more than Obama.

The polls aren’t all rosy for Romney today. While Rasmussen shows Romney up by one point in Virginia, they also have Obama up by one percent in Ohio and two percent in their national daily tracking poll. They also show the president with a net positive job approval rating. But even here, what we are seeing is a halt to the president’s September surge and the beginning of a Romney recovery.

It is possible that this bounce won’t last and that the post-debate push from Democrats which reverts to their successful tactic of sliming Romney as a liar and anything else you can think of will end the Republican’s surge. Republicans still have to take into account the advantage the president gets from the tilt of the mainstream press and the reluctance of many voters to deny a second term to the first African-American president even if his record in office has been poor. The ferocious counter-attack on Romney from liberal outlets after they recovered their sense in the 24 hours after the debate is also bound to depress his numbers.

But these polls still show that what has happened is that a race that seemed on the verge of being over is up for grabs. So long as Romney is competitive in Florida, Virginia and especially Ohio, he can still win the presidency. Democrats who were hoping to put the election to bed early must make their peace with the fact that the election is back to being a nail-biter.

Read Less

Obama’s Teflon Coating Will Be Tested

It is telling that our expectations are so low these days that the latest dismal jobs report issued by the U.S. Labor Department is being viewed with some relief. It noted that the economy had added 114,000 jobs in September. That is, we are told, not so bad because that is around the figure most economists projected, even though it is below the total that is generally considered the number needed to account for normal population growth. The drop in the unemployment rate to the lowest point in the Obama presidency should not deceive us, because it is clear that many people have simply given up looking for work during what is the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. Though President Obama may choose to highlight the 24th straight month with job growth since the end of the recession he inherited from his predecessor, with 12.1 million Americans still unemployed, a drop in the number of manufacturing jobs and temporary employment, we may be closer to the next Great Recession than to genuine recovery.

This is hardly the sort of situation that would normally bode well for the re-election of any incumbent president. Yet since President Obama’s poll numbers went up rather than down after an even worse report last month, it would be foolish to assume these discoursing numbers will hurt him. Earlier this week, I referred to Obama as the real Teflon president, since neither the recent revelation about his past use of racial incitement nor the security screw up in Libya (and the subsequent lies about it from the White House) or even a bad economy seemed to be enough to dent his standing in the polls. Yet all it takes to burst a balloon is one sharp jab. After the president’s awful performance in the debate with Mitt Romney on Wednesday, it could be that Americans will start to view the president’s litany of disasters with less equanimity than before.

Read More

It is telling that our expectations are so low these days that the latest dismal jobs report issued by the U.S. Labor Department is being viewed with some relief. It noted that the economy had added 114,000 jobs in September. That is, we are told, not so bad because that is around the figure most economists projected, even though it is below the total that is generally considered the number needed to account for normal population growth. The drop in the unemployment rate to the lowest point in the Obama presidency should not deceive us, because it is clear that many people have simply given up looking for work during what is the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. Though President Obama may choose to highlight the 24th straight month with job growth since the end of the recession he inherited from his predecessor, with 12.1 million Americans still unemployed, a drop in the number of manufacturing jobs and temporary employment, we may be closer to the next Great Recession than to genuine recovery.

This is hardly the sort of situation that would normally bode well for the re-election of any incumbent president. Yet since President Obama’s poll numbers went up rather than down after an even worse report last month, it would be foolish to assume these discoursing numbers will hurt him. Earlier this week, I referred to Obama as the real Teflon president, since neither the recent revelation about his past use of racial incitement nor the security screw up in Libya (and the subsequent lies about it from the White House) or even a bad economy seemed to be enough to dent his standing in the polls. Yet all it takes to burst a balloon is one sharp jab. After the president’s awful performance in the debate with Mitt Romney on Wednesday, it could be that Americans will start to view the president’s litany of disasters with less equanimity than before.

One bad debate will not alter the fact that the president still appears to be able to defy the laws of political gravity. It has long been apparent that his historic status as the first African-American president and the adulation that he has received from much of the public as well as an adoring press means that the rules that constrain other politicians do not apply to him.

But the debate told us a great deal about the president. It wasn’t just that he was off his game that night, but that the contemptuous manner with which he approached the ritual of asking the people to re-elect him revealed a side of his character that some Americans had not previously noticed. He behaved as if the whole exercise was beneath his dignity and that he didn’t need to bother presenting a reasonable defense of his policies and actions. The fact that his challenger showed himself to be far more able than he had been given credit for also altered the nature of the contest.

What we will discover in the coming days and weeks is if the debate turns out to be the sharp jab that will finally start to let some of the air out of the president’s hot air balloon. If Americans begin to think a bit differently about the man they elevated to the White House in the expectation that his hope and change mantra would transform the nation, then it is possible that many of the flaws that have been either forgiven or ignored will start to impact his standing in the polls. It may be that nothing will ever really scrape the Teflon coating off of the president, in which case he will be re-elected no matter what happens to the economy–including the growing prospect of a new recession in his second term that will be difficult to blame on George W Bush. But it could also be that what happened this week is the start of a process during which the rules of political gravity will start to bring the messiah of 2008 back to earth.

Read Less

The Death of the Poor Salesman Myth

Earlier, I wondered whether Democrats would fall into a trap of their own making by goading President Obama into engaging in personal attacks on Mitt Romney in the next presidential debate. But it appears that some on the left prefer to return to one of their old standbys to explain the president’s flop in the debate: he’s a bad salesman for brilliant policies. That’s the tack taken by New York Times editorialist David Firestone today in a piece in which he argues that the president’s inability to defend his record on the stage in Denver is no different from what the writer considers the failures of Democrats to speak up for ObamaCare, the stimulus and even the sequester of funds that will results in huge defense cuts.

Firestone is right about one thing. The president does consider the act of explaining liberal projects to the public tiresome and somehow “beneath him.” But the Times writer fails to observe that liberals have actually been defending these ideas for all four years of the Obama administration. Their failure to gain support for them from the public isn’t the fault of Obama’s poor salesmanship, but due to the fact that most Americans, including those who distrust the Republicans, are wary of a huge expansion of government power, unchecked federal spending and gutting national defense. That is why the only successes Democrats have had in putting across their ideas hasn’t stemmed from championing these unpopular policies but from sliming their opponents. When they abandon such tactics, as Obama did last night, they are left with very little that the voters find compelling.

Read More

Earlier, I wondered whether Democrats would fall into a trap of their own making by goading President Obama into engaging in personal attacks on Mitt Romney in the next presidential debate. But it appears that some on the left prefer to return to one of their old standbys to explain the president’s flop in the debate: he’s a bad salesman for brilliant policies. That’s the tack taken by New York Times editorialist David Firestone today in a piece in which he argues that the president’s inability to defend his record on the stage in Denver is no different from what the writer considers the failures of Democrats to speak up for ObamaCare, the stimulus and even the sequester of funds that will results in huge defense cuts.

Firestone is right about one thing. The president does consider the act of explaining liberal projects to the public tiresome and somehow “beneath him.” But the Times writer fails to observe that liberals have actually been defending these ideas for all four years of the Obama administration. Their failure to gain support for them from the public isn’t the fault of Obama’s poor salesmanship, but due to the fact that most Americans, including those who distrust the Republicans, are wary of a huge expansion of government power, unchecked federal spending and gutting national defense. That is why the only successes Democrats have had in putting across their ideas hasn’t stemmed from championing these unpopular policies but from sliming their opponents. When they abandon such tactics, as Obama did last night, they are left with very little that the voters find compelling.

Firestone also disputes the idea that the debate was substantive since personal attacks were left out in favor of detailed discussions about taxes, budgets and health care. Taking up the Democrat talking point of the day, he claims Romney lied and that Obama should have “ridiculed him with facts.” But Romney wasn’t lying. Disagreeing with liberal ideology isn’t a lie; it’s a disagreement, a concept that liberal ideologues seem to have trouble grasping. If, as Firestone says, “uninformed viewers” [were left] with the impression that Mr. Romney was crisper and had more “facts” at his fingertips,” it was because that was the case. Mr. Obama was a poor salesman for himself and his ideas last night. But his problem is that his ideas are no more attractive than the irritated and arrogant air that the president exhibited during the debate.

How long will it take the left in this country to understand that merely asserting that they are right and that Republicans are fools and knaves is not an argument? Perhaps never. At least conservatives should hope so, because if Obama listens to the advice of people like Firestone, he’s setting himself up for another beating at the next debate.

Read Less

Mitt Romney Won’t Kill Big Bird

It’s the line from the election that liberals are clinging to–it’s the only one they can. Romney will kill Big Bird and destroy public television, robbing our children of the joy of Sesame Street. The world will become a sad, dejected place without Big Bird and his posse if Mitt Romney is elected president of the United States. Who could possibly want that? Obama is already hitting the stump with this message, and liberals have picked up the fight for Big Bird.

The actual Romney quote from the debate reads as follows:

I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That’s number one.

Does this mean Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird? Will Big Bird and his friends disappear off the airwaves? No, on both counts.

Read More

It’s the line from the election that liberals are clinging to–it’s the only one they can. Romney will kill Big Bird and destroy public television, robbing our children of the joy of Sesame Street. The world will become a sad, dejected place without Big Bird and his posse if Mitt Romney is elected president of the United States. Who could possibly want that? Obama is already hitting the stump with this message, and liberals have picked up the fight for Big Bird.

The actual Romney quote from the debate reads as follows:

I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That’s number one.

Does this mean Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird? Will Big Bird and his friends disappear off the airwaves? No, on both counts.

What many in liberal circles may be calling a gaffe today is a widely and long-held objective in conservative circles: the desire to defund public television and push its privatization. Sesame Street is incredibly well-known to anyone that has had children or who has been a child themselves in the last forty years, i.e., most Americans. The popularity of the merchandise and video/DVD sales have made the franchise familiar and incredibly profitable for PBS, which receives 15 percent of its funding from taxpayers. While many liberals are quick to point out that the budget for PBS is infinitesimal in comparison to the rest of the national budget, it seems these same liberals are unaccustomed to austerity measures of any kind, whether they be governmental, personal or in a business.

If a family of four has $500,000 of credit card debt and only an income of $30,000 per year, opting not to get a soup or salad appetizer with dinner at Applebees one night won’t dig them out of their debt. However, these decisions, small and seemingly meaningless on their face, add up with every dinner, with every spending decision until, eventually, the debt doesn’t seem quite so terrifying. Romney’s desire to eliminate spending on public television is just a soup appetizer at Applebees; there would be much more austerity needed to come to overcome our $16 trillion national debt.

In the case of PBS and NPR, the decision isn’t one between haves and have-nots. We can, in this instance, have our cake and eat it too. The beloved programming that exists on PBS, like Sesame Street, would not cease airing. Popular shows have a way of staying on air, just as popular food products have a way of staying on store shelves and popular movies have a way of staying in theaters. The free market determines the viability of shows like Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer. Both have stayed on air because they are beloved, educational shows for children and young adults, and many parents have also admitted to me how much they enjoy the shows themselves. Dora has survived without my tax dollars, and Big Bird would too. The success of Sesame Street has kept PBS viable for decades, keeping stations afloat while politically liberal shows have become a burden on stations.

Liberals aren’t worried about Sesame Street going off the air, they’re worried about liberal roundtables and documentaries feeling the wrath of the free market. This fight for public television isn’t about Big Bird, it’s about Bill Moyers.

Eventually, our children will be paying for the time they’ve spent watching Sesame Street, whether it be in time wasted watching commercials or in debt to China to pay Sesame Street’s producer’s salaries. Given that choice, how could we possibly chose to make our children beholden to Chinese lenders just to avoid a few diaper and sugary cereal commercials?

Read Less

Romney’s Deft Shift to the Center

Among the alibis being promoted by Democrats in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s triumph in last night’s debate is that President Obama was unprepared for the Republican’s shift to the center. The president’s campaign rests on class warfare tactics in which Romney is portrayed not only as a heartless plutocrat but also as seeking to loot the middle class in order to give gifts to his fellow millionaires via tax cuts. Therefore, when Romney asserted in the debate that he had no plans to cut taxes on the rich or enact tax cuts that would increase the deficit, Democrats argue that the former law professor who now presides over the country was so flummoxed by the deception that he could offer no response.

It isn’t likely that many people, even those most devoted to Obama’s cause, will buy that excuse. A better explanation might be that once he decided to eschew the personal attacks on Romney that have been the hallmark of his campaign, the president was left with nothing to fall back on, since he is either uninterested in defending his record in office, or unable to do so. However, this line of inquiry does raise the question of how far to the center did Romney really shift in the debate? The answer is quite a bit, but no one should expect a Republican base that long distrusted Romney to abandon him. A year ago, when Romney was competing for the hearts and minds of the conservative base, his sidestep away from across-the-board tax cuts might have been fatal. But on the night when he reminded the right that he is the only person who can help them defeat Obama, it isn’t likely many are going to question his judgment.

Read More

Among the alibis being promoted by Democrats in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s triumph in last night’s debate is that President Obama was unprepared for the Republican’s shift to the center. The president’s campaign rests on class warfare tactics in which Romney is portrayed not only as a heartless plutocrat but also as seeking to loot the middle class in order to give gifts to his fellow millionaires via tax cuts. Therefore, when Romney asserted in the debate that he had no plans to cut taxes on the rich or enact tax cuts that would increase the deficit, Democrats argue that the former law professor who now presides over the country was so flummoxed by the deception that he could offer no response.

It isn’t likely that many people, even those most devoted to Obama’s cause, will buy that excuse. A better explanation might be that once he decided to eschew the personal attacks on Romney that have been the hallmark of his campaign, the president was left with nothing to fall back on, since he is either uninterested in defending his record in office, or unable to do so. However, this line of inquiry does raise the question of how far to the center did Romney really shift in the debate? The answer is quite a bit, but no one should expect a Republican base that long distrusted Romney to abandon him. A year ago, when Romney was competing for the hearts and minds of the conservative base, his sidestep away from across-the-board tax cuts might have been fatal. But on the night when he reminded the right that he is the only person who can help them defeat Obama, it isn’t likely many are going to question his judgment.

As the New York Times editorial page griped this morning (in a piece that stubbornly refused to admit that Romney had won the debate), Republicans are in favor of retaining all the Bush-era tax cuts, as well as ending levies like the estate and gift taxes. Romney also believes in changing the system to one that would result in across-the-board reductions in taxes. The Times is so stuck in its liberal ideological mindset that, like the president, it sees any increase in the amount of money that the state does not confiscate from taxpayers as a gift from the government. It also refuses to understand what Romney clearly gets: that raising taxes — especially in hard economic times — doesn’t always lead to increased revenue.

However, it is fair to say that Romney’s pledges last night raise the very real possibility that once in the White House he may not be following a Tea Party line on taxes. Romney is, as most Republicans already knew, no ideologue. He may speak the language of conservatives when it comes to basic principles of small government and individual rights, but he is also a pragmatist who would sacrifice a hard line on the issues in order to solve a problem like the deficit. That’s why many extreme conservatives and libertarians predicted he would be part of the federal deficit problem rather than the solution.

Such moderation would not have helped him win the Republican nomination, but it is probably very useful as he seeks to win the political center in the remaining weeks before the election. Call it “etch-a-sketch” or smart politics, but the not-so-subtle pivot to the center has left liberals impotently gnashing their teeth.

Obama’s insistence that Romney’s plan is a $5 trillion tax break for the rich has been exposed as fiction by fact checkers. Romney can also argue that his preferred version of tax reform would eliminate deductions that will, in effect, raise taxes on many of the rich because it would create a fairer system.

If conservatives connect the dots between his Denver pledges, some might be inclined to cry foul over having been gulled into nominating a man who will not adopt an absolutist stand on taxes. But don’t expect many on the right to complain about this today. Romney’s debate victory gives his party’s base a reason to hope that Obama can be defeated and set the stage for the repeal of ObamaCare. Nothing he says now is likely to make them do anything that might increase the president’s chances of re-election. That means an unprepared and arrogant Obama had better get used to the idea that Romney is playing to win.

Read Less

Democrats May Draw Wrong Lessons From Denver Debate Debacle

Shell-shocked Democrats are still trying to figure out what happened to President Obama last night as he got his clock cleaned by Mitt Romney. Most of the post-mortems seemed to center on his lack of aggressiveness on stage and his failure to raise the sort of personal attacks on Romney that have largely characterized the Democratic campaign. The expectation now is that the next time Obama and Romney face off, the president will be more engaged and perhaps ready to attack the challenger in a way that will please his followers. But the question Democrats should be asking themselves today is not just what was wrong with Obama that caused him to be so lackluster, but whether an attempt to savage Romney in person will be such a smart idea.

While the president did mention some of his familiar class warfare themes, pundits were almost unanimous in expressing their surprise that the phrase “47 percent” never passed through the president’s lips. Liberals were also appalled by his omission of any mention of Romney’s Bain Capital experience or tax returns. But if the only lesson the president learns from his defeat in Denver is that he must double down on personal attacks on his opponent, he may be setting himself up for another drubbing on October 16.

Read More

Shell-shocked Democrats are still trying to figure out what happened to President Obama last night as he got his clock cleaned by Mitt Romney. Most of the post-mortems seemed to center on his lack of aggressiveness on stage and his failure to raise the sort of personal attacks on Romney that have largely characterized the Democratic campaign. The expectation now is that the next time Obama and Romney face off, the president will be more engaged and perhaps ready to attack the challenger in a way that will please his followers. But the question Democrats should be asking themselves today is not just what was wrong with Obama that caused him to be so lackluster, but whether an attempt to savage Romney in person will be such a smart idea.

While the president did mention some of his familiar class warfare themes, pundits were almost unanimous in expressing their surprise that the phrase “47 percent” never passed through the president’s lips. Liberals were also appalled by his omission of any mention of Romney’s Bain Capital experience or tax returns. But if the only lesson the president learns from his defeat in Denver is that he must double down on personal attacks on his opponent, he may be setting himself up for another drubbing on October 16.

Democrats know that personal attacks on Romney have taken a huge toll on the Republican in recent months. They have had some success depicting him as a heartless plutocrat who cares nothing about ordinary people and who stashes money abroad while not paying taxes at home. Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe hurt him in large measure because it fit right into the portrait Democrats have been painting of him. But the assumption that the president would have done better had he echoed these nasty and quite personal barbs is faulty. Presidents are supposed to be presidential while leaving the business of carving up their opponents to lesser beings like vice presidents. If Obama’s cheering section in the media thinks getting down into the gutter on stage during a presidential debate is what Obama needs to do, they may soon be proved wrong.

The problem with the president last night wasn’t that he wasn’t nasty enough but the arrogance with which he seemed to regard the proceedings. His body language and long-winded lectures betrayed not just a man who didn’t adequately prepare for the format, but also a man who has no respect for his opponent or the ideas he put forward.

Yet the ultimate problem for the president is not so much what he did or didn’t say; it’s that he gave us a glimpse of the man that Republicans have always claimed him to be: the arrogant liberal poseur who looks down his nose at the rest of us. More than all the videos in which Obama uses racial incitement or talks down individual initiative, the real danger is that on the big stage of the first debate, he came across as less likeable. The stuffy, long-winded bore we saw in Denver is not the historic figure that inspired millions with his messianic promises of hope and change.

The shock isn’t so much that Obama lost this first debate but that he did so in a manner that leaves him open to the sort of second-guessing that often leads to different mistakes. Obama looked tired (perhaps Al Gore’s theory about him suffering from the altitude in Denver was correct) and disengaged. That is something he can fix in subsequent debates. He can also listen to advice about looking his opponent in the eye rather than constantly looking down and smirking. But there is a difference between being more focused and aggressive and resorting to personal slurs. If Obama takes the pleas for more savagery too much to heart he will wind up looking nasty and only make Romney look good by comparison.

More to the point, those dissecting Obama’s performance are also ignoring the fact that the president’s bigger problem is that his challenger has turned out to be more formidable than even many Republicans thought him to be. So long as Romney was viewed as merely a gaffe-prone tackling dummy, Obama could get away with not running on his record. But faced with a smart, confident opponent who is prepared to harp on his failings, it was the messiah of 2008 who looked like the empty suit.

The conundrum for Democrats is that the president has very little to say for himself or his record. Shorn of the demonization of the GOP, Obama is left with nothing. While such attacks work well on the campaign trail and in television ads, they are not likely to help in a face-to-face debate. Looking ahead to the next encounter, it won’t be hard for the president to better his Denver performance, but what last night might have exposed is not so much fatigue or overconfidence as it is the emptiness at the core of his re-election campaign.

Read Less

Debate Gives Romney Likability Boost

Mitt Romney accomplished in one night of debate what the marquee names of the Republican Party couldn’t accomplish in three nights of the convention: he boosted his likability rating. A CBS News poll found that the percentage of undecided voters who say they feel Romney cares about their needs spiked by 33 percent after last night’s performance:

By a 2 to 1 margin, uncommitted voters crowned Mitt Romney the winner over President Obama in the first presidential debate in Debate, Colo., on Wednesday night, according to a 500-person instant poll taken by CBS News.

Perhaps most promising for Romney, whose upper-class income has helped stifle his ability to relate to the “average American,” the percentage of those polled who said they felt the former Massachusetts governor cares about their needs and problems spiked from 30 percent pre-debate to 63 percent post-debate. President Obama also enjoyed a bump in that category, with 53 percent of voters saying they believed he cares about their issues before the debate, moving to 69 percent after the debate. …

Uncommitted debate watchers saw Mitt Romney as the winner on handling the economy (60 to 39 percent) and the deficit (68 to 31 percent), just as they did before the debate. These voters also think Romney will do a better job on taxes (52 to 47 percent), a reversal from before the debate, when uncommitted voters gave the president a 52 to 40 percent advantage on that. The president still leads on Medicare, 53 to 45 percent.

Read More

Mitt Romney accomplished in one night of debate what the marquee names of the Republican Party couldn’t accomplish in three nights of the convention: he boosted his likability rating. A CBS News poll found that the percentage of undecided voters who say they feel Romney cares about their needs spiked by 33 percent after last night’s performance:

By a 2 to 1 margin, uncommitted voters crowned Mitt Romney the winner over President Obama in the first presidential debate in Debate, Colo., on Wednesday night, according to a 500-person instant poll taken by CBS News.

Perhaps most promising for Romney, whose upper-class income has helped stifle his ability to relate to the “average American,” the percentage of those polled who said they felt the former Massachusetts governor cares about their needs and problems spiked from 30 percent pre-debate to 63 percent post-debate. President Obama also enjoyed a bump in that category, with 53 percent of voters saying they believed he cares about their issues before the debate, moving to 69 percent after the debate. …

Uncommitted debate watchers saw Mitt Romney as the winner on handling the economy (60 to 39 percent) and the deficit (68 to 31 percent), just as they did before the debate. These voters also think Romney will do a better job on taxes (52 to 47 percent), a reversal from before the debate, when uncommitted voters gave the president a 52 to 40 percent advantage on that. The president still leads on Medicare, 53 to 45 percent.

CNN, which surveyed registered voters for its snap poll, found that Romney actually led Obama on the likability question after the debate:

Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed said Romney fared better, compared with 25 percent for Obama, according to results aired on CNN after the match concluded. Forty-six percent said they found Romney more likeable, compared with 45 percent for Obama, CNN reported.

It’s still early, and we won’t get a clear idea of how much impact Romney’s win will have on the race until at least the next couple of days. But these numbers are definitely an encouraging early indication for the Romney campaign.

If you want to get an idea of how individual undecided voters responded to last night’s debate, check out the video of Frank Luntz’s focus group on Sean Hannity’s show last night. Key quote from Luntz: “We’ve done these now for Fox News back in 2008, I’ve done these for other networks in the past, I will tell you I have not had a group that has swung this much…This is overwhelming for Mitt Romney. This is a big deal.”

Read Less

In Defense of Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer for moderator-in-chief!

Did someone slip me a psychedelic mickey last night as I watched the debate? Because I have to say I was shocked to wake up this morning to find people on the right and the left agreeing that Jim Lehrer laid an egg, whereas I found it to be one of the best, most interesting, least infuriating debates in a long time. In fact, at several points, I found myself wishing out loud that all the debates could be moderated by Mr. Lehrer.

Read More

Jim Lehrer for moderator-in-chief!

Did someone slip me a psychedelic mickey last night as I watched the debate? Because I have to say I was shocked to wake up this morning to find people on the right and the left agreeing that Jim Lehrer laid an egg, whereas I found it to be one of the best, most interesting, least infuriating debates in a long time. In fact, at several points, I found myself wishing out loud that all the debates could be moderated by Mr. Lehrer.

So, what exactly was Mr. Lehrer’s grievous sin? HE LET THE DEBATERS DEBATE!!!!! He gave them a few subjects, asked a couple of specific questions, and let Messrs. Obama and Romney go at it. Sure, he didn’t follow the rules you may be familiar with from your high school debate team. But then, neither does the format we have come to expect from our political debates, and which most commentators seem to have longed for last night:

“Each candidate will have 1 minute to sum up decades of thinking on a complex issue, and to squeeze in as many confusing facts and figures as possible; his opponent will then have 30 seconds to deliver a considered response (ditto on the facts and figures); to which the first candidate will only be able to respond if the moderator decides to be generous, or if he can manage to steal some time from his prescribed 1-minute response to the next question.”

Mr. Lehrer didn’t “control the give-and-take and keep candidates to time” [FOX]. He failed to “corral the candidates” [HuffPost]. Exactly. What we ended up with was an actual, real discussion, rather than a cringe-inducing, gaffe-producing sound-bite battle. You can understand why the Obama cheerleading team is fuming, since their candidate clearly didn’t have enough command of anything to hold his own in that kind of discussion. But for the rest of us who care about ideas and enjoy a good, serious argument, what could be better? And what could be a better way for voters to actually get a real sense of who the candidates are?

Read Less

Blame Media for Stunning Romney Victory

There’s one thing almost everybody can agree on: last night’s debate was a bloodbath, with Obama on the losing end of it. But re-watching some of the clips this morning, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what was so unusually great about Romney’s performance and what was so unusually awful about Obama’s.

The successes and failures are more easily spotted in the contrasts. Romney was more engaged, more enthusiastic, more lucid, more relaxed, and more cheerful than Obama. He looked like he actually enjoyed being there. Obama, in comparison, came off as more detached, rustier on the facts, and slower on his feet.

Read More

There’s one thing almost everybody can agree on: last night’s debate was a bloodbath, with Obama on the losing end of it. But re-watching some of the clips this morning, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what was so unusually great about Romney’s performance and what was so unusually awful about Obama’s.

The successes and failures are more easily spotted in the contrasts. Romney was more engaged, more enthusiastic, more lucid, more relaxed, and more cheerful than Obama. He looked like he actually enjoyed being there. Obama, in comparison, came off as more detached, rustier on the facts, and slower on his feet.

But what about when you isolate their performances? Was there really a major difference between their individual debates and how they’ve acted on the campaign trail, during press events, and during interviews for the last several months?

For the most part, I’d say there wasn’t. Sure, Obama’s less articulate when he’s off his teleprompter, but it’s not as if we haven’t seen him speaking off-the-cuff before at press conferences and interviews. And Romney definitely seemed to have some extra fire in him last night, but nothing that would have garnered much notice had he been stumping on the campaign trail instead.

The biggest difference was that we were seeing both of them in the same place, discussing the same issues, with no media meddling or filtration (save for the timid interruptions of a very outgunned Jim Lehrer). We were not seeing 30-second soundbites hand-picked for us by Obama’s journalism cheering squad, or teleprompter-assisted speeches, or dueling press conferences where Romney is grilled but Obama is treated with kid gloves. Up until now, the mainstream press has allowed this president to sit in a bubble, largely unchallenged. Their narrative is that he’s likable, he’s smooth, he’s amazingly cerebral. As for Romney, he’s been branded as stilted, out-of-touch, and phony. Amazing how that conventional wisdom collapses when you peel away the selective lenses and the outside chatter, leaving two men alone on a stage, armed with just their own words.

Read Less

The Presidential Debate

The COMMENTARY staff is live-tweeeting the presidential debate tonight. But come back throughout the evening as we add blog items as the evening progresses.

The COMMENTARY staff is live-tweeeting the presidential debate tonight. But come back throughout the evening as we add blog items as the evening progresses.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.