Jeez, talk about dull. The first presidential debate, on domestic issues, has to rank as one of the most soporific political events ever, short of a small town council debating sewer bonds on public access cable. Even the zingers were Ambien-like. That said, Romney clearly had more energy than Obama, to the point of seeming a bit manic at times. (Can’t he lose that tight, smirky smile?)
Romney was clearer and crisper than the President, who seemed tired and tended to ramble. More to the point, Obama just didn’t take advantage of any of the openings that Romney gave him to hit Romney for, well, lying. In fact, if obfuscating was the standard for victory in the debate, Romney won in a romp.
Romney repeatedly chastised Obama for cutting $716 billion from Medicare benefits, when in fact the cuts don’t affect benefits. The detailed description of his own health plan that Romney said was “lengthy” is 369 words long. The claim that his plan will cover pre-existing conditions (like HIV)–also largely untrue. Unfortunately for him, Obama didn’t rebut Romney in any effective way. At times it seemed that Obama was holding back intentionally, so as not to seem less presidential (or perhaps just not blow his lead). The inspirational Obama that voters see at rallies wasn’t on stage tonight. Although, thanks, Barack, for calling out the repeal of DADT.
So, where does this leave the race? Probably not a whole lot different than where it was. Romney was incredibly vague, his standard m.o., which may provide fodder for attack ads. He also said a number of things clearly directed at independent voters, but that are unlikely to play well with the GOP base. (Really, he likes regulations! And teachers!)
There was a fair amount of hysteria among Obama supporters who felt he blew it: Andrew Sullivan, for one, was just about ready to reprise the mad scene from King Lear by the end of the debate. But as much as we remember the zingers, the debates don’t seem to matter much. Ronald Reagan looked lost during a debate with Mondale, but we don’t talk about the Mondale presidential legacy. What do we remember from the 2008 debates? Nothing.
Challengers generally get a bounce from appearing on the same stage as the incumbent, but the debates generally don’t change the trajectory of the race, particularly debates that are really boring. And finally, can we retire Jim Lehrer? Nice guy who totally ceded control of the debate to Romney.
We know Mitt likes him and Big Bird too—but Big Bird would have done a better job.