I was unavailable to watch the news shows this week. Nevertheless, I watched the first presidential debate last week, and I have been thinking about how to write about it since then. I have talked to a number of people about the debate, and I have thought about it a lot, and so here goes an attempt to concisely write my thoughts about the debate.
Let's start at the end and work our way back. After it was over, immediately the media started calling it for Romney. I still can't figure out why. What kind of criteria did they use to make this judgment? The fact that Romney said his words with more emphasis? I wasn't even thinking about that part of it. Actually, immediately after it was over, I had two main thoughts - the first was that it was a very civil debate. While the "moderator" Jim Lehr, lost control of the debate on key occasions, the two participants pretty civily gave their positions and responded to the other's position.
It seemed pretty obvious to me that Obama had decided he was going to take a quieter tone. I actually think he did it because he does care about the nation and thought that a softer approach would be less polarizing. So, his strategy was to just stand there and let Romney speak, and when given a chance, respond.
What I don't think he, the press, or anyone yet has fully absorbed, although I don't know why because there are videos of the debate out the wazoo, that Romney took very moderate positions in the debate - that he wasn't going to give the rich a tax cut, that he wasn't going to give the military a big increase, and that he wasn't going to gut entitlement programs. I don't understand why the press hasn't jumped on the fact that either (1) he's totally changed his position from what he was saying during the primary, or (2) this is his "etch-a-sketch" moment. Either way, it should be newsworthy.
I did think that Romney spoke well, and held his own in the debate. But he hasn't had to answer, either to Obama, Jim Lehr, or the pundits, how he can just change his position like that. And while I would have expected the tea party folks to be jumping on Romney for what he said in the debate, they aren't. But the Big Bird moms are. And that is something that the pundits who within minutes declared (and have continued to do so) Romney the big winner of the debate, haven't considered. Of course, like most western people, they can't see much more than a day ahead.
I don't think the book is written yet on that debate. While Obama was subdued, shouldn't he be? We have serious problems in the Muslim world that are erupting, we have serious domestic problems, and he is being asked to fix them all immediately. It's a daunting task, and one that no one in it should take flippantly. I know the media likes a horserace - it gives them work. And they may very well have helped to create a horserace.
But when Obama goes aggressive in the next debates, don't complain about how uncivil the political discourse has become. It will be that kind of discourse that you want, ask for, and reward, all the while denying it. And that is sad.