|
|
|
The Times
  • Editorial: Mitt Romney wins round 1

  • After a self-damaging few weeks, Mitt Romney did what he had to do at Wednesday night's presidential debate, besting President Obama in the first of three such confrontations.

    • email print
  • After a self-damaging few weeks, Mitt Romney did what he had to do at Wednesday night's presidential debate, besting President Barack Obama in the first of three such confrontations.
    For his part the GOP nominee came off as the more engaged, confident, assertive, accessible, disciplined, prepared and even presidential of the two. Given the contested Republican primary, Romney has had significantly more debating practice than the president, and it showed. No doubt his performance buoys conservatives who feared this thing might be over following a very difficult September for their candidate.
    Meanwhile, Obama acted as if he'd rather have been someplace else, perhaps at a romantic dinner celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary. He looked down when Romney spoke, avoiding eye contact. "No drama Obama" proved the nickname to a fault, never quite going on offense, never quite exploiting his opponent's vulnerabilities, making no mention of the latter's "47 percent" speech or of his days at Bain Capital. It was reminiscent of the president's languid, go-through-the-motions convention address, in which he acted like a risk-averse basketball team trying to protect a lead rather than put the game away. Even a hyper-partisan guy such as Democratic operative James Carville acknowledged that Obama "didn't bring his A game." He wasn't awful; Romney was just better.
    To be sure, live TV debates emphasize the visual, with appearance and body language making an impression beyond the spoken word. But on substance, Romney also was the more persuasive, pounding the president on his health care plan - specifically the unelected Independent Payment Advisory Board, a 15-member panel given considerable powers under ObamaCare to put the brakes on health care spending - while defending his own quite similar plan adopted in Massachusetts when he was governor there. If Romney was factually wrong in referring to the administration's $716 billion "cut" to Medicare over 10 years - as Republicans themselves have long argued on their own budget-taming behalf, slowing the projected growth is not a "cut" - the president did not forcefully call him out on it, nor did his criticism of Romney's voucher plans gain much traction.
    The president repeatedly referenced Romney's "$5 trillion tax cut," which Romney just as repeatedly denied, arguing that his lower tax rates across the board will be paid for through the elimination of various deductions, without adding to the deficit. The president did not challenge him on the lack of specifics regarding which deductions, nor did he demand the Republican do the math. If Romney was effective in characterizing the nation's debt as a "moral issue" for future generations who will be saddled with it, he was less so in saying he'd reduce it by ending the subsidy for PBS.
    If Obama spoke derisively of "doubl(ing) down on the top-down economic policies that helped to get us into this mess" while championing "a new economic patriotism," Romney countered by accusing him of "trickle-down government" that requires "spending more, taxing more, regulating more" in ways that punish rather than pump up the middle class. Romney sounded almost moderate in describing the necessity for regulations to enforce fairness in a free market economy, and even turned the tables on an Obama who signed the Dodd-Frank bill by describing it as "the biggest kiss that's been given to New York banks I've ever seen," far from the little-guy-protecting oversight of the financial industry it was advertised to be. If Romney overstated the number of unemployed in America and the degree to which the annual red ink has swelled - in fact Obama inherited a $1.2 trillion deficit - that and other blows largely landed without jabs in return.
    Page 2 of 2 - Beyond that both sides were guilty of exaggerations and stretches of the truth, but there were no earth-shattering gaffes or zinger grand slams. They were admirably courteous to one another.
    Is Romney again reinventing himself, saying anything to get elected, as Democrats charge? Maybe so. But for the millions of viewers at home who aren't policy wonks and tend to have more visceral, sometimes forgiving reactions, well, Romney just didn't come off as the fire-breathing, middle-class-despising, insensitive ideologue portrayed by the Obama team. Against such type and expectation, he won the night. Arguably it puts him back in the game.
    Oh, it is hardly the first time the incumbent didn't quite deliver the first time out. George W. Bush had some rebounding to do against John Kerry in 2004, and did. The argument is frequently made that the incumbent is distracted because he has another job - running the country - but he only gets to keep that job if Americans re-elect him, and so the debates from which many voters get their impressions are important too. It may well be true that the vast majority of Americans have already made up their minds, but many independents may still be up for grabs.
    As such we're likely to see a very different, less passive and professorial Obama in Round II on Oct. 16. In the meantime the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on Oct. 11 should be telling.
    The differences between the two camps could hardly be more stark. Is the private sector best equipped to successfully address the nation's economic problems, or is the public sector? On that question this election hinges.
    Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.

        calendar