Politics is often analogized to a sporting event. And if this were a boxing match between the president and Governor Romney, the governor would have clearly won on points. There was no knock-down but, over and over, the president merely attempted to simply repeat certain talking points that had been repeatedly refuted. In effect, the president appeared unprepared to actually engage in the back and forth discussion that so enlivens a true a debate.
There is no question that the president is a skilled orator. This was demonstrated whenever he had an opportunity to speak directly to the camera. However, when Governor Romney was speaking, the president reacted as a scolded child would, his head down as though as to avert the reprimand being directed at him.
On the other hand, when the president spoke, Governor Romney closely focused on the president, ready to rebut any points that the president might make.
Prior to the debate, the Democrats were attempting to promote a belief that the race was over, that President Obama had ended two wars, solved the economic problems that had persisted for four years and would have done even more if it were not for those horrible Republicans.
Contrary to the Democratic hope, the race is not over. Governor Romney refused to allow the president to get away with any of his ridiculous claims. Each time the president attempted to state an opinion that he labeled as fact, Governor Romney called him on it. The governor had a clear grasp of numbers and points and needed no teleprompter to support him.
At the same time, it would have been very easy for Governor Romney to have become a simple scold, to have put off voters by showing disrespect or even overt hostility but, he avoided those pitfalls. He was forceful, focused and forthright. Yet, at the same time, he remained courteous and respectful of the presidency.
After the debate many liberal critics and commentators accused the governor of having interrupted the president and the moderator. It was later noted, however, that the president had spoken for over four minutes longer than did Governor Romney; and forgotten were the times that President Obama interrupted both the moderator and the governor, even saying at one point, "Let's move on" when he was being corrected by Governor Romney.
It is extremely important whether in a high school debate or in a court of law that the advocate have and maintain a high energy level. The governor throughout the evening was almost bouncing on his toes, he was so prepared. The president, however, seemed detached, even bored, and anxious simply to have the evening behind him.
It was the general consensus, not only of the more sympathetic conservative commentators and viewers, that the governor had won the debate, but was also the grudging concession by the more liberal supporters of the president.
It may be argued by many that the governor was simply unprepared and that he was trying to avoid creating a "gotcha" moment such as has occurred in prior president debates. If that is so, then there may be a much more lively and energetic exchange at the next debate.
It must be remembered that four years ago, the president was largely an unknown entity. He had no record to run on, but he offered thrilling oratory and the promise of hope and change. Now he has a record and it has not been successful. In this first debate he attempted to ignore the past three and half years of his administration. At times it even seemed that he was trying to run based upon the administration of President Clinton some 12 years ago. However, it is unlikely that Governor Romney will allow him to ignore his record in future debates.
In that event, based on this first debate, Governor Romney will have a clear edge in substance as well as style.
-- James H. Watkins is the vice-chair of the Madera County Republican Committee.