Romney’s opening statement outlined his own five basic campaign themes for the debate. He stayed on course and incorporated at least one of his talking points into each question asked, even to the point of redundancy. He had great direct eye contact with the audience, challenged the President on the issues and captured the room with his energy. During his closing statement, he returned to his opening remarks and reiterated his five main points. Like a well written chapter in a novel, he got the readers’ attention and enticed them to read the next chapter — in this case, tune into the next debate.
So, what did happen to President Obama, who sometimes acted like a spectator rather than a participant during the debate? Democrats and some Republicans blame the moderator, Jim Lehrer. Conservative columnist John Podhoretz labeled Lehrer as possibly “the worst moderator in the history of moderation.” Al Roker summed it up best saying, “I hope Jim Lehrer gets the license plate of the truck that drove over him in this debate.” Of course, Romney thought Lehrer was great. “I think that Jim Lehrer did an excellent job in raising issues and having the candidates talk about our views on issues, rather than just the ‘gotcha’ thing that sometimes happens with media interviews.” Lehrer said, he just let the candidates ask questions of each other. They could have done that on Meet The Press.
As moderator, Lehrer presented the format of debate to the candidates. They each had the customary two minutes to answer the question and a short time for rebuttal. It’s the responsibility of the moderator to keep the rebuttal within reasonable time limits and the paradigms of the question. Instead, Lehrer allowed Romney the time to ask his own questions, present his five-point campaign theme in his rebuttal and moderate his own debate. That’s probably one reason Obama was taken off guard. Even if he was blindsided by the format, it’s still a poor excuse for the President’s performance.
A debate is no more than a structured argument within agreed rules of engagement. Lehrer forgot the questions were agreed to and approved by both parties. He was supposed to stay on script and keep the candidates focused on the Q and A and facts, not campaign rhetoric. Instead, he allowed the debate to turn into a one-sided conversation. Possibly agreeing with his critics, Lehrer indicated he will no longer moderate presidential debates.
Agree with his policies or not, Romney demonstrated he is fearless, intelligent and capable of being President. With different moderators, Obama will be ready for him in the next two debates. So, did Romney show his hand and fire all of his political bullets in one battleground of debate? Did Obama save the best for last? Did Romney win the battle but lose the war? We’ll see.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist.