The First Two Debates:

Andy Philipson

President Obama and Governor Romney, and Vice President Biden and House Representative Ryan have engaged in three debates this fall. I’ve been tasked with giving an unbiased review of the first two debates, which I do gladly, but for full disclosure I must admit that I am a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party. Still, I believe what follows is a fair account of what the American public was shown in the last two debates.

The first Presidential debate was hosted by the University of Denver and moderated by PBS news-man Jim Lehrer. It focused on domestic policy ranging from taxes to healthcare, and led to a stunning debate. Many predicted a strong victory for President Obama – his speaking skills are well documented and polling numbers suggested that he was quite favored by the American people. Still, they hold the debates for a reason, and Romney displayed that he was in tune with what the voters wanted to see: a confident, presidential businessman who knew how to save the economy. One zinger in particular was especially memorable – when Obama pressed him about incentives to companies that sent jobs overseas, Romney quickly said, “I’ve been in business for 25 years and I have no idea what you’re talking about. Maybe I need to get a new accountant.” Obama seemed composed after this retort, but it still showed that Romney was much better prepared for the debate than Obama was.

Still, in my opinion, Romney’s strategy leaves him open to attack from the left in a variety of ways. In his excellent debating display, he did not give many details about his tax plan, and he even walked back some campaign promises with regards to tax bracketing on the richest Americans. His talking points were bereft of real substance, though it remains to be seen if this will have a negative effect on his campaign. And, as we’ve all seen across the social media sphere, Romney’s comments about PBS – and more importantly, Big Bird – made him seem disconnected from the interests of the American public and callous to what is widely regarded as an excellent source of youth education. Still, I truly believe that Romney’s debating style was a result of great planning by the Romney campaign staff and good execu-tion by the candidate himself. The debate was boring in the least colloquial sense of the word – we didn’t see a lot of attacking like we wish for in the debates, and Obama’s lackluster performance left a lot of people thinking that it was more of a speech contest than a debate.

The second debate wasn’t so clear-cut. Hosted by ABC News Chief Martha Raddatz at Centre Col-lege in Kentucky, this debate featured Vice Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Above all else, this debate proved that both of these men are incredibly intelligent and our country would greatly benefit from either one of their services. This second debate had no lack of head-to-head combat, high-lighted almost infamously by the smiling, laughing visuals of Biden as Ryan was making statements about the economy. To the right, this was seen as incredibly rude and not vice presidential, but to the left it was a display of Biden’s true character, and a way for him to physically show his vehement disagree-ment with Ryan’s statements. As such, I think this debate did not really have any effect on the course of the Presidential campaign with regards to moderates. I think the vice presidential debate was important in energizing both bases, and I believe that both candidates understood this; it showed in their debate styles. From the outset, Biden proved that he is among the most experienced of Americans with regards to foreign policy. As Ryan berated him over the President’s choice to go on “The View” instead of meet-ing with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden quickly (and almost angrily) replied, “Now, with regard to Bibi, he’s been my friend for 39 years! The president has met with Bibi a dozen times. He’s spoken to Bibi Netanyahu as much as he’s spoken to anybody.” Biden really showed that the Obama/ Biden ticket has much more experience in matters of foreign policy. Pardon me as I hop on the Biden train, but I truly believe his debate performance, however rude or disrespectful to Raddatz and Ryan, was nothing short of great. He called out Ryan’s statements piece-by-piece and responded with distinct figures. He also spent time going after Romney, including Romney’s infamous “47 percent” statement. Ryan did seem incredibly smart and well prepared, and matched against Biden well. It certainly was a great debate, and I’m very excited for the next two debates in the coming days.

Contact Andy Philipson at [email protected].