And Away We Go…

Presidential Debate #1. October 3rd, 2012

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For the first Presidential Debate, I wanted to do something I haven’t really done before. That is, to share my impressions prior to me reading or watching any other analysis. I am hoping this will allow me to not be influenced one way or the other and will simply be able to share my own thoughts. [Full disclosure: I did watch Carl Cameron’s very brief analysis immediately after the debate because I was caught off guard]

To accomplish that goal, I “Live-Blogged” the debate in the old-fashioned way… with a notepad and a pen. I am neither Reporter, nor Stenographer, so my goal was not to create a full transcript, but rather to record thoughts, impressions, immediate commentary, and a handful of direct quotes. In the posts following this one, I will record my personal play-by-play for each “segment” followed by a short analysis of that segment.

To begin, I will work backwards and post some thoughts and analysis of the debate as a whole (since the interwebs are already full of such ‘blathering’).

This was a good debate, in that it showcased the differences between the candidates without things getting nasty or unprofessional.

After watching it, my immediate, unfiltered reaction was that neither one “lost”, while both actually “won”. There were no obvious gaffes, either verbal or non-verbal. Mitt Romney summed it up best as he was talking about there being “Two Different Paths”. There is a middle ground that modern debates seek to find. Somewhere between wonky policy debates where sourceless numbers are thrown out willy-nilly and vague generalities and platitudes lies the “sweet spot” for modern Presidential debates. Those types of debates offer a vision of the candidate’s governing philosophy and overall vision for the country.

I truly believe we had one of those types of debates last night.

Governor Romney effectively communicated the traditional conservative viewpoint of a smaller, but necessary and effective Federal Government. He may have been off-putting to some of the more aggressive libertarian-minded folks by confirming his committment to maintaining the Federal “Safety Net”. But, that is a position that I believe resonates with most people…whether you find yourself on the Left or the Right of the spectrum. I am going to cheat a bit and refer to the transcript (I have been trying to do this analysis based solely on my first reactions). Because I think that Romney’s answer about the role of government was a very skilful piece of Conservative communication. In fact… I will go ahead and post it here. This is from Politico’s transcript:

ROMNEY: The role of government: Look behind us. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents.

First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means a military second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America’s military.

Second, in that line that says we are endowed by our creator with our rights, I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country. That statement also says that we are endowed by our creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose. I interpret that as, one, making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can’t care for themselves are cared by — by one another.

We’re a nation that believes that we’re all children of the same god and we care for those that have difficulties, those that are elderly and have problems and challenges, those that are disabled. We care for them. And we — we look for discovery and innovation, all these things desired out of the American heart to provide the pursuit of happiness for our citizens.

But we also believe in maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams and not to have the government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals. And what we’re seeing right now is, in my view, a — a trickle-down government approach, which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working.

And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work. The proof of that is 1 out of 6 people in poverty. The proof of that is we’ve gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps. The proof of that is that 50 percent of college graduates this year can’t find work.

We know that the path we’re taking is not working. It’s time for a new path.

To me, that was the highlight answer of the evening.

President Obama’s team has done a masterful job in the past few weeks of downplaying expectations while (clearly, if secretly) training the President in major ways. The past few weeks have seen folks like Axelrod praising Romney as a “great debater” and suggesting that the President is not at the same level of debate skills as is Romney. They floated the idea that the President was very likely to “lose” the debate. Again, all this time, they were obviously going to town with some intense preparation, because President Obama did a better job last night than I have ever seen him do without a teleprompter. He was clear and relatively concise and was able to communicate his view as an alternative to Romney’s. He had some questionable stats here and there… but I will let others investigate the details of his claims. Overall, he presented the alternative to Romney in an effective way. He described his path, and that was what he needed to do. There were times when he used some downright Reagan-esque rhetoric, but almost immediately each time, he then qualified with his true viewpoint. President Obama’s answers clearly indicated his belief in Government. His path is that of the Modern Liberal mindset. Government is the best tool we can use to achieve noble goals, according to this view.

So in this debate, both candidates did what they needed to do: lay out the differences between themselves by describing their two separate Paths.

A sincere thumbs up to both men.

In the posts to follow, (as mentioned before), I will share my play-by-play thoughts on each segment. As I re-examine my initial scribbling, I will likely get a little more critical and less mangnanimous…and my personal preferences will come through even more. But, for now, I still say that both candidates did a great job and the real winners of last night’s debate were the American electorate.

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