The debate tonight at the University of Denver seemed a lot like a “working meeting.” Jim Lehrer guided the discussion with a professorial air. The chairs in the constricted hockey arena were red and the background was a blue hue with an eagle and the preamble to the constitution. It almost seemed like the set for Stephen Colbert.
The debate, however, was anything but funny. Both candidates were serious and substantive. But the clear winner of the debate was Mitt Romney. He was on the smiling attack most of the night, his red tie contrasting to the blue background while the president seemed irritated and only forced a few smiles through the entire event.
But what about the substance of the discussion?
Mitt Romney quickly attacked Obama as a purveyor of “trickle down government,” a phrase that surely brought a smile to deceased Reagan publicity man Michael Deaver. Romney continued the attack all evening by bringing up Vice President Joe Biden’s line that the middle class has been crushed these last four years. He even denied that he would cut taxes on the wealthy and that his plan was to lower all tax rates, close loopholes, and bring more money in for the government.
And try as he might, Obama was unsuccessful in making the point that a $5 trillion tax cut, coupled with $2 trillion more spending for the military, would lead to higher taxes and lost services for the middle class. The fact that Romney was able to convincingly deny that this was his plan, even though it has been out there for a while, appeared to frustrate Obama to the point that he channeled Bill Clinton and said, “It’s math! It’s arithmetic!”
But Romney continued to be firm in his statements that his plan is not to add to the deficit. Now, where have we heard that before?
The rest of the discussion focused on health care , the debt, education, and the role of government. Again, Lehrer’s professorial control and moderation made the debate collegiate and somewhat less presidential than what we’re used to. It was refreshing.
The biggest failings for Obama in the debate: He referred to the Affordable Care Act as Obamacare. He needs to stop doing that. He also appeared aloof and somewhat uninterested in the proceedings. His energy was clearly lacking. And, finally, in his closing statement he referred to the American people as “them” and “their” concerns while Romney referred to “your’ concerns. This may seem like a small thing but people hear it.
The biggest failings for Romney will likely come to light after the debate. It would seem that he altered his economic agenda during the debate. He still has not offered specifics on how he can cut taxes, increase military spending, and cut the deficit. Also, the Paul Ryan plan for Medicare is a non-starter and Romney appears to know that it is a liability politically. How long will it take for him to modify it? Probably two weeks.
But hand it to Romney. Obama didn’t land a punch. There was no reference to the 47 percent and Romney was on the offensive all night. He had more energy and seemed to be the more positive and forward-looking candidate on this night amid the blues and reds and patriotism.