The first presidential debate just ended and I’ve pressed the mute button on the remote control. Without listening to the yammering of the pundits, here are some of my immediate impressions.
1) Serious Energy Deficit: I’m not talking about economics here. I mean the basic level of emotion and personality and spunk expressed between the two contenders. Mitt Romney had it and the president simply didn’t. It was like someone had replaced Obama’s coffee with decaf. If the biggest impact of these debates is the basic, visceral impression they offer of the candidates and less the words coming out of their mouths, Romney just looked more jazzed. And that counts for a lot.
2) Talking In Two Different Languages: If you were listening to what they were saying there was a repeated refrain coming from the president. He kept asking for details. Romney kept avoiding offering them, speaking instead at a higher rhetorical level. Obama would ask again, trying to punch holes by asking for more information about how exactly Romney was going to achieve these lofty objectives (like how he was going to pay for anything without raising any revenue). Depending on your perspective, you found the rhetoric uplifting or the reality checks refreshing. I have a feeling I know what might have appealed to the undecideds.
3) No Social Issues: The debate was very wonky and really dealt mostly with economic issues like taxes and the deficit. There was no talk of immigration or gun control or gay marriage, for example. If this was the only domestic-themed debate, that’s really too bad. A lot of distinction between these two could be drawn on these issues, and for those supporting the president it might have helped stop Romney from reclaiming the mantle of the center (clearly an objective of the governor’s tonight).
4) Does any of it matter?: Frank Rich had an interesting tweet at one point late in the evening. “What are going to be the replayed sound bites tomorrow? If none, it’s a non-event except for the junkies & partisans,” he wrote. Is he right? I don’t know. Maybe if I turn on the volume again I’ll have a better idea about whether or not this debate will have traction. But the level of impact of past debates did tend to hinge on whether they produced a moment, and I’m not sure that in all that wonkishness there was some crystallizing difference that was established between the two men (besides that one of them needs more sleep). Then again, there was that reference by Romney to offing Big Bird. That should at least keep the Twitterverse busy for days.
What did you think of the debate? Tell us in the comments.
Gal Beckerman was a staff writer and then the Forward’s opinion editor until 2014. He was previously an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review where he wrote essays and media criticism. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review and Bookforum. His first book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award and the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, as well as being named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and The Washington Post. Follow Gal on Twitter at @galbeckerman