17 Oct 2012

Debate? This was more like Fight Club

Thank goodness last night’s debate was at 9pm, when my young children were already in bed nodding off to a wonderful dream world where Presidential candidates let each other finish sentences, don’t interrupt and listen respectfully to the moderator.

My eight year old would have been appalled by the debate turned fight club. My thirteen year old daughter would have recognized the GOTCHA tone from break time.

Barry Obama and Mitt Romney were at each other’s throats last night and this wasn’t sport. It was personal, nasty and just what the Democrats wanted, to reassure them that their man had a spine and a will to win.

Two weeks ago at the Denver debate Obama took presidential decorum to new barbiturate heights. Last night he was on a tried and tested medication called “fear of losing your job”. It did the trick.

The President punched back again and again. He questioned virtually every one of Mitt Romney’s claims. He mostly walked the fine line between assertion and aggression. What he didn’t do is let the American people know what exactly he had in mind for the next four years of how he intended to transform America at a crucial juncture when this nation either needs to reinvent itself or proceed on the glide path to decline.

Mitt Romney was good at pointing out all the things that had gone wrong in the last four years and all the promises that had been broken. He has a vision of a bright economic future for America. But the numbers add up so unconvincingly that it seems more like a hallucination.

It is one thing for the “Mittens” to take his gloves off. It is quite another to let aggression get the better of you. On the issue of Libya and the slayhing of four American diplomats Romney should have scored an open goal, especially since the administration had denied the late Ambassador Chris Stephens the added protection that he had repeatedly asked for, and that might have saved his life when the Consulate in Benghazi was attacked.

Instead Mitt Romney failed to make this point, and then shot himself in both feet by getting his facts wrong about when exactly the President had called the attack “an act of terror”. This was petty stuff that missed the wider issue about America’s inadequate response to the Arab Spring. But in a debate, nothing hurts like a self inflicted wound.

Another memorable moment came when Mitt Romney tried to further woo those all important female voters who had been flocking to him since the Denver debate. As a businessman, he said he had been keen to hire women, and had received “binders full of women” on his desk.

It was an awkward phrase that went viral on Twitter and led some to quip that this was perhaps an involuntary allusion to Mitt Romney’s personal paradise, in which the Book of Mormon meets the stationary giant Staples, a company he had helped to create.

With his performance, Obama will have stopped the panic in his campaign and the bleeding in the polls. For his part Mitt Romney will have proven to his side that he still has the potential to go all the way to the White House.

Debate performances tend to be in the eye of the beholder and both sides would have been encouraged enough to look forward to round three, the final debate next week in Florida, devoted – in theory – to foreign policy.

With an election too close to predict, the bitter fight will continue to the bitter end.

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7 reader comments

  1. Andrew Dundas says:

    I watched the whole debate on a US channel and just after PMQs from Westminster. Gosh! How polite the presidential debate was! Can you have watched the same dialogue?

    Presidents are mostly the figurehead of the US Nation, their commander-in-Chief, objective setter and their Orator (one fine day it’ll be a woman). As persuaders and closers, they both meet the bill. But Obama does it better. He trapped Romney time and again. Not least on the ‘..have you looked at your pension? question”. A wonderful put-down followed.
    Presidents are not prime ministers as I’m sure you know. They are kind of an elected King (one day, Queen) of the Hanoverian model. If Obama had been George III it might all have been different. Who knows?

  2. Yemil says:

    The most profound topic that will ultimately drastically affect our children and grand children are environmental concerns.What is the point of having a great job and earning good wages if the water you want to drink is poisoned, the air you want to breathe is polluted and the ecosystem is suffocating from the neglect and abuse by gas and oil companies.There is not even a small mention about dealing with this dire problem in any of these debates.
    This is why these political misfits have no credibility with me.If they don’t care enough about their own kids to take this subject seriously why should I accept their empty promises to provide anything of real consequence for my family’s future.

  3. Benny Valadez says:

    To ho ever wrote these words of ignorance, get your facts straight before you make your comments and sound stupid. Obama was the one ho claimed he told the American people that our embassy in Libya had been attacked by terrorist the very next day of the attack, when in reality he LIED to us, claiming protesters angry about sum stupid film on you tube had got out of control and stormed the embassy in anger over this “insulting to their religion” film. Does he think we are STUPID? and and do you also think the same? Mitt Romney was right! you and Obama underestimate the people of this country. at the end the TRUTH will prev ale. Look down at your feet, did YOU shoot yourself?

  4. Matt Dobson says:

    On C4 news tonight you said this debate will be seen as a draw. No it will not. Every poll has shown an Obama win and with independent voters a decisive one. Many Romney surrogates claiming draw and general GOP noise is consternation at moderator’s fact checking effrontery!
    I know commentators need to show impartiality but do you not have an agenda to spin a close race…which is why you claimed a draw..erroneously ?

  5. Philip Edwards says:


    It was a meaningless charade.

    Only the foolish will be fooled by its complete lack of substance.

    The loser(s): the US form of “democracy” and the future of their citizens.

    No surprise there, no change.

    Move on.

  6. Ben Schiller says:

    Mr Frei,

    While I think this was a better performance by Obama and worth covering for that (though perhaps you might have credited your audience with the ability to actually parse the visual and auditory input of the two debating without needing to intercut it with images of ultimate wrestlers – way to overuse the metaphor there Matt), what worries me is not so much Obama’s performance or even Mitt Romney’s but yours.

    Do you struggle to understand the electoral college? Have you failed to actually note the distribution of the votes as opposed to the raw percentages? If so, allow me to refresh you: Romney currently has about 210 electoral college votes in the bag, while before the first debate he was perhaps on 190. By contrast, Obama has probably already exceeded the 270 he needs to win.

    Now obviously the polling is imprecise, but your reporting keeps suggesting this is some sort of knife-edge election when very few serious commentators believe it to be. Maybe there is a report you could do on the issue of the Electoral College system and the fact that the popular vote doesn’t get reflected in the winner-takes-all Electoral College vote – that might be interesting and even educational – but to continue to insist that this is an edge-of-the-seat election simply because that sounds more newsworthy is to value storytelling over reportage; as someone who is employed by Channel 4 News and not by Fox, I would have presumed that was beneath you.

    So please, get on with the actual story which is that Americans are not all as daft as you would like to portray them, nor as right wing, reactionary, fundamentalist, narrow-minded, homophobic, misogynistic… well you get the picture. The Republicans may claim to have binders full of such idiots, and employers may threaten their employees with redundancy if they vote Obama, but the real numbers suggest that there are also binders full of other types of Americans and that they are not fooled.

  7. James Attewell says:

    Hi Mat,
    I think “Mr. Mitty” would be a more appropriate name than “Mittens”.
    Stay excellent :o)

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