Nothing deep or earth-shattering, just my reactions, plus a couple of hours to consider them.
I tried to go in with this with as open a mind as possible. In that sense, Romney outperformed my expectations. He looked polished and prepared and generally spoke in a manner befitting the president.
But having said that– even not knowing whether or not the specifics of his claims were true (naturally, if they aren’t, he looks a lot worse), Romney still had several moments where he said something ridiculous or spoke in a manner to make me question his ability to think clearly. His mention of Big Bird when talking about cutting PBS was an hilarious misstep that attempted to humanize him but really only humanized PBS, now no longer an abstract government waste of spending but home of a beloved children’s creation. (Whether or not the miniscule amount of the budget PBS accounts for represents a sensible approach to budget-balancing is another question entirely, and one where the answer doesn’t favor the anti-public broadcasting crowd. Baffling as to why he even mentioned PBS– it’s the sort of thing that would fire up a Tea Party rally but is going to seem silly to even your average undecided voter, let alone your thinking one.)
His repeated attempts to harp on President Obama “cutting $716 billion from Medicare” also rang hollow,. Once the president explained that the money was actually money saved by cutting down on providers’ overhead, and not an actual loss of services, Romney should have at least made an attempt to refute that information instead of just repeating the number. He mentioned it three times, saving the most ridiculous for last when he began to speak about his time as governor and included, “We didn’t have Medicare, but if we did, we wouldn’t have cut $716 billion from it.” Just a complete nonsense statement there.
The worst for me, though, was the repeated interruptions of Jim Lehrer, who to be fair did kind of let both candidates walk all over him (and should have stood firmer), but at the same time, it’s on the candidates to display some respect for the moderator or the proceedings. Romney’s worst was his first response– “I should get a chance to respond to that, he gets the first one, I get the last one”– not only demonstrated a lack of understanding of debate procedures, but also reflected his inner spoiled rich kid, the one who thinks he has to get everything his way. It’s the sort of moment the mainstream media would have over-analyzed and used to club his campaign to death if it had come from a non-establishment candidate (see Dean, Howard) or if Romney wasn’t already losing badly enough that the MSM didn’t want to turn it into a blowout so soon.
For most of the debate, Romney looked like someone who possessed the clarity of conviction and the ability to orate on those convictions many people desire in a president. But there, in that moment, the petulant rich kid broke through underneath the groomed-for-this-all-his-life facade, and the sense of entitlement, of “fair is when I get what I want”, shone through. And, of course, once Lehrer gave him an inch, he took a mile, never missing a chance to respond or talk over Lehrer even when the debate needed to move on. (And to be fair, once Romney had established that precedent Obama more or less followed suit, although he at least had the wherewithal to not complain about how unfair it all was.)
Speaking of Obama, I was disappointed in the President, but only because I was hoping for a little more fire and blood in this debate. The President played it low-key– my theory is that he’s trying not to peak too soon and is saving his good stuff for the later debates– which was probably wise, since he didn’t need to go on the offensive. Any amount of critical thinking applied to the debate would have made it clear that Romney couldn’t possibly deliver all his promised services without finding new sources of revenue, which means he’s either incapable of understanding budgetary arithmetic or lying about what he plans to do. The President has two more debates and plenty of ammunition in his pocket if people don’t come to realize this themselves.
I for one believe that is the reason Mitt Romney will ultimately lose: Once you get past the degree to which he seems presidential when he’s fully prepared to do so (i.e. Romney on his best day), the substance of his comments still rings hollow, the lack of logical progression from means to ends raises an alarm, the complete lack of detail about his plans for policy stands out. Enough people, even those disappointed in Obama’s first term, are going to realize this.