If debates mean anything, the one on October 3rd gave Americans a close look at Mitt Romney, and they concluded he was not as unlikable as the pundits keep telling them he is.
Last night, October 16th, both Governor Romney and President Obama seemed aggressive to the point I half expected them to start throwing punches or chairs (where is Jerry Springer when you need him?) I like to see U.S. leaders show backbone toward this country’s enemies and in fact believe doing so is essential to our security; but for candidates in an American Presidential election, it seemed a bit over-the-top to see them getting up into each other’s faces. Then again, we are the nation that has brought the world WWE Wrestling.
Since Obama initially came out swinging, Romney might have thought he didn’t have much choice but to match the President’s aggressive style and tone. I like a spirited debate, but I also like to think that if your ideas and presentation are powerful and persuasive enough, you don’t need to try to physically bear down on your opponent. It’s hard to picture a great statesman like Churchill resorting to that. Then again, that greatest of all orators was a small man (albeit in physical stature only). Maybe that just wouldn’t have worked for him. And the body and its language is part of the whole presentation, I guess.
If the last debate helped Romney by allowing him to be himself, and therefore to dispel the Obama team’s characterizations (and the repetitions of them by media) that Romney is unfeeling, a plutocrat, etc., I think this one probably might have set him back a notch on the likability except for the fact that President Obama also came across as angry and aggressive. So in terms of likability, I think it was a wash.
In the exchange concerning Obama’s use of the phrase “acts of terror,” Romney flubbed it and missed an opportunity. Having written about the Administration’s reaction to the Benghazi attack and especially about President Obama’s speech, I suspected that Obama may have woven the words “acts of terror” into his speech, so when Obama and Crowley corrected Romney I knew they were probably technically correct. The tricky part–and what Romney missed his chance to point out–is that that speech presented a totally misleading picture of the nature of the attack, seemingly seeking to downplay it as premeditated terrorism. In the speech, Obama mentioned an anti-Islam film numerous times and clearly indicated that the film was the reason for the attack. Tonight Romney might have said something like, “You may have used those particular words, Mr. President. But you characterized the attack on our consulate in Benghazi as a spontaneous reaction to a film, and it wasn’t until nearly two weeks later that you shared the truth with the American people that the attack was a premeditated act of terrorism perpetrated by an al Qaeda affiliated group.
Next Monday Romney needs to make the case that it’s not about those three words but the inaccurate picture the Obama administration presented for nearly two weeks following the attack.