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Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Last Night's Obama Disappoinment in the First Presidential Debate

It's generally accepted that nonverbal communication - body language, posture, facial expressions - are more important in Presidential debates than spoken words.  That's likely because it's true.  People who saw the JFK / Nixon debates in 1960 on television thought Kennedy won; people who heard the same debates on radio awarded the debates to Nixon.  Nonverbal actions on camera often speak louder than words.   It's been that way ever since, including in last night's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, except Obama performed poorly in most of the verbal exchanges as well.

About the only negative thing you could say about Mitt Romney's nonverbal performance was that he seemed a little hyper at times.   But he also seemed crisp, clear, energized to be on the stage and in a contest for the Presidency.   In contrast, although Obama had flashes of humor and style - as when he said that he liked the name Obamacare - his demeanor in general was low-energy to the point of looking tired, even listless.  Although he appeared at ease, which would have been good in moderation, the President appeared to be so much at ease last night as to barely be there.

And Romney bested Obama in the verbal as well.  Time after time, Obama let Romney have the last word, and the President was over-solicitous to the moderator, Jim Lehrer.  Romney made sure he made his points in spite of Lehrer's saying the debate needed to move on.  In contrast, Obama just smiled and let it slide.

Obama, in general, failed to challenge Romney on the Republican's outright lies.  For example, when Obama rightly claimed that American businesses go overseas to get tax breaks, and Romney said that wasn't true, Obama just left it at that.   Further, Obama never raised crucial missteps in Romney's campaign and positions - not a word about Romney's disdain for the 47%, nothing about Romney's urging the government to let American car companies go bankrupt, nothing about Republican obstruction on budget actions in Congress.

The one bright spot for Obama was his clear, impassioned defense of the Affordable Health Care Act - Obamacare.  This is one of the top issues for Americans, and in besting Romney on that crucial issue, Obama may have done lasting damage to the Republican.

But, obviously, the President cannot rely on that.  He has shown great resiliency in getting back up and into the fight in the past.   He owes it to the American people and himself to do that now.

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