In the Arena

Obama’s Debate Strategy: Unilateral Disarmament?

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Michael Reynolds / Pool / Getty Images

President Obama listens during the first presidential debate, at the University of Denver on Oct. 3, 2012

Well, I’m with all the other talking heads: Mitt Romney won this debate. Barack Obama lost it. I mean, he got his butt kicked. It was, in fact, one of the most inept performances I’ve ever seen by a sitting President. Romney — giving credit where it’s due — was calm, clear, convincing (even when he was totally full of it) and nearly human. The real mystery was Obama. Where on earth was he? Why was his debate strategy unilateral disarmament? Why did he never speak in plain English? “Mitt, you’re selling a fantasy. Bill Clinton proved it. He raised taxes on the wealthy and the economy boomed. George Bush lowered taxes drastically and the economy tanked. How’s your plan any different than Bush’s?” Actually, the President did say something like that, but it was well past most of America’s bedtime, about an hour into the debate — and he didn’t do it clearly, concisely or directly.

It gets worse.

(MORE: Obama, Romney Twist Two Crucial Issues in First Debate)

You may have noticed that the President never mentioned his most important achievement in the most crucial states: the auto bailout. He never said, “That $716 billion in Medicare savings you keep harping on? That was in Paul Ryan’s Republican budget — you know, Mitt, the one that passed the House because all the Republicans voted for it.” Romney was even able to imply that he may not have such a good accountant when it comes to taking advantage of sending companies overseas without the President saying, “I think you have a terrific accountant, Mitt! Great tax rate!”

You may also have noticed that when Romney deftly compared the $2.8 billion in oil subsidies to the President’s $90 billion in green energy, Obama didn’t have a response. This was truly remarkable. He didn’t talk about the world’s largest sun and wind farms. He didn’t talk about the failed energy investments that Romney had made. My colleague Michael Grunwald spent nearly 500 convincing pages in his book The New New Deal describing the accomplishments of the stimulus package, and the President couldn’t even defend it.

(MORE: Blue Truth, Red Truth: Inside the Fact Wars)

Obama’s cool was ice cold. It was 30 minutes into the debate, by my count, before he mentioned an actual human being. Romney was talking about people who were “crushed” and “buried” — pace Joe Biden — and “hurting” in his very first answer. Romney managed to wax poetic about the pursuit of happiness, meaning that government should help everyone find the American Dream, without the President saying, “Even that 47% you said you don’t care about?” How could he go through an entire debate without mentioning or even hinting at that 47% remark?

(PHOTOSPolitical Photos of the Week, Sept. 20-27)

So we now have a race. I don’t know whether this debate will move the polls very much — it may well — but it will certainly boost Romney’s confidence, and it has to give the President some doubts, despite his vaunted self-confidence. I must say that I’ll sleep better knowing Romney opposes banks that are too big to fail (although he didn’t say how) and will regulate Wall Street, eliminate most tax deductions for the wealthy (he put a clever $25,000 or $50,000 cap on deductions) and force insurance companies to cover those with pre-existing conditions (even though he would turn over health policy to the states — how on earth did Obama fail to pick up on that one?).

But I must admit, once again, to being mystified. Did the President send out his body double to this debate? Because if that were the actual Barack Obama out there, I’m not sure he could communicate well enough to be an effective President in a time of trouble, to say nothing of winning a second term.

MORE: Mark Halperin: Grading the Debaters

MORE: Special GOP Issue: Party of No

242 comments
AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

Unilateral disarmament to make enemy powers to retain their military arsenal? If Obama cannot control Iran and Syria, how is he going to disarm Beijing and Moscow? It is a spineless policy. Many states which stood with Obama last month are jumping on to Romney's bandwagon when they realized that it is not the performance in the debate but performance as president is vital for the future of America. Deep recession and huge unemployment, following Krugman's nonfunctional, quixotic economic policies, debacle in handling foreign affairs such as the murder of ambassador, bloodbath in Syria, Ahmadinejad sending Iranian troops into Syria taking advantage of Obama’s impotence, and the dominance of Putin in world politics -- who is cozying up to China, supporting the Assad regime and ignoring the Iranian Nuclear race. When America is submerged in trillion dollars debt, Obama giving in hard cash several billions of dollars to the jihadist, militant, and pro-Beijing Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. By allowing joint military exercise with fanatical Muslim Brotherhood soldiers, Obama is indirectly training America's enemies how to attack America in a future war, ignoring the fact there is a new axis Tehran-Cairo-Baghdad-Damascus. It is also revealed that billions of dollars of taxpayers are being used to build mosques in Nigeria, Zanzibar, Pakistan who are in the forefront to burn churches and kill Christians. These are the factors that are making many pro-Obama states to become pro-Romney states.

June Cowey
June Cowey

Personally I thought he did a good job of trying to deliver a message, considering he was constantly interupted by Romney

June Cowey
June Cowey

His first words were wishing he could be with his wife for their anniversary. perhaps that was a factor

Samira Samadzadeh
Samira Samadzadeh

the only reason you all are detecting obame cuz you think that fool can make currenc y. he c ant. sammy s.

Jo Jobama Lake
Jo Jobama Lake

Just like the Congress he may Oversee...Obfuscation and platitudes Du juor are the order of the day...How is it a WIN when most of what Romney said were lies or half-truths???

Suj Heyy
Suj Heyy

Romney had concepts without figures - he was selling a fantasy and yes he proved he is just another sales guy by spin selling on questions , he didn't seem to provide any clarity on his approach . Obama was a little too relaxed but he has a lot to speak in the coming days including the 47% :) . Hez saved a lot for the last

Paul Klutes
Paul Klutes

I didn't know trailer park residents paid taxes. And yes, you are a racist . . . it's not my comfort zone, it's yours.

Donna Hall
Donna Hall

@Paul, dont have it on right now. I let jesse jackson borrow it as a banner so he could spew more hate and maybe the big white establishment will give him some more moola. Just me not wanting MY tax money going to entitlements doesn't make me racist but some idiots always have to go there, that's your comfort zone I assume.....

Paul Klutes
Paul Klutes

Donna . . . out in public without your hood and white sheet on? I'm surprised.

Paul Klutes
Paul Klutes

Kevin . . . as Paul Krugman pointed out today, Romney won the theatrics . . . but he had to lie on virtually point of substance to do it. If the media doesn't point that out, then they're not doing their job.

Shannon Barker
Shannon Barker

Obama was smart to let Romney dig his own grave.

Kevin McClaran
Kevin McClaran

Once again, another Obama biased article by Time. Admitting that Romney won the debate but still couldn't resist the attacks on Romney. You can't criticize Obama without resisting the Liberal temptation to bring Romney down to his level.

Mathias  Kundayi
Mathias Kundayi

Obama was being smart - he knows easy debate victories = a complacent democratic base = big repub turnout in NOV. and DEMS cryin - "we was robbed". as they vacate the White House.

Donna Hall
Donna Hall

@Kimberly, he didn't say he was gonna get rid of the education that big bird or ernie evidently bestow upon your children, he said : no entitlement money. You know, like WELFARE. PBS will now have to get out and "work" to raise money to keep them going, like they did to begin with until "a free ride" via the govnmt started giving handouts. Like ALL welfare, when you start NOT having to work for what you get, you get lazy and dependent. If Romney not supplying money for big bird makes your mind up on who the President should be, you have some major educational problems yourself. Laughable if it weren't so sad. Typical though of the mentality of a hussein supporter.

Daniel Ramos
Daniel Ramos

Romney's speech had no substance but was full of confidence. Obama appeared reserved and even distant at times but was on point with everything he needed to say. To an uninformed voter they would assume Romney won based off his attitude; unfortunately, Romney didn't even specify on anything.

Mat Richter
Mat Richter

oh, its s race alright, and the field has just been leveled w/ a nuke.

Kimberly Mayorquin
Kimberly Mayorquin

I'M VOTING OBAMA JUST TO KEEP SESAME STREET AIRING FOR MY CHILDREN & THEIR CHILDREN. Debates are an opportunity to see which guy is the bigger schmuck.

Reina Chua
Reina Chua

Obama delivered the best line of the night: "Is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans secret because they’re too good? Is it because somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them?"

Paul Klutes
Paul Klutes

I think the President misses Rahm Emmanuel. He needs a fighter like Rahm to help toughen him up before the next bout.

Maria Rosell
Maria Rosell

If you want to see Obama's plan see America 2016. It is clearly stated what Obama will do in another 4 years. I was personally appalled!!!

Lexy Bernardo
Lexy Bernardo

You've got to be kidding, the problem is everyone expected the president to Attack the "secretary of looking good", yep that's all he did look good and perhaps with enough justiculation convinced the public to "trust Mitt" without actually telling the public..... how. Romney mostly generalised and true to form, never specific, basically "Just trust me on this" type of plea..no plan. You would think at this stage of the game, He would have some kind of something to show to share to the public. Does he really think he's just going to breeze through the White House just by looking pretty? You ain't seen nothin yet there are still 2 debates to come, that was just a warm up.

John Hill
John Hill

romney lost as soon as he started changing his positions and lying.

Nola Gautreau
Nola Gautreau

You said a mouthful there Time. "Now this is a presidential race worth watching." It is curious that Mitt was down and out before the debate and now is a contender. Media is manipulating the fact that Obama is going to win the election by a landslide and Mitt hasn't got a chance. They have to do this in order to keep the voters awake as the American public sleeps through the election.

Daily Guy
Daily Guy

it's hard to fight Romney in Buziness right now. But i belive Obama will bounce back in coming debates and won .

Zachary Peebels
Zachary Peebels

Write in Ron Paul. The media's control over the "sheep-voters" has become sort of like leading a child to a refrigerator full of soda and telling them they can only drink one of the two brands on the bottom shelf. When they really just wanted the orange juice on the top shelf.

Manmeet Jha
Manmeet Jha

OPPOSITION ALWAYS WINS DEBATE AND SAYS THE CANDIDATE WAS NOT ABLE TO SCORE 100% IN EXAMS.

Paul Klutes
Paul Klutes

I can't figure it out . . . Obama didn't even seem to know where the camera was . . . he kept looking at Lehrer instead of the lens. And his mind clearly seemed to be elsewhere. He talked longer, but actually said less than Romney, taking longer to compose and articulate his thoughts. Romney, on the other hand, was very well rehearsed . . . of course, as one pundit said, "Obama still has to run the country, all Mitt has to run is his mouth".

Pete Stafford
Pete Stafford

@amy - there is no liberal media. there is the news and facts rarely work well for Republicans. Romney won the debate last night because he is a pathological liar.

Amy Gardner
Amy Gardner

Those that don't believe are blinded by this liberal media that is telling you how to think. What experience did obama have before he became president? What the hell has he been doing to help me during his four freakin years? Im broke, lost a business and gas in at 4 freakin dollars. Thanks obam.a. You all complained when gas was at 2. You were going to hang bush. Now that gas has doubled- where is the bitchn. You think rich obama cares? He's set for life. He doesn't care if gas is at 8...wake up people!!!

Drew Doemling
Drew Doemling

As a PA Republican, it didn't sway me in either direction. Obama's still the best man for the job. We forget that one man runs the country (where there was a major crisis between Turkey and Syria in the middle of the night before the debate) and the other guy has been retired for 15 years. Romney's been preparing for this moment for about 15 years. Obama's been leading the free world successfully. I'll stay with that guy, not the retired grandad who is as old as Bill Clinton is now!

Genene Harjo
Genene Harjo

Romney was his typical self...arrogant and too full of himself. Obama has been the president so he knows how to behave more professionally than Romney and that was what he was doing last night, behaving in a more mature, professional manner than Romney. The way Romney kept raising his voice above Lehrer and not willing to listen to anybody but himself shows how unprofessional he really is. We need a president with self-control.

Joan Lambert
Joan Lambert

IMO, President Obama's strategy will pay off. Let Romney the liar have all the rope he wants to hang himself....Our President will use it effectively in the coming weeks as he exposes all the outright lies that were stated yet again. Romney's aggressive style, which works well when you're trying to sell used cars, or ice to Eskimos, or take over companies, will come back to bite him by Nov 6th. :)

Amy Gardner
Amy Gardner

What was Obama supposed to do? Stand on his record?! The historians will surely rank him one of the worst Presidents ever!

Praba Karan
Praba Karan

THE EVIL AGAINST THE PRIVACY OF INNOCENT PEOPLE Company name: Fox force security services Country: India Type : Private firm Work : Spying the everyday life of common people and torture them with the name of giving protection for business men Contact no : 9940027719, for provide illegal security for business men with hit men My dears, wherever you will be but if are the person who is worrying about privacy and safety of innocent people you can forward it to your police deportment.

Jess Marie
Jess Marie

No we don't have a race worth watching. I know I am stuck in a state that is going to vote for Mitt Romney no matter what he says, which is sad. We need to do away with the electoral college so "we the people" can have a real say in who runs our country. Romney still has not spelled out how he is going to make jobs. He has told me many of times what benefits I will be losing and my father would be losing, which doesn't help his case.

Praba Karan
Praba Karan

THE EVIL AGAINST THE PRIVACY OF INNOCENT PEOPLE Company name: Fox force security services Type : Private firm Work : Spying the everyday life of common people and torture them with the name of giving protection for business men Contact no : 9940027719, for provide illegal security for business men with hit men My dears, wherever you will be but if are the person who is worrying about privacy and safety of innocent people you can forward it to your police deportment.

Esther Harding
Esther Harding

At the end of the day, Obama has the potential to be Americas' first "Roosevelt" of the new millennium.

Scott Smith
Scott Smith

These things are only fun if Ross Perot is involved.

Souvik Kundu
Souvik Kundu

Mitt Romney was very confident. Obama not so confident.

Ern Scott
Ern Scott

I was using the word weak but I think "distant and unengaged" is a better way to describe Obama last night. Thank you Joe Klein of TIME.

Andrew 'Andy' Thomas
Andrew 'Andy' Thomas

for Romney to win he has to take Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginian and take either Iowa or Ohio all of which he's trailing badly and that's assuming he doesn't drop any other states on top, it's over, nobody likes you Mitt

Georgette Moore Connell
Georgette Moore Connell

If you like style over substance, sure Romney won. If you believe that a presidential debate should be where the nominees discuss, compare, disect their policies, then Romney lost because he did not offer anything that was truthful or worth mentioning. He's a consummate bullshitter.