The First Presidential Debate: A Test of Character, Not Necessarily Substance

  • Share
  • Read Later
Win McNamee / Getty Images

University of Denver students stand in for President Obama and Mitt Romney during a presidential-debate dress rehearsal in Denver on Oct. 2, 2012

When Barack Obama met John McCain in their first debate, on Sept. 26, 2008, Obama promised to free the U.S. from dependence on Middle East oil within a decade. He said he would “deal with” Pakistan to force more action against Taliban safe havens. And he decried McCain’s proposal to tax health care benefits “for the first time in history.”

Four years later, Middle East energy independence is still a distant goal. Pakistan’s government is as two-faced — and handsomely subsidized by the U.S. — as ever. When it came time to fight for his health care plan in Congress, Obama supported taxing health benefits. For the first time in history, apparently.

This isn’t to pick on Obama, who happens to be the man in a position to deliver on his pledges. McCain would surely have fallen short himself. (His incorrectly predicted that Obama would meet with, and get rolled by, the likes of Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.) The point is to follow Wednesday’s debate between Obama and Mitt Romney with a decidedly skeptical ear.

It’s not that the debates are all empty talk. In his 2008 sessions with McCain, Obama also vowed to reform the country’s health care system. He promised a new push to support renewable energy. He called for Wall Street reform, pledged middle-class tax cuts and said he’d leave Iraq and send more troops to Afghanistan. He delivered on all those things, and fought unsuccessfully for others.

But such detailed plans rarely make it past the Inauguration intact. The world changes. Congress has its say. The political winds shift. Obama may have meant it in his second debate with McCain when he said, “We’re going to have to take on entitlements, and I think we’ve got to do it quickly.” But he hardly charged into that breach. And although liberals are understandably ridiculing Paul Ryan for dodging the details of the Romney-Ryan budget plan — whose basic math seems not to add up — Ryan also has a point when he says the specifics depend on the whims of an unpredictable  Congress (whose partisan makeup remains uncertain, no less).

Unfortunately, the substance of the debates is often secondary anyway. By the time they roll around, the candidates’ agendas are familiar to all but the most checked-out voters. (Yes, there are surely some people who have ignored most of the campaign to date and are willing to tune in for 90 minutes of policy talk. But probably not many.) The result can be tedium. Do you remember that first Obama-McCain debate? Do you clearly remember any of them? Probably not.

The exception proves the rule: it’s easy to remember 2008’s one vice-presidential debate, between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, forever famous for her multiple winks at the camera. That’s because we process these debates with our reptilian brain. We watch for moments of conflict, wit, fallibility. In theory, debates are edifying exchanges and arguments. In reality, they often wind up being a form of jousting that helps viewers form judgments about the candidates’ true nature and character.

Whom does that favor? It’s difficult to say. Obama has the quicker wit, but also four pretty rough years to explain away. Romney survived more than one “do or die” debate in the primaries, but he was helped by his opponents’ ineptitude.

But remember: this is only the first of three presidential debates. As Gallup has noted, several recent “winners” of the first debate, as measured by quick reaction polls, went on to lose the election — sparing them the burden of making good on all those bold promises.

MORE: Special GOP Issue: Party of No

280 comments
dwstick
dwstick

I disagree.  What I got from the debate was that substance trumped symbolism.  Substance trumped style.  Substance trumped smoke and mirrors.  Without a teleprompter and a speech written by someone else to prop him up, Obama was exposed as the truly empty suite he is!

Obama_Dogeater
Obama_Dogeater

No substance, huh? LOL! Romney showed what a joke you are, Crowley.

Marion Valentine
Marion Valentine

Sum up of the debate..

Obama, no character, no substance.

Romney, both

dianecamp2313
dianecamp2313

Romney had energy--was well prepared knew laws and leadership so much more than Obama. HE KICKED OBAMA BEHIND. Well done Mitt

Obama looked sour and tired--didn't speak to Romney at all. Smirky demeanor and head down when Romney spoke. A body language win for Romney too.

rulierose
rulierose

"His [sic.]  incorrectly predicted that Obama would meet with, and get rolled by, the likes of Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

uh...I think he did meet in person with Chavez. but it doesn't really matter. as the WH itself pointed out, in re Bibi Netanyahu, Obama doesn't have to meet in person. "they have phones at the White House you know!" (actual quote from Obama minion.)

but as to whether he "got rolled" by them--that's exactly what he did. how many times has Obama "outstretched his hand" to the loony Iranian? as for Chavez, they have public lovefests; they're perfect ideological partners.

JamesHT
JamesHT

Third party presidential candidates, Jill Stein from the Green Party and Rocky Anderson from the Justice Party, will have an opportunity to join the presidential debate on Democracy Now! tonight, live from 8:30pm to 11:30pm. Stream at http://www.democracynow.org

bebo
bebo

I see a story above: "The Burden of Being Scott Brown"  Who was assigned to that one?  The only burden is that he's a Republican in a Democratic state.  You create such deceit with your implications.  Maybe a video of his opponent speaking like an Indian will be discovered.  She said she was from Indian descent.  Of course no one from the media will just get real and admit that Obama's black lingo transformation means anything.  It does to the voters, believe me,

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

Then why all the fus The first debate was in 60 in the time of Kennedy then we carry on laughing at the candidates and booing is this the future president I wonder I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA

politicalpost
politicalpost

"47% video" already defines Mitt Romney's character. In this debate Romney is going to flip-flop and defend that he cares for those whom he cast insults.

Jim Lehrer is an excellent moderator and will bring more weaknesses of Romney. 

moricone
moricone

Today's GOP is not your daddy's GOP.

Mitt Romney is amazingly pathetic to run for president for over 5 years.

Mitt Romney think 47% including Republicans, Seniors, Veterans are Moochers.

Based on Refu(ks's definition, Reagan a Socialist!    Uh-oh!

Reagan’s healthcare mandate

In 1986, the GOP icon signed a law that requires hospitals to treat poor people and undocumented immigrants

http://www.salon.com/2012/07/0...

lol

Refu(ks sure hate Socialism without knowing what it means.   lol

Sure, Republicans hate Socialism, but Republicans love Social Security, Medicare, Corporate Welfare.

"Keep Government Out of My Medicare."

- True Republicans -

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

h mack
h mack

obama.. i will cut the defecit in half (lie).. i will end the wars (lie) ..  i will close gitmo (lie) .. i will not raise taxes on the middle class (lie, obamacare could ONLY pass as a tax +$3,000 avg. per american) .. i will cut pork barrel spending (lie) ..i will reduce unemployment to -6% (lie) ...i will heal a divided nation (lie, its more divided than ever) ... the recent mideast unrest is anoher testamet to his lies, he can't even handle foreign policy. He blew off the UN meeting to what, appear on the view to accomplish what?? Our enemies no longer fear us and our allies have been kicked to the curb. Another four years of what?? NO thank you.

bebo
bebo

Test of character?  Will we get the jive talking black Obama we saw in Reverend Wright's church  (Fox), or the other polished robotic  Obama?  It does make one wonder. I can't vote for a fraud, despite the media love affair.  It's the worst I've ever seen, and I was born under Eisenhower.

Randy Sargent
Randy Sargent

The character test has come and gone. You can go home now Mitt. Just figure out which of your "home states" really is your home.

akpat
akpat

That anyone would vote for Mitt is surprising.

Mitt/Ryan voucher for old age...................... offends seniors

Mitt/ Ryan balance the budget increase military 30%.......insults people who can do math

Mitt Ryan reduce taxes on the rich.........insults 90% of americans

Mitt/Ryan support of personhood..........offends all sensible people

Mitt Ryan licking Bibi boots....................offends all servicemen

Mitt just how many people in the country can trust you ?

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

I get quite infuriated when I read or hear this so called "Angry Black Man" title arrogated to the Right to the president. Are all Black men angry???????? Why would Obama be angry??? About what??  Hannity infuriates me. I do not know if he is stupid enough to believe the vitriol he spews, or if he is trying to earn the 20-million dollars he gets paid.

Either way, this racist nonsense is a main stay of Far Right rhetoric. Someone in the Media should call them out on it.  It is simply RACIST and WRONG to make up these malevolent lies against our president.

I rue Sean  Hannity's utterances,  and abjure his divisive drivel with all my might.

prestalex
prestalex

America is producing much more energy here at home than 4 years ago and Obama has been trying to kick-start alternative energy programs...against the Republicans, I will add. 

Although the Supreme Court categorized the "penalty" for not buying health insurance, it is still disingenuos to state that Obama is taxing health care benefits. Really, you are sounding more and more like the English-language defficient Republicans.

As for Pakistan, as a result of American pressure, Pakistan finally launched a major offensive into their tribal areas...apparently you conveniently forgot this. Yes there's a lot more they could do...but have you noticed that despite their warnings, we are still flying our drones into those hot spots?

Get your facts a bit more organized before you write yet another article like this, please.

Ovadia Moshe
Ovadia Moshe

Here in Israel people hold your hands and wish you great success !

paulejb
paulejb

DonQuixotic,

"Not even going to bother watching the Youtube video since I'm sure he was being facetious."

==========================

Of course you won't bother, Don. That is your usual stance.

http://i44.photobucket.com/alb...

paulejb
paulejb

Mantisdragon91,

"As opposed to Mittens being a bishop of a cult that only allowed blacks to attain priesthood in the last two generations? You are as Goofy as your name sake."

================================

Bugs reveals his religious bigotry while shilling for the chump who spent 20 years listening to this sort of insane rant.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

dwstick
dwstick

"Give me another four years and I promise that I will do everything I promised to do in the last for years."

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

I'll buy you a one way ticket to Pakistan... You can show them the Anti-Allah video you were defending earlier.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Ann Coulter is the justification for misogynists everywhere

ahandout
ahandout

 Rue and abjure, my that's some powerful elitist anger.

bebo
bebo

Your fashion model photo and lawyer status seem out of synch. but narcissism is rampant today.  If you can't relate to an angry black man you are too young to have experienced  Malcolm X, The Black Panthers , LA riots and Richard Prior. (RIP)  Blacks were angry and they had reason to be.  Read some history.  Trying to come off as savior to the blacks is really all about  you thinking YOU are so full of compassion.

paulejb
paulejb

Benevolent Lawyer,

No one made Obama say what he said, no one made him assume the dialect, no one made him race bait.

Barry Soetoro aka Barack Hussein Obama did all that on his own with malice aforethought.

Galen
Galen

 and !?

wishing and doing is another thing, much like your countries take on the Palestine.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Sorry Goofy... I hate all religions equally but I hate lying trolls particularly

Galen
Galen

 you are a liar on the 20 years thing, but normal from your ilks stance of spinning and lying.   well done !

if you and yours speak the truth, you do not have a chance, that is why billions are spent to sell lies.

peacock2828
peacock2828

Mitt Romney was born in 1947.  LDS ended its discriminatory policy against blacks in 1978.  For 31 years, Romney adhered to a racist religion.

But it's okay, because at least it isn't liberation theology.

ahandout
ahandout

 Why so testy Mantis.  Obama has already won.  Take it easy dude.

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

Thank you. Unlike you,l do not think being called an elitist is a horrible thing.

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

BEBO- Emmm....You sound incredibly similar to the idiotic buffoon and low life charlatan, Mildred Gillars, with whom I spent the last day arguing about the law, and arguing about his blatant disrespect of one's religion. You are probably the SAME LOON. *sigh* Pathetic. Same WRITING STYLE. Many LOONS, I have been repeatedly told, use multiple aliases, here comes another one. MILDRED GILLARS.

I had to read a lay man's ignorant views, yours Mildred Gillars, of what a lawyer is or should be, and now-- this is about what we are and should look like. I have found that so many LOONS use multiple aliases on here, and you are in ALL probability the same worm---that SAME LOSER whose profuse ignorance and disrespect for the Christian religion, and paucity of knowledge about the Law made it evident that he was a waste of humanity. Evidence of the reason certain humans should be prevented from procreating. Some people actually copulated and foisted that worm, YOU, on the world.

Anyhoo, that not withstanding,I will still try and educate your fevered wild mind on issues of race-- Regarding your other remark on Black anger---Obama IS NOT an ANGRY BLACK MAN despite the Right's desperate attempts to portray HIM AND ALL Black men as angry. I belong to the Minority Lawyers Association in my State, so when it comes to this stupid nonsense you regurgitate about lack of racial information, racism or sympathy, it is beyond STUPID, we live it, and work with it.

For example, many Black men have problems with discrimination within the workplace because of the erroneous AND DAMAGING assumption that all Black men are angry. Even if racism or inequities exist in society or the workplace, despite your absurd comparison with an activist like Malcolm X, most of those men do NOT respond angrily.

Many people of color, men and women, at least fro my experience make a choice regarding how to deal with the issues they encounter, and many of THEM opt to address more insidious racism through the courts.

Race?? I do not need to show compassion or sympathy-- I LIVE IT DAILY, MILDRED GILLARS.

ahandout
ahandout

 He lapped it up for 20 years from Rev. Wright, his mentor.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Much like Romney with his 47% and Ryan with his Marathon lie

paulejb
paulejb

Galen,

'Obama describes Wright as, “my pastor, the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He’s a friend and a great leader. Not just in Chicago, but all across the country.” '

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2012/10...

Are you calling Barack Obama a liar, Galen?

paulejb
paulejb

peacock2828,

Women are banned from the priesthood in the Catholic church. What is your point, peacock? That all Catholics are bigots?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Lyin trolls and mindless Republicans annoy me. Which one are you?

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

Hmm... I just responded to you and it vanished.

Mildred is not a liberal. He claims he is a MAN, as he claims. In addition, he profanes other peoples religion since his avatar is one of Christ flipping the bird of the room.

He has also spent very many comments discussing my profession and my line of work and demands proof of my job and profession. That is not liberal. His actions and remarks, disrespect of religion, and inane declarations about one's profession and work of life is fanatical orthodoxy. That sort of rigidity is primarily conservative.

So take Mildred and keep him. He is a lunatic. He belongs with the Far Right crazies.

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

Midred is a man as he claims. He is also a MANIAC who has no RESPECT FOR OTHER PEOPLE'S RELIGIONS AND HIS AVATAR IS AN IMAGE OF JESUS CHRIST FLIPPING THE BIRD at everyone.

I guess you mean that he is a liberal. He is just a maniac, and is really an unhinged Conservative. The maniac has been arguing in ten thousand texts about my profession and my line of work. Liberals are not usually so insular and stupid.

Take Midred, and keep him. He is one of yours.

ahandout
ahandout

 Just claim Mildred, she's one of yours.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 The daily liar strikes again. Perhaps you can find a credible website to quote... Oh wait credible websites don't share your skewed perception of reality.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Wouldn't want a Catholic Bishop running for president either, and yet Romney is the equivalent in the cult of the magic underpants.