Jack is a member of the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political awareness organization for high school students.
I found Wednesday night's debate interesting, and slightly worrying. No, it was not the earth-shaking performance touted by the GOP. No, it was not Lehrer's fault, as some on the left have suggested. What Wednesday night characterized serves as an intriguing observation about the current state of American politics. By early October, exactly one month and two days before one of the most important elections in recent history, we have a candidate praised for specificity. He gave facts! What a welcome change from the vague, ideological pontifications that had marked Mitt Romney's campaign previously. Even as he vacillated wildly on issues he is supposed to be set on, he provided the American people with a somewhat cogent, numerical argument. (Wait, I thought he didn't like this health care system, or does he?) The Romney campaign finally decided to step up to the plate instead of commentating from the bleachers.
In fairness to the GOP candidate, he performed strongly. The debater we saw Wednesday night must be the man the top Republican brass saw earlier, before this whole shebang had accelerated. He was aggressive, confident, and forceful. In kindly giving the nation a more fully-developed plan, he looked better than he has in months. The Internet community is running with the Big Bird and PBS bit, but beyond that he delivered a surprisingly gaffe-less performance.
This leads me to the issue of Barack Obama. The man can speak, and speak well. We know that, and the convention speeches and McCain debates are a testament to that. When he assumed the lectern last night, I suspect I was not alone in expected a rollicking verbal drubbing. Yet, 90 minutes later, I was left unsatisfied. Obama seemed calm, but lacked the passion and quick wit he had previously shown himself capable of. There were multiple instances where Obama could have gone on the offensive, with Romney mistakes and pronunciations galore in his arsenal. Where was the mention of the 47 percent, or the offshore accounts? Tax returns, for heaven's sake, were completely absent. Now, I believe some of this was meticulously planned out by the Obama camp. It was crucial that he not appear snarky, fiery or agitated in this debate. Thus, we received a viewing of a subdued Obama, simply defending the goal, but never pushing the ball forward.
What can we expect to see in the later debates? Running through them one by one illuminates what will probably be Obama's game plan. The second debate, on October 16, is a town hall-style forum. Here is where we will see the Romney blunders exposed. There will be questions about Romney's business history, and Obama is smart enough to segue the discussion into one about taxes paid (or lack thereof). The final matchup on October 22 is a foreign policy debate. Obama has the clear advantage here, much like a veteran all-star has the advantage over someone who's never touched a basketball. This, a mere two weeks before the election, may be a big win for Obama.
In short, props to Mitt Romney. The debate did what the Republican National Convention should have done -- provide an actual plan for America, and not a vague moralistic argument based on the hate-Obama club. Romney came out of the gates impressively, while Obama coasted. The Obama camp should take note. Though many of Romney's facts were baseless, they have a candidate who can speak effectively, not a doormat to be walked over. Only time will tell if Romney can capitalize or Obama can regain his forgotten form. The most important thing is to get out and vote, whomever you support. Oh, and sorry for all of the sports metaphors.