Of debates, expectations, and empty chairs

By mw | Related entries in Colorado, Debates, Elections, I Told You So, Obama, Romney


The New Yorker is as good a place as any to start a round-up of reactions to the first Obama – Romney debate. As we would expect from the publication, the articles within were generally sympathetic to the President.

David Remnick:

“The President has always been someone who takes the truth seriously and has a great faith in the American people and their ability to handle big ideas,” Burns said. “He doesn’t patronize them. He uses the campaign as an educative process. He wants to win but also wants to be clear about his ideas…. He took complex ideas like Medicare and the debt and tried to explain it to people so they can understand them while at the same time not being patronizing. And he is doing this with an opponent who is completely dissembling on every issue!”

John Cassidy:

Having defied the conventional wisdom by suggesting a couple of days ago that Romney might have a big night, I’d love to defy it again and argue that Obama did a lot better than most of the pundits said he did. But just as I was thinking about how to sustain such an argument, I flipped on CNN for a bit of post-debate commentary, and saw James Carville looking as if somebody had forced him to eat his tie. “It looked like Mitt Romney wanted to be there and President Obama didn’t want to be there,“ Carville finally spluttered, his face contorted into a horrible grimace. And he went on: “Romney had a good night.” Shortly after that shocker, Stephanie Cutter, one of Obama’s campaign managers, came on direct from the post-debate spin room. “We feel pretty good about the President’s performance in there tonight,” she said. Uh-oh, I thought, Did she just say “pretty good”? And there was worse to come: “He wasn’t speaking to the people here,” Cutter went on. “He wasn’t speaking to the pundits. He was speaking to the people at home.”

Regardless of the treatment inside the issue, the cover is brutal. Particularly interesting is the reference to the empty chair of Clint Eastwood’s GOP Convention performance.

Recall that in the wake of the GOP convention both red and blue teams enthusiastically jumped on the convention performance, splitting along the fault line of the symbolic meaning of Eastwood lecturing to an empty chair. Was the old white man yelling at a chair a metaphor for the GOP? – or- Was the empty chair a symbol for an absent incompetent president?


That debate was was waged primarily on twitter with competing hash tags, but we also had a mini-version in the comments on the Donk. At least that question is now settled. When the New Yorker cover depicts an empty chair representing a MIA President – Clint Eastwood won. The enduring image of the empty chair at the GOP convention depicted in the New Yorker is exactly the image he intended.

As regards perception of the debate outcome, CNN Polling was definitive:

“Denver, Colorado (CNN) – Two-thirds of people who watched the first presidential debate think that Republican nominee Mitt Romney won the showdown, according to a nationwide poll conducted Wednesday night. According to a CNN/ORC International survey conducted right after the debate, 67% of debate watchers questioned said that the Republican nominee won the faceoff, with one in four saying that President Barack Obama was victorious. “No presidential candidate has topped 60% in that question since it was first asked in 1984,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.”

The reaction on the right was a predictable and consistent mixture of triumphalism and relief, best exemplified by the opening minutes of The Colbert Report. The response on the left was more interesting, spanning a wide range of rationalizations and emotions including: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

A good summary of the debate can also found with the always reliable Taiwanese news animators and the Daily Show (which would be embedded here if I had the permissions to include them in this post).

As John Stewart demonstrates, the comeback of choice for most Democratic partisans was to call Romney a liar. Of course, both candidates lied during the debate. Personally, I am dubious of the value of “Your guy lies more than my guy!” line of argument, but if you think it helps your team to prove that your candidate tells 9.7% fewer lies… Hey – knock yourself out.

In my mind, Democratic strategists did Obama no favors with the transparent and absurd expectation lowering exercise leading into the debate. The spectacle of watching Obama proxies twisting themselves into pretzels in order to lower expectations in the days leading up to the debate was laughable. We are left with the question: Did they fail to set expectations low enough? – Or – Is aiming to clear a low bar a really bad debate strategy? Perhaps the President would be better served taking the counsel of a 15th century Italian sculptor:

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” – Michelangelo Buonarroti

If electorate expectations are high, would it not be a better strategy to work your ass off to prove them right? People like to be proven right. As opposed to arguing the voter’s expectations are wrong just so you can say “I told you so” after the fact? That’s not a winning strategy. That’s a whining strategy.

Two more to go, plus the VP debate next week. Set your expectations accordingly.

Portions x-posted from The Dividist Papers


This entry was posted on Saturday, October 6th, 2012 and is filed under Colorado, Debates, Elections, I Told You So, Obama, Romney. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Of debates, expectations, and empty chairs”

  1. cranky critter Says:

    I am at substantial variance with most other folks on this debate.

    I enjoyed that it was largely civil, and somewhat substantive, if that term is used in a comparative way. IOW, substantive compared to other debates I’ve watched. There was some command of detail on the part of both guys, and I liked that.

    I felt that Romney held his own better than he ever has. Romney was more energetic, and had the sort of demeanor that people prefer, I suppose. I found Obama cerebral, and I guess in the eyes of most, that’s a bug.

    To me, the media seems strongly invested in selling the resurgent Romney angle. I agree with that take somewhat, but i think they’re overselling what happened. Maybe not in the sense of public perceptions, but in the sense of declaring a clear victory on substance.

    I think the debates matter, and that’s a good thing. But I look at them as a battle for whatever portion of truly undecided voters in 7 or 8 states happens to actually watch. I don’t think there are that many truly undecided voters out there right now. For every 10 who are saying they are undecided and really think they are, 6 or 7 of them have always voted for the same side, and will do so again.

  2. Eugene McCain Says:

    A Heads Up… Long Rant to follow……. Why Obama deserves a second term?: How quickly we forget. In the late fall of 2008, I remember what happened. It was the culmination of a fabricated bubble economy. An economy that had lost its foundation and had lost all the pragmatism and balanced growth of the Clinton years. Wall Street and Banks, using our Federally insured deposits, were buying high risk/high return junk mortgage packaged investments. No one was minding the store. Bush Administration was spending wildly…Two wars not even included in the budgets, huge tax breaks causing trillions in lost revenues….that were “guaranteed” to create jobs…and didn’t…and instead created more wealth at the top, that went into more high risk/high return adventures….etc, etc… Then the whole fabricated economy collapsed. Do you remember? I do. I remember that Hank Paulsen, Bush’s Treasury Secretary, had to hold a special emergency meeting with the Senate and House Finance Committees in Sept 2008…and tell them that Martial Law (yes, Martial Law), would need to be declared within 48 hours…if they did not agree to immediately (within 24 hours) fund close to 1 Trillion (“T” for Trillion) Cash…into the US and International banking system… to create liquidity to avoid a total collapse of the banking system. I remember, as this all unfolded, thinking… well… this might really be “It”.. “It” being the event when everything collapses… when land values and stocks and all assets drop in value by 75 to 90%…when interest rates go to 20% or more…and when life as we know it ends…and ends for a long time. I remember that I was not alone in those fears… that this was not paranoid thinking…but the logical thinking of most rational Americans. The Bush Presidency and the GOP was in charge of the Titanic..and it had hit an Iceberg…and we were all sinking. That was just 4 years ago. When I watched the debate a few days ago… I just wanted Obama to say: “Are you fkg kidding me?? How do you have the balls to even talk about the economic policies of the GOP as being an answer? Every single thing you now propose were precisely the policies put into effect just prior to the monumental collapse of our American and International economies. You don’t need to thank me for keeping America and the World from a total meltdown, because no one will ever know all the factors that kept us from going over that cliff. But I’ve just spent the last four years doing everything within my power, with your Party kicking and screaming, to pull us back from the cliff edge that you and your party pushed us to. So…take some damn responsibility for the damage you caused and at least have the dignity to come up with a new set of policies to promote. Let us be absolutely clear…… You’re policies were not only a failure, but they almost caused life as we know it in America, in the Western World…to come to an abrupt end. So…no, I won’t ask for a thank you from your Party for my struggles over the past 4 years….but I also won’t apologize for unemployment being at 7.8% rather than 25% like in the Great Depression. And I won’t apologize for our current growth to be only plus 1.5 % rather than minus 20%. I won’t apologize for leading a challenging effort to stabilize our economy that you had left in ruins. I won’t apologize for the Dow Jones now being back at 13,000, after it collapsed and eventually dropped in half, to 6500 from your mismanagement. I won’t apologize for America now having a fighting chance to come back strong, with many signs of economic growth…while European economies are mostly anemic. Don’t act like none of us remember how you almost destroyed our economy and think it strange that I haven’t been able to fix all the massive damage quickly. Give me a fkg break.” Well, I know Obama can’t say “fkg”…but you get the point. I do remember. I do remember. And we are doing so much better than I thought was remotely possible..given the size of the collapse Bush steered us into. And I can say… Thank you President Obama. Thank you for doing your level headed best to bring our country back from the brink. Thank you.

  3. khaki Says:

    The poor debate performance was significant and damaging for Obama the same way the 47% video was damaging for Romney. Both events reinforced existing negative perceptions about the candidates. The 47% video seemingly proved that Romney was out of touch and uncaring, and the Obama’s debate performance seemingly proved that Obama is in over his head and intellectually exhausted. I think swing voters really want an alternative to Obama, and are willing to put up a flip flopper to get it. The Obama camp’s worst fear was that at some point Romney would etch-a-sketch his way to a more moderate stance. I don’t think that a “flip-flopper” attack will do any real damage to Romney. In fact, it may sooth moderates in a way, to know that Romney isn’t really that extreme afterall. Politicians lie becuase the have to, right? So, Romney was just saying all that extreme stuff becuase the tea party made him say it. That’s why the Obama camp tried so hard (and effecdtively) to paint Romney as extreme as early in the campaign as possible in the hopes that it would stick even if the Romeny camp tacked back to the center. It almost worked until the poor debate. Obama got caught looking like the ineffective Obama that independants worry that he really is. Now he needs to prove he’s not over his head, that he’s not just a theorizing professor and a closet extreme left wing liberal, but that he’s a practical moderate with real answers who can attack (Romney) when neccessary. Notice Obama camp calling Romney a liar, not a ‘flip-flopper’. They want to put him back in the “extreme” box. I’m not totally sure it’s going to work, because I don’t think Romney was ever an extremist. I do, however, think that Romney is a bald face liar. So its Obama’s only hope – that the “liar” meme sticks, and turns independants off to Romney.

  4. EndthePain Says:

    @Eugene McCain.

    In response to your somewhat contrived defense of Clinton and Obama at the expense of GWB and friends.

    1. From 1995 to 2001 the Republicans were in control of the house and Senate. The president does not pass bills, create legislation or create jobs. The internet boomed under the tutelage of the House and Senate…..BOTH controlled by the GOP.

    1a. Obama care is not a bill Obama introduced…he simply encouraged his party to create a bill and vote on it…..He did not introduce Dodd/Frank…he simply endorsed the concept of the bill.

    2. In 2001 the Democrats took power in the Senate after the election of GWB as president……

    DATELINE: Nov 5, 1999….thats right…..during Clintons presidency.

    3. *Banks will be able to affiliate with insurance companies and securities concerns with far fewer restrictions than in the past.

    *The legislation preserves the regulatory structure in Washington and gives the Federal Reserve and the Office of Comptroller of the Currency roles in regulating new financial conglomerates. The Securities and Exchange Commission will oversee securities operations at any bank, and the states will continue to regulate insurance.

    *It will be more difficult for industrial companies to control a bank. The measure closes a loophole that had permitted a number of commercial enterprises to open savings associations known as unitary thrifts.

    One Republican Senator, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, voted against the legislation. He was joined by seven Democrats: Barbara Boxer of California, Richard H. Bryan of Nevada, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, Mr. Dorgan and Mr. Wellstone….Meaning NINETY TWO senators ENDORSED this bill.

    In the House, 155 Democrats and 207 Republicans voted for the measure, while 51 Democrats, 5 Republicans and 1 independent opposed it. Fifteen members did not vote….Meaning THREE HUNDRED SIXTY TWO REPS endorsed this bill.

    This bill passed by both democrats and republicans in a veto proof majority where Bill Clinton could not have veto’d this bill and hoped that it would have stuck.

    In short…..The republicans are not responsible for the meltdown that occurred in 2007. Nor are the Democrats responsible.

    The bureacrats that run the government in non elected positions are responsible………Notice that the FED, COMPTROLLER and SEC are all assigned the duties of overseeing the economy.

    Only the heads of which are nominated but its the bureacrats……..THE ENTRENCHED GOVERNMENT that let us all down.

    No blaming Clinton for the great economy of the late 90′s is absurd. The GOP was in charge. Blaming Bush for the meltdown in 2008 is absurd as the democrats had taken control in january of 2007 and even then they were proclaiming that the banks and Fannie and Freddie are just fine.

    Had the brilliant and astute Democrats so all knowing….ACTED….in 2007 the meltdown could have been prevented…..Instead their first act….and I do mean first….first day of the new congress…….was to pass the Minimum wage…..further weighting the economy at a time when gasoline prices were going thru the roof……..in essences guaranteeing a recession by their ineptitude.

    Do your homeworks guys. GAWD.

  5. Donklephant » Blog Archive » Bill Clinton mocks Mitt Romney for being too “Clintonesque” Says:

    […] “last ditch”, but Romney’s shifting positions appear to be working. As noted by Khaki in the comments, it is possible that Obama supporters promoting this moniker and Romney’s new moderate […]

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