One debate does not mean that the argument is lost. Both Ronald Reagan and George W Bush came roaring back after losing a debate, the onus is now on President Obama to do the same
Two events occurred—one before the presidential debate in Denver, Colorado, and one after, both of which will cushion the subdued performance of President Obama in the debate and will give the president’s supporters heart as they get on with the last month of campaigning.
The event before the debate was the press reports which showed that there was a run in Tehran on the Iranian currency, the rial, and that the currency was quickly loosing value. This showed more clearly than before that President Obama’s policies on Iran, which were relying on sanctions, were actually biting and this was concrete proof of the same. There were crowds in Tehran, a mini stampede and a run on the banks was altogether possible. This seemed to be a significant foreign policy victory for the president. Of course, it will be debated that it was the Iranian people that it was harming and not the Iranian government but any way you cut it, this will help President Obama in the run up to the election.
The second point is that two days after the debate the unemployment numbers came out and they were 7.8%, which seemed to give President Obama a big boost as the unemployment rate fell below 8% for the first time since the President Obama had taken office. This clearly showed that the economy was headed in the right direction. The 8% number was psychologically an important number for both campaigns and the fact that the number 8% is no more front and centre will help president Obama.
This is something which will actually give President Obama some much-needed momentum and going by reports in the New York Times there was a rush of fund raising. Jack Welch the former head of General Electric tweeted that these Chicago guys will do anything to win the election. That they cannot debate so they will influence the unemployment numbers. There were many such conspiracy theories out there but no one was really taking them very seriously.
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However, having said all that Romney’s performance in the debate was robust and Obama’s subdued. There was Romney in a red tie girding for battle and there was President Obama in a blue tie, who in the words of Democratic Pundit James Carville, was hoping that he was in some place other than debating Romney. The consensus was that President Obama had taken a conscious decision to stay above the fray and had let Governor Romney go unchallenged on many issues. Was President Obama’s strategy based on the fact that he was ahead by four to five percentage points in the national polls and up to ten percentage points in some swing states, because if that was the case the strategy backfired as his leads in opinion polls disappeared like winter snow under a blazing sun.
The point where I would really fault the president is that he did not reply to Governor Romney’s allegation about President Obama having taken $780 billion out of medicare and put them in Obama Care. Actually I thought that President Obama’s defence of Obama care was quite robust and cogent and the best he had made. It got Governor Romney saying that his plan (whatever that is) also had a safeguard about pre-existing conditions though that was found not to be true.
However the president was rather restrained when asked about his plan about the economy in the next four years and his strategy seems to have been few features, apart from more education for job training. He did not present a cogent plan for creating jobs. The congressional budget office has said that whoever is the president, 12 million jobs will be created over the next four years and surely the president could have pointed that to counter Governor Romney’s promise of creating twelve million jobs.
The Pundits felt that Obama should have gone after Romney about the 47% comment but I felt as it was already out there and everyone knew it, there was no need really for that.
A quick poll on CNN after the debate showed a 67% to 25% Romney-Obama win-lose rate. I frankly was surprised. I thought Obama had done better than that.
On the other hand Governor Romney defended his tax cuts and said that yes he would not impose one more dollar of revenue as the growth rate will take care of the revenue. He gently mocked President Obama by saying that he would have to get a new accountant as he did not know that outsourcers got tax breaks. The president did not come roaring back on that one.
But one debate does not mean that the argument is lost. Both Ronald Reagan and George W Bush came roaring back after losing a debate. The onus is now on President Obama to do the same. The onus is also on Vice-President Joe Biden to hold his own against Paul Ryan in the vice-presidential debate.
(Harsh Desai has done his BA in Political Science from St Xavier's College & Elphinstone College, Bombay and has done his Master's in Law from Columbia University in the city of New York. He is a practicing advocate at the Bombay High Court.)