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Tipping the Scale

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In two days, we will watch the first presidential debate between President Obama and former Governor Romney. With the polls showing Obama slowly, but steadily growing his lead, especially in the all-important swing states, many people claim this is a must win test for Romney. He needs to come out strong, be clear and concise and truly clarify his campaign message against the policies of Obama. But in reality, what we are more likely to see in the aftermath is the same thing we saw in the vice presidential debate between Biden and Palin: a completely different scoring system for each candidate.cc licensed, image from donkeyhotey

Romney doesn’t need to make this a slam dunk; he doesn’t even need to walk away head held high, just keeping his head on will be a win for him. In interview after interview, from the moment he claimed the inevitable crown at the Republican convention, Romney has failed to keep a clear message or even a clear campaign direction. His policies have changed time and again; changes which only serve to strengthen his critics’ clarion call naming him the “Etch-a-Sketch” candidate.

Knowing all that, if Romney walks away from this seemingly unscathed, then it will be hailed by the right wing and Fox News as a complete victory, possibly even a crushing blow to the president.

Then you have the other side of the dais, Obama and the weight of being the incumbent with current predictions of being the victor. For him, some will look at this as the nail in the coffin of the Romney campaign. They will want him to put him away with fact-based retorts and to call him on the numerous false allegations thrown out since day one of Romney’s campaign, but I wouldn’t look for that to happen. Obama will likely play it cool, stick to his message and basically repeat what he’s said in interviews and videos over and over through the last few months of the campaign.

Why not step it up? Because Obama will not want to be seen as someone who kicks his opponent when he’s down. Playing Romney for a fool would be a dangerous mistake, because a humiliated Republican party is much more dangerous than one slightly losing in the polls. Also, going in all guns blazing would only serve to shore up the Republican illusion of Obama as a snobby, over-confident elitist. While that idea is patently hilarious when measured against Romney; someone who nearly embodies every one of those traits, it would still serve the president and his team well to avoid adding fuel to that fire.
Yet, if Romney walks off that stage with a grin on his face and not a drip of sweat to be seen, those same voices from the right will clamor that Obama lost, looked weak, failed to capitalize, etc…

The bars for success in these political contests are set in two very different places and require two completely different game plans. Which one will achieve their goal? We’ll find out Thursday morning.

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About Luke Goldstein

People send me stuff. If I like it, I tell you all about it. I also run the YouTube channels for Stew's Reviews, Disorderly Political, and LX3.
  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    Thanks for not insulting – I knew the opportunity was there, but sometimes I am honestly curious and am willing to take the risk if there’s a reasonable chance that the one I’m asking might take my question as it’s meant – at face value.

  • Baronius

    “So that makes me wonder – what views that oppose [progressivism] would ‘broaden’ my mind?”

    Honestly, Glenn, that comment reads like a setup for me to throw an insult your way. But let me try to answer it politely. I made a comment earlier to the effect that analysis and advocacy rarely mix well. I don’t think you need to hear another view or data item to broaden your mind. I think the problem is in your approach. Like earlier you said that I’d like Democracy Now because it scores points against the President. That’s not what I’m looking for. I’m not trying to prove my side right, or any side right. I’m trying to understand better. I’m flawed in that, sure, we all are, but I get the feeling that most of your comments are intended to score points for your team.

    I just saw a lecture about health care costs. It made a couple of points that I’d never heard before. Part of me wants to figure out how to incorporate them into my belief system. But what I’m trying to do now is just come to understand them better and then modify my positions according to the facts. Which stinks. It’s no fun. There were a couple of things I think I could use as a club against people who disagree with me. But I need to let the whole thing marinade and see if any of the facts mean that I should change my thinking.

  • Reggie Beauchamps

    I challenge anyone watching the debate tonight to take a shot of hard liquor each time Obama interrupts Romney and still make it to work tomorrow morning.

  • Baronius

    Yeah, I probably won’t watch it. I think that political junkies end up watching a completely different debate than the one that’s televised. They recognize all the lies, missed opportunities, zingers that they would have used (which may not even make sense and no one else would understand, but sound good in their heads), et cetera. Me, I’d love a debate that used numbers and Excel spreadsheets instead of words and sentences. That wouldn’t appeal to anyone but me, I’m sure.

    I also think that political junkie types can’t offer any interesting analysis, as Mark Shields and David Brooks will no doubt be demonstrating this evening. They (we) either fall into a surface discussion about which candidate’s hand gestures were more presidential, or launch into some obscure refutation of something that a candidate implied about 114.B.II(a) of Title 3. They’re incapable of identifying the intangible thing that will resonate with voters.

    Everyone’s incapable of identifying it. It’s the ad that backfires, or the photo op that becomes a defining moment. Tens of millions of dollars are paid to either create or prevent these moments, but then Al Gore shows up orange on the TV screen. You just can’t tell what’s going to click. And that’s the real reason that these events come off so staged. Damage control. All the little experts are terrified of sending their candidates onstage and letting them speak without edits or pan shots, so they strap their candidates down and make them memorize prepared statements for the preceding month.

  • Igor

    Democracy Now has improved enormously since Amy Goodman parted from flamethrower Dennis Bernstein.

  • Baronius – You’re on the money there in complaining the type of people we see in the debates. The public seems to want calm, cool, collected and perfected candidates, but that kind of person just doesn’t exist in real life, so what we see is a polished fabrication of the person underneath. Anytime we get a candidate with real excitement, pure enthusiasm and passion for what they believe, someone in the media landscape will brand them as “outlandish”, “out of control” or “unhinged”. Not sure if I would have voted for Howard Dean back in the day, but to see his entire campaign torpedoed because of an ill-timed yelp of joy was just plain sad.

  • Baronius

    Igor – If a thing is done by a corporation, it does not automatically become evil. I think though that these debates will be boring and uninformative because that’s what we want out of our candidates. Why that’s the case, I don’t know. It seems that the personality type we hate most in our lives, the spit-shined suckup, is the one we treasure most in our politicians.

  • Reggie Beauchamps

    It doesn’t really matter who comes out on top or what goes on during the debate. The Obama sycophants in the mainstream media will spin it as a decisive Obama win.

  • Baronius

    I may be overreacting to Democracy Now because I associate them with the most predictable, boring political hack of our time, Bill Moyers. I detest the fact that he makes money off of manipulating public opinion by denouncing people who make money off of manipulating public opinion. And I’m horribly creeped out by the way he seems to think he’s on higher ground. But really, your descriptions of Democracy Now don’t make it sound any less predictable.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And Baronius –

    Speaking of the ‘Democracy Now’ broadcast, I really don’t think you’ve listened to it much if you think it doesn’t broaden minds.

    Why? Because time and time again that I listen, I hear news that I haven’t heard from any other outlet, left or right. Quite often, the news is from overseas, from man-in-the-street interviews in, say, Syria or Brazil or The Congo. You hear about issues that just aren’t covered in other outlets…

    …and if you listened to them much, you’d find them attacking the Obama administration – and Obama himself – on a regular basis, almost daily, especially when it comes to Gitmo, drone attacks, and privacy issues. I think that if you really listened to them, you’d find yourself agreeing with them more often than not.

  • When I mentioned broadening someone’s political mind, I meant the folks who are not normally listening to Democracy Now broadcasts or anything outside of the major news outlets. There are lots of viewpoints that don’t get a lot of airtime and anytime you can take part in some of those, I think it can only help widen your view, even if what you hear isn’t something you agree with. At least you now know what they are saying straight from them instead of translated through pundits and major party mouthpieces.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    If it weren’t for the fact that Obama needs the progressive vote to defeat Romney, I’d have no problem voting for candidates which espoused those same views (but it must include what we need to do to combat global warming). So that makes me wonder – what views that oppose those would ‘broaden’ my mind?

    And that’s not a rhetorical question. I really do want to know.

  • Baronius

    I guarantee you that listening to the Democracy Now broadcast will broaden no one’s mind. The guy that Igor says is from “the Right” is Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. He supports gay rights, green energy, raising taxes on the rich, campaign finance reform, free college educations, repealing the Patriot Act…and he and the Green Party are going to disagree on what, exactly? What views are either of them going to espouse that would broaden the minds of Democracy Now listeners?

  • While I agree many of their comments are pre-planned, well rehearsed and can come off routinely as “canned”, I think the idea of it being a word-for-word crafted performance put on by the CPB is a touch outlandish. I definitely wish they were done in a more genuine format, maybe have all of them in the town hall style (which there is I believe only one this year), but just by witnessing past performances we can easily tell it is not a completely crafted event. In fact, what most people will be talking about tomorrow morning are the moments we witness that obviously do not go off as hoped or practiced for.

    As for listening the “Democracy Now” broadcast, that is a great idea for broadening your political mindset, but it won’t do anything for helping you choose between the two people actually running for the Presidency.

  • Igor

    I think you will find that the debates are boring and uninformative.

    The debates are staged now (and staged is the right word, since what we will see is a little stage play pretending to be a debate) by the “Commission on Presidential Debates”, the CPB, which is a private corporation (not a government agency, as “commission” might suggest, indeed, one suspects that this little word is intended to deceive rather than inform) which has obtained signed contracts from the two (count ’em, two, and only two; no third parties allowed here!) contestants (or actors) which specifies exactly what will be said. Of course, in good corporate fashion, the contract is a secret (although, sometimes in the past, the terms and questions have leaked out).

    Yes, that’s what our industrial masters have decided: the unrruly public must be fed bland pabulum pre-chewed and digested by Big Brother.

    A long time ago, the League of Women Voters conducted these things and did a good job. But now it’s much more important to pacify the unruly masses.

    Ho hum.

    But for a different experience you might try listening in to the “Democracy Now” broadcast, because they’re bringing in two outsiders (Jill Stein from the Green party, and a guy from the Right, they asked Gary Johnson but he was busy, and they’re going to stop the tape and let those worthies respond, too).

  • John Lake

    It is true that the two major news networks vary in their perceptions, but looking at the up side, viewing both from time to time seems to provide adequate insight.
    Romney has no idealism to draw from. The best he can do is the subtle suggestion that a Romney win will make the very rich richer. He has to hope the not-so-very rich will believe the American standard that the government is for the people.
    Obama is a born idealist; that’s the way he thinks. His thoughts and plans focus, and he has direction and commitment. He knows when to be strong; knows when to advocate wisdom.
    We hope these traits in these two very different men will be evident, and give the voters an opportunity to glimpse two potential and radically diverse directions for the future.
    Barring any significant gaffe, these debates will shape the coming years not only for us, but for people all over the world.

  • Hi Baronius,

    I’ll openly admit I am an Obama supporter, but that doesn’t matter in terms of how this debate is shaping up. The polls show Romney is losing, especially in those crucial swing states, so that sets up the dynamic we have going into tomorrow night. Obama needs to hold ground, while Romney needs to gain it. This then sets up how people will view it, whether Obama does anything to lose support or confidence and whether Romney projects strength and leadership. It was same between Biden and Palin in 2008 when everyone was just waiting for her to be a train wreck, but since she didn’t make any incredibly huge blunders, suddenly she won the debate. In the end it doesn’t matter who you support in relation to what they need to accomplish in the debate.

  • Baronius

    Sigh. I hate it when an article looks like analysis but ends up being advocacy. Those are two different hats.

    Advocates are a dime a dozen. I don’t need to read an article saying that Obama needs to crush Romney with the truth without appearing too absolutely perfect. That doesn’t tell me anything about the subject of the article, only about the author.