By B. Raman
I watched with fascination the first Presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Mr. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, at Denver on October 4, 2012.
At the very beginning, my kudos to the American TV professionals from different channels who worked together as a team to organise a debate of very high quality.
We too have world class TV professionals such as Madhu Trehan, Barkha Dutt, Prannoy Roy and Karan Thapar. Individually, they might have been able to organise a very good debate, but I am not sure of their ability to work as a team despite their belonging to different channels and project a debate in which the focus and attention remain on the debaters and their ability to debate issues of public and national interest. The egos of our TV professionals might come in the way of the kind of team work that we saw in Denver today.
In the discussions among the panellists before the debate started, the focus was not on the past, but on the future. What the panellists were trying to foresee was what kind of a promised land each candidate would offer to the voters. Jim Lehrer, the moderator, kept the focus of the debate on the future and gently nudged Mr. Romney to talk of what he would do and not what he did as the Governor.
One was amazed by the kind of homework the candidates had done before the debate with the help of their aides and the kind of insight and comprehension they displayed throughout the debate.
A debate of this nature will be very difficult to organise in India. Firstly, a Presidential form of Government as in the US lends itself better to such debates than a parliamentary style of Government with a multiplicity of parties. Secondly, we have very few political leaders with the kind of knowledge, insights, comprehension and debating skills that both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney exhibited throughout the debate. Our TV debates are largely cock-fights and slanging matches with the anchors and moderators unable to impart gravitas and intellectual depth to the discussions.
I watched the post-debate discussions in the CNN, the BBC and other Western TV channels. The overall impression among independent panellists not belonging to either of the two political parties was that it was Romney’s night. He was more self-confident, less testy and more engaging than Mr. Obama. Mr. Romney’s body language and facial expressions were more Presidential than Mr. Obama’s. As one panellist remarked, Mr. Obama was rusty. His classy style and debating skills of 2008 were missing.
One panellist remarked that Mr. Obama was condescending in the beginning, but as he realised that Mr. Romney he was facing today was different, he became defensive.
Mr. Obama had to be defensive because today’s debate was on the state of the economy which has not been doing well. The next debate is going to be on foreign policy in which Mr. Romney is likely to be aggressive focussing on the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans at Benghazi in Libya on September 11 by a group of terrorists suspected to be from Al Qaeda and the messy situation in Syria and Egypt.
Mr. Romney came to the debate with the image of a potential loser in the elections. He managed to have this perception of himself changed and left the debate with the image of a candidate who might repeat the challenges of Ronald Reagan to Mr. Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Mr. Bill Clinton to Mr. George Bush Sr in 1992.
Mr. Romney is very much in the fight and cannot be prematurely written off. Mr. Romney we saw is not a bungler and sure loser.