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The First Presidential Debate – OpEd

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In Wednesday night’s debate, Romney won on style while Obama won on substance. Romney sounded as if he had conviction, which means he’s either convinced himself that the lies he tells are true or he’s a fabulous actor.

But what struck me most was how much Obama allowed Romney to get away with: Five times Romney accused Obama of raiding Medicare of $716 billion, which is a complete fabrication. Obama never mentioned the regressiveness of Romney’s budget plan — awarding the rich and hurting the middle class and the poor. He never mentioned Bain Capital, or Romney’s 47 percent talk, or Romney’s “carried-interest” tax loophole. Obama allowed Romney to talk about replacing Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act without demanding that Romney be specific about what he’d replace and why. And so on.

Obama versus Romney
Obama versus Romney

I’ve been worried about Obama’s poor debate performance for some time now. He was terrible in the 2008 primary debates, for example. Expectations are always high — he’s known as an eloquent orator. But when he has to think on his feet and punch back, he’s not nearly as confident or assured as he is when he is giving a speech or explaining a large problem and its solution. He is an educator, not a pugilist, and this puts him at a disadvantage in any debate.

Romney stayed on script. If you look at a transcript of his remarks you’ll see that he repeated the same lines almost word for word in different contexts. He has memorized a bunch of lines, and practiced delivering them. The overall effect is to make him seem assured and even passionate about his position. He said over and over that he cares about jobs, about small businesses, and ordinary Americans. But his policies and his record at Bain tell a very different story.

The question now is whether Team Obama understands that our President must be more aggressive and commanding in the next two debates — and be unafraid to respectfully pin Romney to the floor.

Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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