As far I’m concerned, every debate should function in this format — town hall setting, competent moderator and questions coming straight from the people.
President Obama came out visibly energized and drew a line in the sand between himself and Mitt Romney. A huge, obvious line and counterpunched his challenger in the relentless fashion appropriate for the high stakes at hand. Obviously, the President could not have a repeat of his previous performance. That just wasn’t an option on any level and the President reminded voters of his sharpness, intelligence and tenacity.
The President brought gusto to the table, and immediately brought up Detroit’s car industry, undoubtedly one of his strongest examples of how government policies can help people. He then pivoted to energy, and spent 10 of the first 20 minutes of the debate talking about natural gas, oil and wind power. Both candidates went into detail about what they would do and what polices they envision helping America's 21st century energy demands.
We don’t usually get that in debates, nor do we get gun control reform discussions or pronounced thinking on major topics like immigration and education. What makes the town hall format so powerful is that the voters aren’t encumbered by status and therefore don’t care if they offend a candidate. In the style where the moderator asks question, there’s too much chumminess. The moderators are usually prominent vets in the news business, and attend the same parties, shop at the same Georgetown stores and send their kids to the same private schools. The level of familiarity sometimes creates a tension. Last night, there were very few softball questions and some of the inquiries were so pointed, I swear the people were planted.
One gentleman brought up the recent attacks in Bengazi, and Romney, seeking to deal a body shot, brought up the fact that the President Obama didn’t properly specify that it was a “terrorist attack” — thus making the claim that the White House was incompetent and unprepared. The President countered by correcting Romney and reminding the audience that, in fact, he did call it an "act of terror" and urged Romney to "check the transcript." It was a bad miscalculation by the GOP candidate, and when moderator Candy Crowley stepped in and confirmed that, yes, Romney was wrong, it turned into a definitive moment.
For the Dems, that was what they desperately wanted to see. An obvious example of Romney’s foreign policy weakness and a way to exploit it via talking points and sound bites. Though Romney had strong moments discussing the economy, his constant return to his “five point plan” — without the accompanying specifics — actually did more harm than good. It rings hollow and deafeningly so.
The TV punditry class talked after the debate about both candidates seeming on the verge of physicality, and how that might turn off some voters who judge candidates on personality. Man, please.
I love the confrontational tone of last night. Both candidates, fighting for the greatest office in the world, exhibited a certifiable level of contempt for the other guy. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s how it needs to be.
One more debate next week and then we get into voting-mode. But honestly, for the people out there who are still uncommitted and undecided about who they’re voting for, just take this advice: find someone you trust and ask them whom they’re voting for and then you do the same thing. Because at this point, if you still don’t know, then obviously you don’t really care.