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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Obama’s great debate
This week’s Economist reported on an unscientific poll of hundreds of academic and business economists. They were asked which US presidential candidate had the better economic plan. By a very large margin, the respondents preferred President Obama’s economic plan. Not only that, they credit him with having a better grasp of economics, and think him more likely to appoint a good economic team.
Finally, the respondents do not hold the disappointing recovery against Obama as over half of them rated his performance as good or very good. This compares favourably to the five per cent who said the same about George W Bush about four years ago when this same poll was last conducted by the magazine. So it is against this background that I was thinking about his performance in the first debate.
Critics say that he may be charming but that he was never a great debater. It is unfair to compare him to John McCain who was awful, but Hillary Clinton ran rings around him as they both sought the Democratic nomination four to five years ago. Some have gone on to say that Alan Keyes was more lucid that Obama in Illinois senatorial election debates.
So for these critics, it therefore came as no surprise that Romney dominated this first debate. Just like Dubya was not as clueless as everyone first thought, could it be that Obama (minus his trusted teleprompter) is just not as quick a thinker or as adept as everyone first thought?
I remember back in 2007 as I was following the various campaigns in Trinidad and Tobago’s election, a veteran explained something to me: He said that if someone is on a platform and what they are saying resonates with me intellectually, they are not doing a good job. My friend went on to say that the name of the game is resonating with the average member of the listening audience on an emotional level.
As I considered what I was told, I could only conclude that there was some truth in what he said. Then I thought to myself—suppose Obama purposefully allowed Romney to win that debate? I thought that I was alone in thinking that way until I read an article in the Huffington Post by author and journalist, Brenda Peterson. She’s convinced that Romney lost big time with women which I thought especially damaging because I remember that he was already polling behind with women.
Interestingly blue-collar white women were already turned off by him. In trying to understand how he was trailing in the polls, other demographics were saying that he came across as not being ‘likeable’. Could it be that Obama strategists sought to play on this weakness and sucker Romney into just being himself?
Peterson believes that the prizefight narrative promoted by MSNBC, CNN and FOX, was framed by political pundits who were “mostly white males.” She goes on to say that the women with whom she spoke “were dismayed by Romney's rude interruptions, his high-handed dismissal of the venerable PBS moderator, Jim Lehrer, his turning away from the audience—who should be his primary focus—to fix his feisty attention all on President Obama.”
This contrasts with Obama's preference to calmly address the auditorium audience, the moderator and the world audience. For Romney, Obama was the only person in the room and Romney remained fixed on him in the way a predator focuses on prey. Peterson concludes that Romney did not display “the behaviour of someone seeking to serve and heal a country divided.”
On Facebook, some others who shared this view mentioned the traditionally low voter turnout in some demographics that were strong supporters of the incumbent and the risk of complacency which may work against Obama on election day. Then of course there is the theory about everyone having a weak spot for the ‘underdog’.
Regardless, I think Romney got enough rope to hang himself not just with his anti-PBS comments but by flip-flopping in a way that may alienate many of his tea party supporters as he seemed softer on certain contentious issues than before.
We will see how the remainder of the debates go but coming back to Trinidad and Tobago, I firmly believe that part of the reason for the PP victory in 2010 was the electorate reaching out to a candidate with a softer edge and a more conciliatory tone.
As was the case with the coalition victory here in the UK in 2010, and the narrowing margin for Chavez in nearby Venezuela. We should pay close attention to how this presidential election unfolds as it would have serious implications for the Caribbean region…should Romney be elected.
Despite the challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope in a brighter tomorrow. Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com
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