, Newburyport, MA

October 5, 2012

Romney's performance tightens the race

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — We will have to await the total of those who watched Wednesday night’s televised presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but given the critical state of the nation it is safe to say it was less than it might have been because it was a free flowing dialog, barely interrupted by Moderator Jim Lehrer.

I suspect Lehrer, who has had broad experience as a moderator will admit that Wednesday’s night’s performance was not among his best.

The title “Moderator’’ has become shopworn. Viewers prefer inquisitors - those more aggressively engaged, and Lehrer was apparently more engaged with the clock than he was with the substance of the debate.

What he set as two minute response limits were generally ignored by both candidates, and his efforts to divide time equally failed to Obama’s benefit. At the end of the hour and half of debate he had gained just four minutes and some seconds over Romney.

But Romney, smiling, aggressive, and apparently delighted to be on the attack predominated and did not complain.

No surprise there. In difficult times, sitting presidents have to defend their presidencies, and we are in the most difficult times of those faced for many years. The federal debt reached its all time high of 16 trillion dollars during the August convention of the Democratic Party, and there’s no apparent relief in sight.

Unemployment and partial employment numbers are politically insupportable over the long haul. Student debt looms as a long term burden.

Not all of this is Obama’s fault, but its impact is on his watch. On the bright side, he can rightfully claim universal health to be his major achievement of the past four years, but that is not universally acclaimed and remains in some peril.

Romney made it clear that if he becomes President, he has pledged himself to repeal it and leave it to each state to create it’s own system as Massachusetts did.

There’s been no lack of debate post-mortems, this being one of the many I have responded to over a lifetime. Invariable, sitting presidents hope to be able to accent the positive of their terms of office without having to stretch reality too thin.

I believe it’s fair to say that Obama got more than he asked for in his first term. But so did we all. Much of it has not gone down well, and the fallout is shared by both parties.

That’s the climate in which this first debate took place, and it’s not likely to change in the two to follow. Neither are the positions of the candidates, or of the great majority of voters who have already committed their support.

Much can happen in the very short time between now and November, but there is no doubt that this week’s debate set the stage for what has surprisingly become as tight a race as we have had in recent years.


Bill Plante is a staff columnist and a Newbury resident.