Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Great Debates


It is interesting that most persons refer to the Lincoln-Douglas debates when discussing the history of presidential debates, but the first presidential debate wasn't until 1960 when Nixon and Kennedy squared off in  four televised "Great Debates."  These debates were difficult on Nixon, as he didn't prove to be very telegenic.  The debates were reprised in 1976, and the leading presidential candidates have participated in a series of debates each election year since.  The first vice-presidential debate was between George H.W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.  Perhaps the most entertaining was in 1992 when it was a three-way debate between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

Many analysts say the debates make little difference, but Reagan certainly appeared to gain an advantage over Carter with his constant refrain, "There you go again," and pounding Carter on the so-called "misery index."  Dukakis certainly didn't do himself any favors when responding to Bernie Shaw's question on the death penalty.  McCain disappointed many viewers by not being able to hold his own against Obama on foreign policy, which was regarded to be his strong suit.  But, probably the most memorable gaffe came in the 1988 vice-presidential debate, but this had no bearing on the election.

Not surprisingly, both candidates have been busy downplaying the upcoming debate, but there is no question that there is much riding on the line, as Romney needs a good performance to turn his campaign around, which was badly bruised in September.  The first debate will be on domestic policy, with Romney no doubt trying to invoke the ghost of Reagan.

63 comments:

  1. Thanks -- I didn't realize presidential debates were so new, but then in the old days, as Robert was fond of pointing out, they didn't like to admit they were even running.

    Dan Quayle looks like a petulant kid in that clip. I remember the VP debates with him and Gore. They were sitting at a table and Quayle came off as smarter -- I couldn't believe it at the time -- while Gore seemed like some guy in a suit they pulled in off the street to talk about his faith. Maybe some serious preparation does pay off in these things.

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  2. I think we forget just how wooden Gore was. I never really liked him for a variety of reasons. Notably, the position he took on generic prescription drugs, such as AIDS medicine which was sorely needed in Southern Africa. He anxiously threatened trade sanction against South Africa over this. One of those "inconvenient truths."

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  3. I was taken by how empty Reagan appears in the debates with Carter. He just played his old jovial self, seeming to laugh at pretty much everything Carter had to say.

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  4. Carter was too earnest all the time. He also doesn't have much a sense of humor. Never has had one.

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  5. A preview:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/slugfest/309063/

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  6. All I've got to say is that sparring with Rick Perry and Rick Santorum is a far cry from going up against Obama. I expect Romney to hold his own, since these "debates" are not really set for debating but rather presenting your arguments.

    BTW, I assume he did poorly against Ted Kennedy in 94 if he ultimately lost by 17 points.

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  7. What I found interesting about that analysis was his emphasis on how well prepared Romney was. But it sounds like he's gone down hill on the campaign trail, where he can't control events like he's clearly used to.

    The point Fallows should have made is that Presidency is a daily string of events that can't be memorized or prepared for ... it seems like he lacks any core convictions or even the stamina needed to make wise choices under stress. Rich boy snark, as demonstrated with Perry, is not an appropriate response in most of these national and international cases.

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  8. I remember back in 2008. I wanted to like him, not that I would have voted for him, but I was hoping that the Republicans finally had a moderate candidate. Instead, he has gone steadily downhill in my opinion.

    He really screwed up the convention, which was his for the making. Not only was just plain boring, but he let the Tea Party piss all over the platform leaving a foul stench in the room. The Republican platform was never that ugly before. As a result, he has been having to run away from it every since, just like all those TP candidates groping to hold onto to whatever thin leads they have in their Congressional races. Even Bachmann and West find themselves in trouble, and I saw that Cantor had a tough debate,

    http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/2012/oct/02/8/tdmain01-cantor-powell-face-off-in-spirited-debate-ar-2250242/

    This could be a major turnaround in Congress.

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  9. I have always questioned the secret moderate Romney, but he was way out as a moderate tonight. Who knows with this guy.

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  10. He tried to be a moderate last night, but not very successful. He was aggressive though and that helps a little bit, although his handle on facts is very loose. That little quip about hiring more teachers is priceless, since it was the states which laid off the teachers, not the federal government. Just the same, the stimulus bill included $100 bil specifically for education,

    http://www.edutopia.org/economic-stimulus-education-school-budget

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  11. Interesting that so many pundits thought Romney got the better of Obama last night. Greenfield was particularly harsh on Obama,

    http://tinyurl.com/bnuod8o

    I watched the first 25 minutes on taxes and couldn't see where either seized an advantage over the other. Obama struck me as too passive, but then Romney struck me as overly aggressive and out of control. He certainly didn't have a good handle on information, but then that's what we have come to expect from him.

    Seems most viewers see these debates as prize fights and are looking for their candidate to be aggressive, which Romney was.

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  12. This is quite startling,

    http://news.yahoo.com/elections/polls/

    a shift about 6% in polling since the notorious debate. Seems Obama really shook Americans' confidence with that lackluster performance, and very much needs to reassert himself next week.

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  13. Funny how little it takes in this country .....

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  14. It makes me wonder about these polls. Given how the media has fawned all over Romney this past week they are happy to have a horse race again, even if Romney is still trailing in all the key states.

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  15. Uh, oh. You're sounding like the Republicans last week. They didn't believe the polls that showed Romney losing. (They don't believe the unemployment numbers this week either.) With an election this close, I imagine a lot will be determined by sheer turnout.

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  16. Yea, well I haven't put much stock in these polls from the beginning, but a 6-point swing is a 6-point swing and is something to worry about.

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  17. And now this a.m. they say Romney has taken the lead. I guess the Republicans will believe this one!

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  18. It really is hard to gauge this "bounce," and where it comes from. Hard to imagine that many persons took that debate that seriously.

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  19. I think they are taking Romney seriously now. Ron Brownstein talked in LA when I was there earlier this year and said that the nation is almost perfectly divided down the middle.

    With a stalled economy, Obama shouldn't have a chance, but with a candidate like Romney he was still in the running. Now Romney has presented himself as a reasonable, high-energy alternative (contrary to everything he has said in the past).

    Millions of people watched the debate. A percentage or two is all it takes (which is why the Republicans have also worked so hard on voter suppression).

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  20. The debate put Romney on the same stage with Obama for the first time and he came off the better for it. Otherwise, it is same old Romney.

    I disagree with Brownstein, because of this was the case we would have seen better Republican candidates. As it was, we got the bottom of the barrel. Romney was the only heavy hitter to take part.

    Perception is trumping reality because the economy is relatively stable all things considered.

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  21. I bristled when I heard him say it too but my guess is he's right. Brownstein writes about the polls. And that's just where the country is statistically give or take a percent or two. And remember, one half of these are people who will vote to reinstate the economic policies of George Bush, so we aren't talking about a super well-informed electorate overall.

    And yes, the economy is stable, after a near total collapse, and there is slight growth overall if you look at the charts. But speaking from experience there are not a lot of jobs out there. I have a lot of friends who are unemployed and can't find work. My work prospects are at least half of what they used to be and I work around the country.

    You will probably remember this better than I do, but as I recall, when they were lining up candidates way back when, there was a general impression that Obama couldn't be beat. He had something like a 60% approval rating, and the serious republicans decided to sit it out until 2016. Bush et al. weren't willing to put their careers on the line so you get Romney who was always running and the others who thought it might be their one chance at the national stage.

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  22. I really don't see how he is right. If it were the case we would have seen a slough of Republicans candidates. What Obama has had going for him is relatively high favorable ratings (as opposed to approval ratings) which led many Republicans to think he was unbeatable this year. Plus, the idea of having to appeal to the Tea Party and then turn around and try to lure Centrist voters in the general election discouraged many would-be candidates. Not even Huckabee was willing to venture into that three-ring circus. I imagine some of them are regretting it now, seeing how well Romney is running at the moment, but I think it is one of those little peaks that will erode out from under him. Did you read his position on abortion?

    http://news.yahoo.com/romney-promises-no-abortion-legislation-004508435--election.html

    Unbelievable.

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    1. News to me but doesn't surprise me. The guy will say anything -- no legislation "that I know of ..."

      I read a review of one democratic pollster who said that Romney's main gain was with women after the first debate, where he had been WAY behind. I think this may be more "meat" for them. I just shake my head in disbelief.

      For a voice of sanity in support of what you are saying:

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/10/10/in-excitable-pundits-vs-political-scientists-ill-take-political-scientists-every-time/

      But the bounce in the polls after the debate is real, not manufactured, and I think it reflects how superficial we are as an electorate.

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  23. Also, you can't discount the media in this. The mainstream press has gone out of its way to accommodate Romney in an effort to make this a race. Everyone loves a "comeback story."

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  24. Romney's comments on abortion aren't going to help his case, and I doubt women saw anything better in Romney that night, but who can argue with polling data? I think what most persons were disappointed with was Obama's weak performance. He failed to defend his economic policies in a head to head debate. He seemed to feel the numbers spoke for themselves.

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    1. I know you are understandably skeptical of the polls but I heard some analysts from Ohio say that there were 4 % undecided in that state, 2% of which swung to Romney after the debate. Most of those were women.

      This whole Roe v Wade and "personhood" business should give all women pause though. Women of my daughter's generation (20s and 30s) take it for granted that they can get contraception and have some choice if they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. That could be at risk if this new generation of republicans ever get control.

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    2. Well, if Americans elect Romney and another wave of Republican economics, they get what they deserve. It appalls me that this election is even close.

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    3. The problem is that the other half of the country gets it too. Who thought it could worse than under George Jr?

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    4. The nadir didn't occur until the end of his term, leaving a deteriorating economy for Obama. He introduces a stimulus bill that had obvious positive effects, yet to a man the Republicans railed against it, calling it a failure. The Republicans were determined to undermine Obama at every turn, and that gloat over the weak economic recovery like it was all his doing. Not a one of them wants to own up to the policies of George Bush, and any mention of Dubya yields the pat response, it ain't our economy anymore, it is Obama's. The level of cynicism is truly appalling.

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    5. I wasn't thinking so much about the economy -- although George Jr. did leave us one in free fall that took some time to stabilize -- but the divisions in the country. Having just driven through rural Montana, I can assure you the right wing is alive and well in the US.

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    6. Am watching CNN by default this p.m. and associated pro-Romney ads and ads and ads "calling all patriots" to donate and make America American again ....

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    7. I suppose the divisions have always been there, but they are made even worse by the rancorous tone set by the Republicans this election year. At no point, was any respect accorded the President, and this was made all the more evident in the first debate. Romney consciously chose to brow beat the President, which is what his faithful wanted.

      Now Ryan turns around and says that he and Romney would work toward bipartisanship and cooperation in Congress. Is this some kind of good cop/bad cop routine being played out? I'm glad Biden called what it is -- a bunch of malarkey!

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  25. Now we have this Revolt of the CEOs taking place, with Olive Garden threatening part-time employment to avoid Obamacare,

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/darden-restaurants-obamacare-part-time_n_1951103.html

    Complete grandstanding. Walmart has been hiring part-time for years to avoid offering health care and unemployment compensation. Many small businesses contract labor rather than hiring employees for the same reason, yet Darden makes Obamacare sound like the end of the world for businesses like his.

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  26. I heard last night that the election commission is investigating the Ohio coal mine operator for making employees show up without pay for a Romney event. I always thought it was odd even for Romney that he did not even make an attempt to shake hands with them. Now I know why!

    I once worked for a restaurant who made us sit out when it wasn't busy, but expected us there if business picked up again or risk being fired. I was only 21, but thought it sounded illegal so went to the union, which had been trying to get inside that place for years. I got them payroll information and won back wages for everyone. How I became unionized.

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  27. It seems Romney didn't so much gain support as Obama lost support over the last week. The Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll has Romney up 47-44 per cent,

    http://news.yahoo.com/romney-extends-lead-over-obama-reuters-ipsos-poll-070151573.html

    Romney has been consistently running between 45 and 47 percent since the convention, but now Obama has slipped to 44 per cent, where he had been running between 47-50 per cent. So, it would seem there is still a significant swing vote here waiting for the final two weeks, perhaps even the final days to make a decision.

    It is hard to imagine at this point persons haven't made up their minds. As Matt Taibbi noted,

    "What we Americans go through to pick a president is not only crazy and unnecessary but genuinely abusive. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in a craven, cynical effort to stir up hatred and anger on both sides. A decision that in reality takes one or two days of careful research to make is somehow stretched out into a process that involves two years of relentless,suffocating mind-warfare."

    http://www.classwarfareexists.com/quote-of-the-day-matt-taibbi/#ixzz294ba6WIo

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    1. Taibbi is right. That people can be undecided astounds me, although the fact that the economy hasn't done better is probably the main reason.

      This election in particular boils down to a very simple question of do you believe in government being there when you or your neighbors need it for everything from roads and bridges to education, police and firefighting, or would you prefer to be self sufficient and hope some of the rich guy's fortune trickles down to you when you need work. In states like Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho -- the hardcore red states -- the self-sufficiency answer is big, but a lot of that has to do with lack of awareness of other issues, and a fear/hatred of the rest of the nation.

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    2. In Europe, there is nowhere this amount of time and money spent on elections. Not that you don't find the occasional right-wing insurgent, but for the most part governments remain relatively stable from one administration to the next, as the various sides seem to respect the social framework for the most part.

      In America, Socialism is stereotyped and made into a whipping post, with Democrats afraid to even discuss it for fear of the knee-jerk reactions.

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    3. Just back from Utah and drives through the back roads of the heart of red country -- republican signs are everywhere. These are my neighbors but I sure don't understand their politics.

      (I was living in London when Thatcher took over. It felt very unsettling at the time.)

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    4. I think they live in their own private idaho, to borrow a song from the B-52s ; )

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  28. Also worth noting, Dubya had a bad first debate against Kerry. In fact, Kerry won all three debates but still ended up losing the election.

    What is crucial is the ground game and the Obama campaign is winning this one with thousands more supporters getting voters to the polls across the country.

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  29. You have to admit, though, it was a good debate. Even Paul Ryan did his part, and dodged the specifics without sounding like Romney. And Joe did what we all hoped he would -- call malarky malarky. I'm glad I was able to see it.

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  30. It certainly was entertaining, but didn't do much to further the campaign. Obama has to "man up" at the next debate.

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  31. Exit polls from early voting look promising. Obama promises a better performance tomorrow night. And, it seems that the Mitt-mentum is running out, once again.

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  32. Scary when you think about it:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/matt-miller-romneys-killer-sister-souljah-move/2012/10/15/a6ec5564-16ea-11e2-9855-71f2b202721b_story.html

    Needless to say, I'll be glued to the t.v. again this p.m.

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  33. Somehow I don't see Romney saying that, and if he did say something to that effect it would come across as rather insincere given the positions he's taken. But, I suppose we can let our imaginations float wild before a debate. I think the Town Hall format favors Obama, although I suppose one has to watch out for a new Joe the Plumber in the midst.

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  34. I agree. But the interesting point is what Obama says in response should he be nutty enough to try. It's clear Romney doesn't really care about his prior arguments or beliefs and will try to obfuscate them.

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  35. Well, the Sister Soulja moment didn't come. The big difference tonight was that Obama didn't take Romney's BS but fired back, repeatedly. I can see why persons hate to debate Romney. He is a stone, completely oblivious to his many factual errors, repeating them in that same "father knows best" tone he no doubt used on his five sons. Obama didn't play the scolded son tonight, but rather gave back in turn. Big improvement. I see it made Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews happy,

    http://video.msnbc.msn.com/msnbc/49442282/#49442282

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  36. I love how Candy Crowley is now the villain of the Right for setting at least one of Romney's factual errors right. I think the moderators should step in more often when one candidate misquotes another. They might even think of bringing "instant replays" into the debates ; )

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  37. She knew the "fact" that Romney was attempting to distort. I've never particularly liked her -- another one of those CNN folks -- but in that case I thought she did a good job. She didn't do such a good job keeping them on time -- Romney just seems arrogant and demanding.

    I only watched a few minutes of post-debate analysis but Chris Hayes made the point that Romney was operating by his own rules, which is part of what has happened in this country generally. That really is the heart of the problem.

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  38. This was fast:

    http://www.mittsbindersfullofwomen.com

    Turns out women's groups put together the binder and brought it to the governor elect because he had no women in his group and, as he admitted last night, didn't know any. A little different when you know the rest of the story.

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  39. I figured it was a bogus story meant to somehow show he approached women's groups in seeking appointments. As it turns out,

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/17/romney-binders-full-of-women_n_1972425.html?utm_hp_ref=elections-2012

    The guy has such a huge credibility gap it amazes me that he gets away with so many things he says.

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  40. That's a good photo of Romney at the Huffington site -- he did seem upset that he was being contradicted.

    "Of course they add up" -- i.e., because I say they do -- was my favorite response.

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  41. This time he simply came across as arrogant.

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  42. I hope the polls show some slowing of the momentum towards the republicans.

    People are sure having fun with his binder full of women comment -- and yes, Rick, it was bogus according to women In Massachusetts at the time although he did hire some women as a result.

    Monday should be interesting since Romney can't argue for his business experience in that debate. All he seems to want to do is rattle his chains and threaten war.

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  43. The Republicans are suffering in a number of Congressional races, even with only one-third of the incumbents up for election. Latest polls, show the Dems maintaining control of the Senate. This has to hurt when 22 Democrat seats were up for grabs.

    Also, a lot of tight House races. I doubt the Democrats will regain the House, but they almost certainly pick up seats.

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  44. Interesting series on the election. The "what if" piece on Romney and Obama is fascinating:

    http://nymag.com/news/politics/elections-2012/

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  45. The third debate was a virtual role reversal of the first one. Romney's strategy appeared to be to play it safe, not get caught in another "whopper," although once again he got the short end of the stick when it comes to memes.

    Obama was clearly the aggressor, calling Romney out repeatedly, even belittling him on his views of modern military needs, after Romney cited historic figures in regard to the number of ships in the Navy fleet.

    All in all, it was Obama's best performance. How much it will effect the electorate remains to be seen.

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  46. I enjoyed watching Romney on the split screen when Obama was talking. If a facial expression could qualify as "squirming," Romney was squirming.

    I'm sure those "undecided" voters are really struggling to decide whom they plan to vote for. What a crock. It is obvious that anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the American electorate couldn't hit themselves in the ass with a shovel when it comes to voting.

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  47. About the shovel: I liked how Romney kept saying "I agree with that" assuming no one would know the difference. I too noticed his face, or more to the point, his neck and jaw which were really clinched.

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  48. He didn't distinguish himself on foreign policy, but then he hasn't distinguished himself on anything.

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  49. The part that gets me is how the media is writing this passive effort off as Romney's "strategy" to a) court women, b) protect his apparent lead, c) channel Reagan, or d) all of the above. There was none of the scrutinizing when Obama took the passive approach to the first debate which turned out to be be a disaster in the eyes of the media. But, once again the mainstream media appears willing to give old Romney the benefit of the doubt. This is a guy who has been at his bellicose worst in the weeks leading up this debate, even announcing his own foreign policy "statement."

    I look at the polls, and there is no lead to protect. It is a virtual tie. Romney needed to distance himself from the president in a way that appealed to centrist voters who for whatever reason are uncomfortable with Obama. He failed to do that. He came off looking like a total nimrod.

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