Why those who say Obama lost debate are wrong

Significance in first debate lies in issues discussed, not the spectacle

Mainstream pundits and many spectators are judging the first presidential debate October 3 as a clear win for GOP challenger Mitt Romney. But this argument actually ignores the expectations game that this kind of scorecard journalism is supposed to be based on.

Romney was always going to benefit from being on stage for the first time face-to-face with President Barack Obama, in front of a national audience, and his aggressive attacks should not have surprised anyone. That’s what you do when you’re behind in the polls and trying to unseat an incumbent president. In this sense, Romney met expectations, but didn’t beat them. The terrain of the first debate favored Romney from the beginning.

Here’s the problem with this kind of debate analysis: It favors the spectacle and ignores the most important reason why the first Obama/Romney debate was actually significant – because it solidified the key issues of this election, most of which favor Obama and the Democratic Party.

Taxing the rich, strengthening Medicare without cutting benefits, and cracking down on Wall Street greed were all main topics of discussion, and it’s hard not to see how those are winning issues for Obama. The president was at his best when he was explaining why revenues have to be raised in order to balance the budget and grow the economy. Obama successfully branded Romney’s Medicare plan as a voucher scheme that would leave seniors at the mercy of private insurance.

“If anybody out there tonight thinks the problem was too much Wall Street regulation, then the candidate for you is right here, Governor Mitt Romney,” Obama said at one point, in probably the best takeaway line of the night.

The fact that issues like raising taxes, Medicare, and Wall Street reform are major campaign issues at all shows how much the popular pendulum has swung away from the corporate agenda to cut, privatize, and de-regulate basic public services. In these times of economic stress, hardworking families are looking to a good government that puts people first to help them get a leg up. Obama’s campaign makes that promise to everyday people. Mitt Romney’s doesn’t. At least rhetorically, there’s a clear distinction.

Unfortunately – and importantly – the debate was also marked by moments of bipartisanship of the worst kind. Both Romney and Obama agreed that corporate taxes should be cut, and Obama’s $4 trillion deficit reduction plan only adds token revenues despite the president’s lofty populist rhetoric about making the rich pay their fair share. Obama’s “economic patriotism” may be the lesser of two evils compared to the Paul Ryan budget to privatize Medicare, but it’s a far cry from the more just and democratic society Iowa CCI ACTION Fund members are fighting for.


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