Presidential debate: President Obama screwed up, big time

Where was the “all fired up and ready to go” guy of 2008?
Photo: Governor Romney and President Obama during the first debate AP

WASHINGTON, October 4, 2012 — An open letter to President Barack Obama:

Dear Mr. President,

Democrats were expecting to see something different in the first debate, certainly not the lackluster performance that you delivered. Where was your energy? Didn’t the debate pump up your adrenaline? Where was the “all fired up and ready to go” guy of 2008?

Instead, we saw you at your worst: wonky, slightly irritable that you had to even be on the same stage with Mitt Romney, grimacing, and too often cruising on automatic pilot. We had heard before the debate that you complained that prepping for the debate was a “drag” and “too much like homework.”

Well, guess what? Governor Romney obviously did his homework, a drag or not. He even switched his positions a couple of times and threw out some more half-truths, getting away with it, and yes, he had a few zingers that he let fly with gusto. Plus he was relentless in challenging you with a laser-like focus.

I had written a column last week on how you could lose to Romney. Obviously you didn’t read it because you fell into two of the five pitfalls I warned you about: 1) getting too wonky and 2) worse yet, underestimating Mitt Romney.

Didn’t you study the 1994 debate tapes of yesteryear when Senator Ted Kennedy demolished Romney in the Senate race debate? You would have known what to do.

Time to Go to the Tapes

Kennedy never looked down while at the podium. He engaged Romney head on by zeroing in on him with a white-hot intensity. Even though he was the incumbent, Kennedy was unafraid of not appearing to be a distinguished senator and staying above the fray. Righteous anger bubbled to the surface and he demolished Romney not with the bog of wonk, but steely facts, rat-a-tat-tat.

Or, Mr. President, did you even bother seeing the 2002 tapes of Romney’s Massachusetts debate with Shannon O’Brien when he cowed O’Brien with the same kind of assertiveness he exhibited against you on Wednesday night? Or how about the 17 debates Romney won in the Republican primary or did you write off his competition as not worthy? All of these debates would have been most instructive because you clearly misread what kind of debater Romney is and how he can be handled.

Instead not only did you avoid looking Romney squarely in the eye, you missed two golden opportunities to corner him. Everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, expected you nail him on his 47% remark and his years with Bain Capital.

The undercover tape of the 47% comments has been played ad nauseam so people would have understood the context immediately. But many people don’t know that Romney’s financial company Bain Capital in the 15 years he actively ran it, owned firms that specialized in relocating jobs, usually done by American workers, to low-wage countries like China and India. In fact, Bain was a  pioneer in the practice of shipping jobs out of the U.S. to overseas call centers and factories that made computer parts. That’s not propaganda. That’s directly from Bain’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Giving Romney A Free Pass

You could have had Romney on the ropes with that one tidbit alone. Instead you allowed him to skate home with a string of misstatements from the oil subsidies numbers to his claim that “six other studies” found his tax proposal to be revenue neutral to there is no tax deduction for moving a company out of the country.

But all of this would have been moot if you had had your game on. While this debate is not a game changer, it did wound you and will probably slow your momentum in your quest for a second term. Is it any wonder that liberal pundits are frothing at the mouth, ala Chris Matthews, or holding their heads in their hands, ala Rachel Maddow. And you just made the job of Democrats running for the House and Senate a bit tougher. Add to that the extra pressure you have now dumped on Vice-president Joe Biden to be even more of a pit bull when he faces off against Romney’s running mate Congressman Paul Ryan.

Can you redeem yourself? Probably, but only if you take the lessons of the first debate to heart. Don’t try to brush last night aside. You will need to get down and dirty, not with nasty words or sneers, but by leaning forward, literally, and taking Romney on, allowing him no quarter. No mistruth can go unanswered.

And for goodness sake, quit getting lost in the weeds of wonkery. Take a page out of Bill Clinton’s book on how to talk to the American people. Don’t bore us to death, just get to the heart of the matter, without being defensive. You have a lot to be proud of. Show it.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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