Post-Debate Analysis: The Media Can Now Get the Electoral Horse Race It Wants

by Matt Stoller (

Let me just start by saying I hate horse race electoral analysis, because it’s bullshit. Not just meaningless, it’s frequently done by analysts who are on the payroll in one way or another of Wall Street or telecoms or pharma or whoever. More than that, the data is terrible. Despite the vaunted social scientists who claim, essentially, that elections can be manipulated through exquisitely crafted micro-targeting, we just don’t know that much about how voters behave. And more than that, politicians and pollsters don’t want to know. In 2008, it was obvious that foreclosures were going to have a massive impact on the electoral landscape. From 2008-2011, I counted one, yes, just one, paper looking at this problem. Tom Ferguson and Jie Chen showed that housing price declines were the main reason for Scott Brown’s capture of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. The only other study I’ve seen took place this year, showing that 60% of Milwaukee’s black voters from 2008 have disappeared.

You can’t run a control America in which an economic crisis happened, and a non-control America in which one didn’t happen. So you can’t know what kind of impact the financial crisis and foreclosure crisis have had on voters, until after the election. But the fact that there is almost no analysis of the foreclosure crisis in the electoral context shows that political elites just don’t want to know what’s really going on. Field people, who are in charge of door knocking, know exactly how bad it is, because they know that if you can’t find your voters, you can’t get them to the polls. But if this were acknowledged, then the foreclosure crisis would have to be acknowledged, and then the banking oligarchs would have to be acknowledged. Better to run shitty campaigns based on poor data promoted dishonestly by hacks getting speaking fees from various trade associations. So recognize, first of all, that nearly all the prognostication you’re hearing on TV and radio, which is done by an intentionally ignorant professional class who just wants their team to win. It’s Jeff Connaughton’s “blob”, sliming its way through our broadcast media infrastructure.

That said, here’s my horse race electoral analysis!

A debate happened, and Obama didn’t do well. Prior to tonight, the conventional wisdom was that debates don’t determine elections. I have no idea if this is true going forward, and the only way to know is to watch the polls over the next few days. If every registered voter watched this debate and made a decision about who to vote for based on this debate, Mitt Romney would win. But who watched the debate? And do people decide based on this debate (or the post-debate spin)? Only Gallup can tell. Still, it’s useful to know what happened, and why, because at the very least, Obama and his team was embarrassed tonight. We’re in an election season, so the press is probably going to turn to this as An Important Moment (see the CNN headline: Romney Shakes Up Race)

From what I can tell, the trends that led Romney to do well in this debate are macro. Obama is not a bad debater, and he was not underprepared. Both Romney and Obama are executing their messaging strategy, it’s just that Romney’s worked, and Obama’s didn’t. Romney is pointing to the bad economy, and Obama is staying likeable and above the fray. Romney and his team believe that they can simply point to a failed economic strategy by the administration, and voters will fire Obama. Obama and his team think that Obama is viewed as a warm person, and they want to emphasize that he can relate to Americans in a way that Romney can’t.

As for Romney, he went to the left. Romney, just by not appearing to a creepy out of touch Mr. Burns, punctured Obama’s bubble. But he also did something that an operative friend reminded me of. He appeared just like George W. Bush in the 2000 debates, where Bush appeared more moderate and left-wing. Gore tried the math attack on Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security (Bush double counted contributions), and Bush countered with the infamous line about “fuzzy math”. This time, Romney did the same thing, he just said that Obama’s claims about his own plan weren’t true. They were true. Romney continued to lie about his plans. He said he wouldn’t cut taxes for the wealthy, slash education spending, cut health care, Social Security, or Medicare for current seniors. He went after Obama for cutting social programs. Romney, in essence, debated like a liberal Massachusetts Republican. Nothing he said was true, in all likelihood. But Romney does believe that Obama’s stewardship of the economy is terrible, and he was able to sell that quite effectively.

The reason Obama did poorly is simple. He is bad at governing America. He hasn’t solved the foreclosure crisis, the jobs crisis, the climate crisis, the energy crisis, the financial crisis, the debt crisis, the health care crisis, or really, anything.  He can’t point to very much that Americans broadly like, except killing Bin Laden and the auto bailout. His second term agenda is to cut Social Security, Medicare, frack, cut corporate taxes, bust more teachers unions and pass more neoliberal trade agreements. He is proud of this record. So are his people. But he knows he can’t run on it because it’s unpopular, so instead, he presented himself as a nice likeable guy.

He frequently complimented Romney, agreed with him on most core policy arguments, and just generally avoided pointing out the many times Romney was lying. He didn’t bring up social issues like abortion, or really, any weak spots for Romney. He tried to present himself as a fighter for the middle class, but he doesn’t actually respect people he perceives have less strength than he does. Obama believes in pity for the middle class, not respect. Nor does Obama like Romney. So Obama came off passive and unpersuasive, making a case he didn’t believe in. It’s like George W. Bush, who couldn’t put two words together fluently unless he was talking death and destruction, and then he was a virtuoso rhetorician. Obama is at his best when he is talking about himself and his family, because that’s what he likes and believes in. That’s why his 2008 campaign worked, because it was all framed around Obama The Savior. It was mass narcissism (and even then, he only narrowly beat John McCain). If you’re wondering why Obama is a bad speaker now, where the old Obama went, just recognize that he’s only a great speaker when it’s all about him, because that’s where his interest is. The talent is there, the character, not.

Will this debate matter? Probably, at least in the short-term. The media wants a race. It’s bad for business if Obama pockets the race this early, but it has been too embarrassing for pundits to cheerlead for Romney to get him back in it. That the polls are this close with such an incompetent challenger campaign is a bad sign for the incumbent. Obama was also about to cut off Romney’s donor air supply, painting him as a lost cause. Romney will now find fundraising easier, since he can claim he has a plausible path to victory. And the press can legitimately paint Romney as a potentially good leader, and push his numbers up. On the other hand, Obama is the weakest incumbent since Jimmy Carter, but Romney’s inept campaign was reaching legendary status. The underlying demographic numbers are bad for Romney – he is doing horrifically with Hispanics, and Democrats are fairly energized (though the Democratic Party is smaller than it was in 2008). He is also still a bad candidate, running a bad campaign, and the Bain stuff hasn’t gone away.

Obama is usually pretty good with his back to the wall, so I’m guessing he’ll reevaluate what happened and shift his strategy to frame the issues more favorably. He might bring up social issues, he’s comfortable on foreign policy questions, and he won’t have to deal with the economy as much in future debates. And Romney isn’t particularly persuasive on foreign policy. This race is still Obama’s to lose.

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About Matt Stoller

From 2011-2012, Matt was a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters, focusing on the intersection of foreclosures, the financial system, and political corruption. In 2012, he starred in “Brand X with Russell Brand” on the FX network, and was a writer and consultant for the show. He has also produced for MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show. From 2009-2010, he worked as Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Alan Grayson. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller.


  1. Ms G

    “Obama is usually pretty good with his back to the wall, so I’m guessing he’ll reevaluate what happened and shift his strategy to frame the issues more favorably. He might bring up social issues, he’s comfortable on foreign policy questions, and he won’t have to deal with the economy as much in future debates.”

    Short form: pretty much anything except fighting for the middle class, while hypnotizing his constituency with “niceness.”

  2. Middle Seaman

    Several assumptions made here have no basis in reality. The world of scientific publication on elections is large and dispersed. One shouldn’t assume, unless she/he works in the area as a researcher, that there are no publications on a topic. Furthermore, foreclosures numbers pale compared to the number of unemployed, unemployed and those employed that were unemployed for a long time.

    Lastly, Obama is a terrible debater, always was and always will be. Of the three Democratic candidates in the primaries of 2008, Obama ranked a distance 3rd. One can go back and watch those debates videos and realized that, although friendly pundit didn’t admit that, Obama is a slow thinker, is not fast on his feet and his adaptation to changing debate needs lacks.

    Obama was even listless against McCain; we are talking McCain!

    1. jake chase

      Obama should just keep talking and reminding voters he is Black. If he were White he wouldn’t have a Chinaman’s chance. I have no idea why this is true but it clearly is true. Personally, I think Steven A. Smith would be a better candidate, but he isn’t running, at least not this year.

      I didn’t know there was a debate last night and nothing could have persuaded me to watch it when the Yankees were fighting for a pennant.

  3. armchair

    I don’t think Romney’s move to the left is like Bush’s in 2000. I think Bush had the ‘luxury’ to securely act compassionate and liberal without risking a loss of votes. Romney on the other hand is a suspect in his own party. Romney has had to continually show vicious rightwing values and has not ever been able to market himself as a compassionate conservative. I just don’t think teabaggers and Rush Limbaugh are going to point to last night’s debate to rally the troops. I think a huge part of the Republican apparatus is going to hide from last night’s debate.

    My comment is just speculation, and it may go down in flames. Just being didactic.

    1. Philonius

      ” I just don’t think teabaggers and Rush Limbaugh are going to point to last night’s debate to rally the troops.” I think they will. They don’t really care about the substance of what Romney said. They just want to beat the black man.

      1. Dan Hunnel

        Rush Limbaugh has already gone on record stating “Romney, the best thing he can do is remember this election isn’t about him. He may as well be Elmer Fudd as far as we’re concerned. We’re voting against Obama.”

        MY take on the debate is that Romney has dug himself into a hole he is now going to have a hard time digging OUT of. Because from here on out, every question about plans and position statements is going to require a timestamp, re “what is your position NOW regarding …”

        As Mark S. Mellman commented, “Romney abandoned a tax plan on which he has campaigned for months, simply denying he had ever advocated it. Having spent a year campaigning to repeal Dodd Frank and criticizing government regulation, tonight Mr. Romney sought to embrace regulation as essential, perhaps for the first time in this campaign. For months, Mr. Romney has talked about the need to cut teachers in our public schools, but tonight denied he would cut education.”

        John Podesta succinctly summarized Romney’s strategy as “running from his own proposals”, recapping how “the Mitt Romney who was on stage Wednesday flatly denied nearly every policy offered by Mitt 1.0. On taxes, for instance, Gov. Romney successfully threw President Obama for a loop by simply denying that his proposals were, in fact, his proposals. Though he has called for specific tax cuts that would slash government revenue dramatically, Romney stuck to the baffling position that his plan would not actually cut taxes.”

        This wasn’t a debate, this was Bugs Bunny being bemused by the “wobbowing with the wind” antics of the not-so-wily Wabbit Hunteh…

      2. Teresa

        The race card, voila`! It has been such a long time since the 2008 race and I knew there was something missing.

  4. YouDon'tSay?

    Yawn. Flip a coin. Heads they win, tails we lose. Maybe the damn thing will stand on edge for once.

    For my part, I saw an enthusiastic, unrepentant liar in Romney, taking on a somewhat more reserved, somewhat more conflicted liar in Obama. Romney at least has the strength of character to be upfront about it. We makes our choices, we picks our poisons.

    1. Walter Wit Man

      I watched a random 15 seconds of it and it seemed staged and acted to me . . . as if the two candidates had practiced the exchange I saw.

      Obama shook his head in disgust at the ‘damnable lies’ that Romney was telling and Romney looked like the respectful but passionate conservative gentleman that was getting screwed by a liberal press and showing his frustration.

      Both actors are meant to piss off their ‘base.’

  5. jonboinAR

    Romney’s corner also understood effective American political debate tactics. When attacked, call the other guy a liar, even when he isn’t. No one (relatively few) will know the difference. Romney won decisively because he stayed on offense and that’s what people will have noticed. They’ll remember that, as you pointed out, Obama was passive, painfully so. Americans, at least, want to see their leader, when he’s in the debate ring, fight.

    Heck, how many times did Obama point out that Romney’s plan carries $8 trillion in tax breaks and military extra expenditures? Lets say 5. How many times did Romney say, in effect, you’re lying. That would be 5. How many times did Obama say, “No, governor. It’s you who’s lying.” Nope. Never did.

    How many times did Romney tell the country that Obama was going to cut Medicare by $750 billion? I don’t know, several. How many times did Obama refute him? Uh, he looked down at his shoes. So Romney entirely carried the point.

    Obama came off as an overmatched wuss, in terms of force of character. I’d say the race has tightened, a bunch.

    the Obama corner better get their fighter some training, or give him coffee or something.

  6. bobh

    The debate put the weakness of our political system on display. Two good looking, ambitious guys with no core beliefs and no integrity who just want to say whatever it takes to get them elected. Romney was able to sustain his dishonesty with more vigor and shamelessness than Obama, who has been dishonest and shameless for over six years now and is worn down by all of the bad faith.

  7. Clive

    Really, non US nationals should refrain from commenting on internal the internal US political situation. It usually looks very silly. Sometimes commentators, usually American, try to chip in their two cent’s worth on, say, UK politics. And it almost always comes across as at best missing the nuances and at worst amateurish. It’s very hard to do if you’re not aware of the almost subliminal aspects of why people vote for whom.

    That all said, I’ll stick my nose in and hope if I’m being really dumb everyone will be kind to me… so here goes…

    From an outsider’s perspective, what stuck me most of all about Obama’s performance was a sense that he was hoist with his own petard. And he knew it. And he knew America knew it. Running on a platform of Hope and Change then siding with long standing, embedded vested interests with truck loads of cash and institutional/establishment leverage could only end one way. He’s at a dead-end. Okay, he might still win. But so what ? As Matt said, it doesn’t actually matter who wins. Hollow contests between hollow people produce hollow victories.

    1. YouDon'tSay?

      I’d say that’s a pretty damn good analysis and one that a lot of ordinary Americans would never make, as they are too busy immersed in the side show and all of its distractions. One things for sure “hope and Change” is just a distant echo now. However, it still remains to be seen whether the electorate can hold their noses and vote for a preening, overanxious Ken doll with a somewhat suspect religious affiliation. We will see.

    2. Systemic Disorder

      Obama’s strategy all along has been “But you have to vote for me, look at how awful the Republicans are.” Indeed they are, and so Obama is still likely to win next month. Obama can hardly run on a “hope and change” platform, can he?

      It is puzzling that Obama was so laidback, but if I had to guess I’d say that Obama and his handlers decided he should be above being an “attacker” and stay above the fray, but pulled the stick too far in that direction.

      I’m not sure that Obama is really that bad of a debater; my recollection is that the first debate in 2008 with McCain was a draw but that was really a win for Obama because the topic was foreign policy, an area in which McCain is falsely seen as a leading authority. At the end of the day, though, I have not seen a pattern where debates actually decided an election (other than 1960, but I was not around then).

      1. tom allen

        If you campaign solely on “Vote for me because the other guy’s awful!” then all your opponent has to do is appear to be not so bad after all. It was hard for McCain not to look like a crotchety old man. It will likely be easier for Romney to look more reasonable than his policies are, particularly when Obama keeps agreeing with them.

    3. steelhead23

      Clive, the singular resonant argument I frequently hear as to why we should vote for the liar-in-chief is that several U.S. Supreme Court judges are nearing retirement and many would prefer that Obama, rather than Romney, chose their replacements. With Obama-selected jurists, Roe would stand and Citizens United and corporate personhood may fail. With Romney-selected jurists, Roe would be overturned and corporate personhood enshrined. It seems like a pretty thin reason right now, but around the time of Kennedy’s retirement, it would be huge. Otherwise, the choice is vapid.

      1. Yves Smith

        Hugh has rebutted that elsewhere. Dems should/will still have a majority of seats on the Judiciary committee (I have not verified the horse races, so do your own intelligence, but Hugh has proven to be pretty reliable).

        In other words, Romney could still bring in awful justices, but only with Democrat cooperation.

        1. Lambert Strether

          If the Dems lose the Senate, the only way the Republicans can get any Justices appointed is with Democratic co-operation — unless the Republicans go ahead and abolish the filibuster with the nuclear option. Making, if they do that, the Democrat’s failure to do that in 2009 even more the strategic catastrophe it already is (assuming, arguendo, that the Democrats really wanted to pass more legislation than they actually did, a point subject to dispute).

  8. Zuzu's roots

    My simple analysis of the debate, which I listened to on the radio until I nodded off. (Disclaimer: I will vote for neither.)

    Obama was very off, Romney was very confident.

    Your analysis, boiled down:

    Obama-..he presented himself as a nice likeable guy.
    Romney-Nothing he said was true, in all likelihood.

    Final analysis: Politicians are nothing more than actors on a very big stage.

    1. jonboinAR

      They get away with just being actors because no one calls them on their BS. The average American doesn’t express enough interest to have a clue, and the press panders to the average American. So Obama blew it failing to call out Romney then and there. It means Romney got away with it, winning the debate by brazenly lying. Very RR of him.

  9. Ed

    I actually have been puzzled why Obama ran for re-election in the first place. He doesn’t seem to like the job, he has one big accomplishment, killing Osama bin Laden, which is not the sort of thing he can repeat or build on in the second term. Otherwise his first term was basically a defense of the status quo in a bad economy. Maybe he thinks the alternative is a Romney or Clinton administration that starts another war in the Middle East (Obama has actually been slowly but surely disengaging from that region), but if that is why he is staying in he is not making that case.

    I didn’t watch the debate, but apparently Romney won. It might be some comfort for Democrats that the pattern has been that the debates are usually “won” by the eventual popular vote loser (Mondale, Perot, W. Bush, Kerry, with 1988, 1996 and 2008 as draws, though Reagan did win in 1980).

    1. Jill


      My own feeling is that Obama ran because his real constiuients-the military, the financial industry, other mega corporations and those manning the police state would really prefer to keep him on. It’s not that Romney can’t do the job if he had to, he’d just have a harder time fooling as many people as Obama does.

      Here are a set of beliefs now carried by both Republicans and Democrats: 1. support of wars of empire 2. support of drone killing of civilians, 3. thinks austerity and finacial fraud are excellent national fiscal policies, 4. support of the NDAA, 5. doesn’t care that the most poor and sick women can’t get coverage for abortions, 6. doesn’t want single payer health care 7. is pro torture and renditions 8. support of off shore drilling and in shore fracking 9. willing to completely ignore climate change 10. support of the police state. I could go on but that is what Obama is doing right now and both men will do in the future. Their loyal fans are down with it all. Democrats are attacking anyone who is not behind their candidate and his programs (listed above).

      Why not get more people on board with a far right wing agenda with Obama. Less work, more effective.

      1. Lambert Strether

        Still, it was good to hear Obama say there wouldn’t be one penny of cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security, and that any cost savings would be passed as benefits.

        Oh, wait….

    2. petridish

      “Obama has actually been slowly but surely disengaging from that region”

      Uh, guess again, Ed. Try reading the Glenn Greenwald links that are posted from time to time here on NC.

    3. TK21

      “he has one big accomplishment, killing Osama bin Laden, which is not the sort of thing he can repeat or build on in the second term”

      I disagree–it looks to me like Obama is gearing up to kill many, many more “bad people” in a second term. And he could kill pretty much anyone and his followers will laud him for it.

  10. Jerry Denim

    First Presidential debate in my lifetime I didn’t watch. It wasn’t an accident, but a choice. This morning perusing the post-debate analysis I still don’t care. I know I didn’t miss a thing except two slimy liars carefully stepping around mutual lies and meaningful issues, being careful not to pop the propaganda bubble that has been spun around them in order to convince US citizens that they still live in a functional Democracy where they are offered some kind of a choice in their elected leadership.

    Coke or Pepsi its all corporate Cola.

    1. Jonathan

      The election’s been decided: Big Corn Syrup wins, the nation’s collective pancreas loses.

  11. Jerry Denim

    Concerning the propaganda bubble and mutual lies Stoller said :

    ” His (Obama’s) second term agenda is to cut Social Security, Medicare, frack, cut corporate taxes, bust more teachers unions and pass more neoliberal trade agreements. He is proud of this record. So are his people. But he knows he can’t run on it because it’s unpopular, so instead, he presented himself as a nice likeable guy.”

    That agenda is popular enough among Republican voters but he can’t run on it for two reasons; one because that’s Romney’s agenda and admitting as much would prove that he is not in fact a Kenyan terrorist Muslim Communist but just a slightly more pigmented version of Romney, and two, he may alienate his base Democrat/Obama/Team Blue fans who can’t be bothered to pay attention to his record only his pretty words.

    I’d say that pretty much gets to the heart of why these debates are such a waste and why I can’t stomach them.

  12. Tom

    Obama went in to the debate without an ability to debate. Seems that Romney played the “I have no plan for jobs, the economy, medicare, Social Security etc.” so how can anyone try to debate that based on the fact that, I have told no one where I stand or have any plans that are debatable.
    Obama was made to assume, for debate purposes, where Romney stood on issues and, Romney said whatever he wanted that would make Obama look wrong.
    Romney does not care that he lied about his former stances on subjects (he flipped so many times that it’s hard to say if he lied). He knows that whatever he says in debates will not change a single vote already on his side of the ledger – so veer left as much as you want to capture the few clueless of the 47% he despises and maybe some in the middle.
    As voters in this country – I would hope that we all demand to see Romney’s plans, details of the loopholes he will cut etc.
    Raise revenue by cutting taxes? Someone is going to pay more taxes. – Cutting loopholes to do it? which ones because, cutting loopholes is raising taxes on someone!!! Ryan and Romney both said everyone needs to pay taxes so, that means the 47% who don’t will begin under Romney.

    A business does not pay taxes – they have the consumer pay taxes within the price of the product the business sells to consumer – otherwise they go broke. So those people who pay no taxes actually pay all corporate taxes –

    In the United States, people are wont to talk feverishly and vindictively about the “non-taxpayer”, for it is here that our brother from Mexico, our cousin from over the Canadian Border, our friends from India and the Middle East come to escape the rigors of their respective locations
    They proceed to use our highways and our libraries, our water systems and our police protection. If they have children old enough and stay long enough, they use our public schools etc., whereupon there is a great cry about non-taxpayers taking advantage of our benefits of government. Because these visitors and temporary residents don’t own property and are not listed with the tax man, the general supposition is that they pay no taxes.
    A itemized account of the money spent by these “guests” over a period of time would yield some surprises. Naturally, the itemization includes practically everything permanent residents would buy, food, clothing, housing, luxuries and the usual necessities.
    A little thought will show clearly that while the guest owned no property here, the hotel proprietor, the restaurateur, the merchant, the grocer, the druggist, everyone in fact, from whom he made purchases did own property, and that property was subject to taxation. The tax on the buildings and merchandize was simply added to the other overhead expenses in the bill of the proprietor and merchant.
    The property owner acted as a collector and ultimate consumer, whether a native son or a wandering guest, paid the tax. The guest who owned no property himself in the United States paid a tax whenever he slept with a roof over his head, paid taxes every time he bought a cigar or steak. A man could no more pass through the United States and purchase a meal or a night’s lodging without paying taxes than he could buy a gallon of gasoline for his car without paying the gasoline tax.
    The “non-taxpayer”? He belongs to the class of griffins and unicorns and other fabulous animals. There is no such creature.

    1. avg John

      So let me get this straight. You’re saying that those at the top of the food chain, who own the productive assets in the country, are in a position to pass any taxes on to those at the bottom of the food chain, the consumer, and that is where the buck stops?

      And the greater control I exercise over the markets, the better position I am in to set price and pass on taxes? And the greater % of my income that is required for basics such as food, utilities and shelter, the greater the % of my income is consumed by taxes?

      But, that would mean that those at the bottom of the food chain actually pay a much higher % of their income for taxes than the rich, who simply collect the tax and pass it through?

      So it’s the top 1% that actually “don’t even pay taxes”, they just collect and remit it? But wouldn’t that would make them the no good lazy bums everyone should despise? And if that’s so, why is the government and the fed so consumed with bailing out big banks and protecting multi-national corporate interests here and abroad?

      1. Tom

        Correct about how much the non-taxpayers pay in taxes and how corps pass it through. In effect the top 1% are trying capture the tax stream passing through their hands – capture the taxing authority (governments most powerful tool) for themselves.

  13. Lambert Strether

    Excellent point on why Obama wasn’t engaged: “[H]e’s only a great speaker when it’s all about him, because that’s where his interest is.” This is, after all, a guy who wrote not one but two autobiographies.

    I know I deprecate psychologizing, but this one sticks out a mile. And it’s too delicious….

  14. flared0ne

    I think John Stewart pegged President Obama fairly well in describing him (I’m paraphrasing) as not a Charismatic president in the same sense as Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, etc, but as more of a Legislator, i.e. a bit dry.

    President Obama certainly didn’t attempt to dominate the discussion, although both debaters ran roughshod over Jim Lehrer; Obama seemed a little disappointed that Jim wasn’t “managing” the debate very successfully — Jim needed to turn up his microphone a bit. Too bad debate rules (apparently) don’t allow the moderator to cut off the debators’ microphones…

    Romney definitely got the most exercise, running away from his past policy statements. As soon as that trend became clear, I moved from the TV to the computer, putting up a live stream so I could still listen while actually accomplishing something USEFUL with my time.

    Obama: not bad, could have been better, maybe more dramatic.

    Romney: revealed more than he should have about being devious, twisty, willing to “say whatever it takes”; definitely clarified that he needs a “past performance is NOT indicative of future results” disclaimer sticker.

  15. TK21

    Lots of good stuff in this piece. I would add one thing, something that other people have brought up that I find myself agreeing with: Obama is a staggeringly lazy politician. He does not create back-up plans, he does not push for anything unless he is certain he can win, and he does not try to build or form consensus but instead “leads from behind.” His passive performance last night certainly melds with his lazy streak; I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent little time preparing.

  16. jsmith

    “Only Gallup can tell.”

    Seriously, why should we think that?

    Why do we think Gallup and the rest of the polls are any more accurate than any other number that is waved in front us?

    The markets – Dow, S&P, FX, all of them – are so manipulated by HFT/bots that there’s no point in trying to correlate the numbers to some kind of reality that concerns that vast majority of humanity.

    If the numbers concerning people’s actual money/wealth are fabricated, why shouldn’t I think that potential voter numbers aren’t bullsh!t too – excuse me, Nate Silver.(snicker)

    Do I have to mention unemployment, inflation and other indicators? Didn’t think so.

    Electoral results? We’ve already seen how those don’t mean sh!t in our political system which is completely and totally dependent upon machines hackable by 1st year CS students.

    Again, what is the lame rationale as to why they don’t do independent exit polling anymore?

    Why don’t we have paper ballots?

    If Gene Okerlund came into your house every night on every channel and in every newspaper telling you that The Undertaker was going to face a tough title defense – you know what? – after a while you’d start to care about the WWE and The Undertaker and The Belt and the WWE Polls and if you didn’t Gene would tell you that he has Nielsen numbers – guffaw – to prove that people do really care about the WWE and you, doubter, were just a fool.

    Less than two hours after the WTC came down, I was screamed at over and over again by everyone that it was OSL and his merry jihadists.

    5 minutes after a debate I’m screamed at by everyone that Obama is in trouble.

    The Dow is onward towards 14,000.

    Syrian rebels are – sniff – fighting for their freedom.

    Iran is building – shudder – a nuke.

    Obama’s lead – tremble – in Wisconsin is 2 points less.

    If you think you understand how big the “problem” in America is, you’re not thinking hard enough.

    1. Jagger

      I listened to it on the radio while doing something more important. It reminded me of an episode of the Simpsons- mildly entertaining, shallow and meaningless.

      One point did stand out to me was the mention of Social Security. Obama stated that he and Romney have similiar positions. So what is Romneys position? Romney said if you are 60 or older, you don’t have to worry about it. So in my words, if you are under 60, tough luck. So Obama and Romney have similiar positions??? I don’t hear any of the analysis talking about that. I hear everyone talking about who looked best and who won. Beauty contest analysis indeed. The issues aren’t ignored by the analysis.

      This country is so scr-wed.

      1. Bert_S

        Up until debate time yesterday, Simpson-Bowles, the Ryan Plan, and the Romney 1.0 Plan (now known as the “I didn’t say 20% across the board tax cuts, including corporate peoples Plan”)all said you didn’t needed to worry about SS if you are over 55 years of age.

        So the 60 number is something new as of last night. So keep that in mind when updating your Retirement Planner Excel Spreadsheet. The zero interest on savings is probably still good and the 10% annual inflator for health care is probably ok for now.

  17. Lambert Strether

    “Better to run shitty campaigns based on poor data promoted dishonestly by hacks getting speaking fees from various trade associations.”

    So what’s your point?*

    * Irony, for anyone who came in late…

  18. enraged

    I watched and… wasted 90 minutes of my life. Won’t do it again. Obama is, indeed, a likable guy who surrounded himself with the worst possible crew if his true intent was to help this country get back on his feet. He gave no indication that anything he will do, should he be elected, will be any different from the past 4 years. Difficult to trust him under the circumstances. Scalded cat fears water.

    Romney, who is not “likable”, was being… Romney: he disowned most of what he’s been claiming during the past months and we still don’t know what he stands for, aside from money and himself. In fact, both sounded very much alike. If the little green guys from up above don’t come to save us, we’re in deep doodoo.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      I streamed it via, so it was only a few inches on my computer screen in the background. I’ll probably do others the same way, but what really struck me was:

      1. The debate format has probably outlived its usefulness and needs to be revised. And Lehrer lost control of the debate.

      2. The ‘media’ wants a horserace, and so the least symptom of dominance or aggression by Romney was interpreted as ‘winning’. On my small-screen streaming feed, the man was an arrogant ass.

      3. The nation needs a real debate about how the economy became financialized, yet the moderator was ill-prepared to engage in that topic. Ask Yves, or David Cay Johnson, or William Cohan, or Barry Ritholtz to moderate and see if we don’t get some hope of a real conversation.

      4. Romney’s derision about the government’s “clean energy” investments seemed bizarre coming from a man who describes himself as an ‘investor’, and deepened my sense that he has no track record with bringing novel technologies to fruition. That part of the debate absolutely blew my mind.

      He sounded like a ‘finance guy’ without the first inkling of how to invest in new technologies. That remark alone revealed Romney as an extractor, not an investor. (I conclude that all the so-called media ‘experts’ now telling us that Romney ‘won’ have never put a single dollar into a new technology. If they had, they’d have called Romney out on this glittering, low-hanging b.s.) NewsFlash! New things don’t always pay out — that’s why we need government investment.

      5. The fact that Romney’s millions in the Caymans and elsewhere was not even alluded to was insulting; talk about a low-information event!
      That’s more evidence that the media is practically brain dead and possibly needs life-support.

      One good link, about the problems with actual, ‘investment’ in new technologies, from economist Jared Bernstein, made my morning reading marginally more sane:

      I’m so insulted and mind-boggled about what the debates revealed about Romney’s attitudes regarding ‘investment’ — and the media’s absolute failure to spot it — that I’m practically apoplectic.
      Lehrer missed it completely.
      But you’d think the people who have 12+ hours to write ‘analysis’ before we all do our morning reading would get a clue.


  19. curlydan

    “Obama and his team think that Obama is viewed as a warm person, and they want to emphasize that he can relate to Americans in a way that Romney can’t.”

    Unfortunately, Obama is not really a warm person. He wants to talk to the big boys, but after 4 years, he’s grown rather tired of “the people”.

    There are two big differences between Obama and Bill Clinton. Clinton has a better intellect, but more importantly, Clinton is much more social and in fact thrives off of a crowd–and not just a crowd of elites. Clinton likes talking to the little people, too (Paula Jones!). Clinton could at least wake up and see the trouble in people’s eyes and want to help or make a policy to help (e.g. don’t make every poor person work to 67 to get SocSec or Medicare!).

    Obama won’t go there. Obama may be liked now, but his second term may be a disaster like W’s once people realize he isn’t what they wanted him to be and the “one more chance” second term could become a shattered hope.

  20. Siggy

    Watched the debate. Romney was better, no one really won.

    Both engaged in puffery and missrepresentation, neither gets points.

    There is a single critical reason to vote for Romney. The lack of prosecutions relating to the financial crash that triggered this recession. Technically we may be in a recovery mode; nonetheless after 40 plus months, the propagandized level of unemployment is greater that 8% and overall unemployment and under employment is close to 23%. There’s the rub, no prosecutions and no jobs and how long will it take the society to figure out that the government can’t fix it unless and until someone goes to jail. All the rest is crap talk!

  21. bobh

    Obama’s problem: when you position yourself to be the lesser evil, it’s very hard to win a television debate with the greater evil.

  22. amateur socialist

    So Romney needed this to maintain his viability and keep the ad campaign funded. Good. I’m sure the beltway media types (and especially their managers) really appreciate Obama not closing the deal this early, there is still a lot of airtime at stake, not like anybody needs it to sell things to people without jobs or money.

    This means the arrogant clueless billionaires writing him checks will keep the game going. Works for me. They don’t appear to be learning much from this disaster so far, maybe once it gets a little more expensive?

  23. briansays

    you got 2 candidates most people don’t like
    a too close of a race
    too much money to spend
    the campaigns are gonna get meaner and nastier and dirtier
    class war vs. race war under the table

  24. calls

    Obama is America’ first “conservative” (with a lower case c) black/biracial president.

    the irony/lunacy? is that the GOP is so far right (or bigoted) that they can’t see that every major policy action of the Obama administration (except for Don’t Ask and Obama’s half-hearted support of women’s reproductive rights) is straight out of the GOP’s 80’s handbook.

    ~~~~But, but Obama’s the lesser of two evils. And if you waste your vote like Nader-Gore 2000, who knows what’ll happen.

    Yes, Bush pushed for war….but a big chunk of House Democrats and more than half of Democratic Senators (including Rodham Clinton) gave W carte blanche to go after Iraq.

    If Obama loses, I’ll shrug. I’d rather be shot in the face by the GOP than stabbed in the back by the Democrats.

  25. be'emet

    I first saw this Romney character twenty years ago, played by Warren Beatty in “Bugsy.” Does anyone remember? In various moods and modes, cool hand Bugsy killed thirty compadres.

    Romney came well prepared, with hours of video replays.

  26. amateur socialist

    I can’t help thinking that this Romney “comeback” reminds me of the third act of every episode of mission impossible I ever saw (A show I worshipped as a kid).

    The key formula to the MI plot generating machines was a crucial unplanned “screwup” at the beginning of the 3rd act that always threatened the MI team’s intricately laid planning.

    Always made for a more entertaining conclusion when the team brazenly improvised some improbable recovery to get away clean with the captured hostage/missing top secret plans/dangerous weapon etc.

    Should be a fun month watching Bogama’s operatives recover nicely in the nick of time to help him sell that 3rd autobiography.

    1. Bert_S

      Why not Obama Month Magazine?

      Throw in Michelle’s recipe of the month, kid’s corner ( I swam in the Gulf and it didn’t kill me, etc…), Flashbacks from the Great Leaders past(TBD), legal questions answered like…if I’m born in a foreign land and my parents are American, does that make me an American citizen? Or should I be worried? Sports section – What I think about my favorite teams…Michelle’s vacation pictures…general musings – what it’s like to fly on Air Force One, Science Corner – how much does the nuclear football weigh?, Joke of the Month- waddaya call Hillary Care – take two drones and call your navy seal in the morning hahahah.

      Stuff like that.

      1. YouDon'tSay?

        Me senses a “Great Leader” backlash before “the anointed one’s” second term’s even begun. We Americans. We’re cynics to the core. And who could blame us? Based on sheer bullshit as we are. Ain’t it a laugh?

      2. ohmyheck

        Bert, it seem to me you can go to any number of ObamaBot blogs, which cover all of the above-mentioned, and more!

        PS- You missed the marvelous exploits of Bo the Dog. Remember “Barney-Cam”?

  27. philipo

    Nobody mentions that Obama had the deer in the headlights look. They just said he was tired.
    My take is he was wondering if the jig was up or maybe even wants it to be.
    Psychologically he was in a situation he hasn’t faced before, having to seriously defend his record against a person who he may think is much more entitled and much more eligible for the Presidency than he ever was.
    It is impossible for him to defend his record because he’s broken all his promises.
    I am progressive, a leftie even, and until last night was 100% sure I would vote for Jill Stein.
    Now I’m wavering.
    I lived in Massachusetts when Romneycare came in and following that was the first time my employer offered health care insurance.
    Romney has had to disown that to get the Republican nomination but he did it. Would the politician Obama have worked for that in Massachusetts? I doubt it.
    He’s an empty suit and it’s sad.
    Four more years of Obama?

  28. Ms G

    My takeaway.

    Bupkis is running against Bupkis. And we stil have bupkis and will have negative bupkis nomatter whether Bupkis or Bupkis wins this installment of Wheel of MisFortune.

    Over + Out

  29. avg John

    I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you.

    All this time, what with the financial crisis, trade policies, corruption and influence peddling, Wall Street criminality, and assaults on wages and standards of living for the middle class and a seemingly callous disregard for the poor, I thought neither the President nor Governor Romney cared a hoot for the little people.

    And here, all this time, they have been obsessing and anguishing over the plight of the average citizen. How could I have been so wrong? But I wonder, if it’s not the Democrats or Republicans responsible for this mess we are in, who’s going to step up and take responsibility? Maybe we need to find out who’s been in charge for the last 30 years and demand some accountability.

  30. Paul Tioxon

    There is a lot internet based analysis of social media out in force to gauge some meaning from the debates last night.

    From blog:Phillydeals

    SAP America, the Newtown Square-based arm of the big German business-software firm SAP AG, tracked social-media posts referencing last night’s Romney-Obama debate (in which Romney appeared more presidential and “less boring,” as my Obama-leaning 14-year-old put it.) Here’s what they found:

    “Throughout the day, Romney had 2.1 million mentions, as opposed to 1.6 million for Obama. Volumes peaked during the live debate with Romney far outweighing Obama in mentions,” 1.1 million to 600,000.

    “During the debate, the negative sentiment towards Romney far outweighed the positive, whereas Obama had more positive sentiment.”

    Nationally, 57% of social-media users referencing the debates were male. In the Philadelphia area, wierdly, it was over 80% male.

    “From the positive ‘likes’ and keywords, trending around Romney was that he would ‘win debate’ (47.6%%). Other positive sentiments included his ‘hair’ (9%) and ‘do well’ (6.6%), while negative ‘dislikes’ included ‘rude’ (20.6%), ‘kill debate’ (11.5%) and ‘promise to cut help’ (10.2%)

    “Positive ‘likes’ and keywords associated with Obama included ‘right choice’ (18%) ‘win the debate’ (16.4%) and ‘best president’ (8.7%), while negative ‘dislikes’ included ‘loose debate’ (30.1%), ‘kill it’ (18.6%) and ‘nervous’ (7.6%)” (Is “kill it” really negative, in context?)

    Around Philadelphia, “during the debate, there was equal balance of positive and negative sentiment towards Romney. Sentiment towards Obama during the debate” was overwhelmingly positive.

    But more importantly, high tech vigilance is being turned against the establishment by right wing patriots:

    “Lie detector voice analysis inconclusive
    October 4, 2012 By rrast

    Oct. 4, 2012, Fairfax, VA—Americans for Limited Government released the following statement regarding the lie detector voice analysis tests of the presidential debate:

    “The lie detector voice analysis tests of the presidential debate were found to be inconclusive by Voice Analysis Technology. The technology can detect a deception if the person knows they are deceiving, but if they believe what they are saying is true, even if it is not, it is not picked up. We are engaging in further review of these reports.”

    And just in time for the USAToday set:

    If presidents were solely picked based on who—or what—received the highest number of social media mentions during an election debate, “Big Bird” would be moving into the White House.

  31. ks

    “Despite the vaunted social scientists who claim, essentially, that elections can be manipulated through exquisitely crafted micro-targeting, we just don’t know that much about how voters behave.”

    What I hate about micro-targeting is that it’s time not spent listening to constituents, finding out what our problems are and how national policies are affecting us (AKA governing). At this point, it looks like a majority of voters have come to the rational conclusion that neither of these candidates gives a damn about us, so good luck with the targeting strategies.

    1. Ms G

      “At this point, it looks like a majority of voters have come to the rational conclusion that neither of these candidates gives a damn about us, so good luck with the targeting strategies.”

      Right on.

      Hey, Valued Social Scientists over there, Are You Getting The F*****n Memo? How about Candidates Bupkis and Bupkis: can you hear us now?

  32. The Rage

    I doubt this debate means anything. “Debates” are dead and have been since 2004 with the rise of multi-media on the the computer.

    They are not needed anymore.

  33. JackyC

    >>> He hasn’t solved the foreclosure crisis, the jobs crisis, the climate crisis, the energy crisis, the financial crisis, the debt crisis, the health care crisis, or really, anything.

    Obama did not have to ‘solve’ these things. He merely had to make sure they remained out of mainstream discussion. Like Romney, he is preaching to the choir, not the ragtag electorate.

    >>> The media wants a race. It’s bad for business if Obama pockets the race this early, but it has been too embarrassing for pundits to cheerlead for Romney to get him back in it.

    Really? So it is a foregone conclusion that Obama will simply win? Because he is a nice guy? Or a ‘good guy?’

    It is all well and good to presume that ‘good always wins’ but the issue this time around is surely muddied by the fact that Obama is only marginally ‘better’ than Mittens. It is Obama who is threatened civil rights of non-bankers and killing innocent people with drones.

  34. briansays

    via jesses cafe–the problem why he can’t say anything is he has stood by while things got worse–as jesse says its a credibility trap

    for those of you old enough to remember LBJ’s Light At The End of the Tunnell

    “America’s major banks now hold derivatives with a notational worth of $225 trillion – about a third of the world total. No kidding. Trillion.

    And that’s up from a mere $120 trillion six years ago. Rather than being weened off derivatives, America’s big banks are more deeply entrenched then ever.

    Hopefully Wall Street has it figured out just right and there won’t be any major losses, say a few billion here or there. After all, when has Wall Street ever been wrong about financial instruments?

    “Derivatives are dangerous,” says Warren Buffett. “They have dramatically increased the leverage and risks in our financial system. They have made it almost impossible for investors to understand and analyze our largest commercial banks and investment banks.”

    While many in Washington would like to limit derivatives trading, make such trades open to public scrutiny or both, Wall Street is vehemently against regulation.

    In fact, there’s a simple way to resolve derivative worries. Allow unlimited derivatives trading — but only by individuals and partnerships willing to personally take the risk of profits and losses…

    According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the notational value of derivatives at the end of 2011 was $648 trillion.

    The gross credit exposure from these securities was believed to be $3.912 trillion according to the BIS — that’s up from $3.5 trillion at the end of 2009.

    But what if the estimates are wrong? For instance, let’s say losses are just one tenth of one percent bigger than expected. Not a big deal, except in the context of international derivative levels that’s more than $640 billion.

    Do taxpayers have exposure? You bet. According to the FDIC, at the end of June 2012 all depository institutions held derivatives with a notational value of $224,998 trillion. However, such bets are not spread across the entire banking system. Banks with at least $10 billion in assets hold virtually all derivatives, securities with a notational value of $224.803 trillion. While the FDIC insures deposits in some 7,200 banks and savings associations, only 59 FDIC-insured institutions have deposits of more than $10 billion. Your little community bank, savings association or credit union likely has no derivatives department.

    Derivatives are simply bets. They finance no factories, no research, no colleges, no homes and no cars. Any jobs they produce are incidental and inconsequential relative to the potential risk they represent, the risk that credit exposure has been incorrectly figured by hundreds of billions of dollars if not more. Since big banks hold virtually all derivatives, and since taxpayers can face massive costs if big banks fail, it follows that something should be done to limit taxpayer risk….”

  35. r stolte

    Stoller’s polite view of the executive embarassment last night fails to capture the essence of the dismantling of the Obama image that had been installed by his handlers circa 2008.
    Euphemisms like “didn’t do well” and “did poorly” fell well short of the beat down ass kicking that actually took place.
    This was probably the first time Obama was publicly confronted by a take charge leadership style, and he crumbled. This may explain why he avoided Netanyahu, who projects a strong and compentent image, on Iran. This alpha male image pulverizing pathological narcissism delivers the clear message that we need true leadership instead of a teleprompter driven empty suit to deal with the horror that lies ahead.
    I’m not saying Romney is the right one, but based on what we know of Obama,he certainly is NOT.

    1. The Rage

      There is no ‘right’ one coming anytime soon. You have to understand, the problems are structural and acute.

      The post-boomer spending peak economy is here and you need to accept that. The economy needs major structural changes that do indeed, have some drawbacks and relations globally will change, and maybe not for the better.

      You whine about Obama and say he did “awful”. The truth is, he did nothing in a debate that meant anything. Once you understand that, you will understand useless posts like these are not worth it.

    2. The Rage

      NetinNetinyahoo presented what? He isn’t bold on anything. It is Israel that is the real enemy.

  36. FrankZappasGuitar

    As a fan of traditional kabuki and noh theatre, I thoroughly enjoy the show the United States government routinely gives the world. If only they would drop the pretense of “yes, yes, seriousness”, they could even add a dancing or singing competition!

  37. Philip Pilkington

    Regarding Stoller’s point that Obama is basically a narcissist that only cares about himself, I think the point is strong but the analysis slightly off. ALL politicians are narcissistic — in fact, all leaders are — but we should not understand this in the sense of serious pathology or borderline psychopathy, just an unusually high degree of narcissism. It’s required for the role. The question is to what extent they channel this narcissism into their “cause”. Because make no bones about it, when a leader — indeed, any person — champions a cause they are implicitly looking in the mirror and admiring what wonderful people they are.

    The reason that Obama comes off that he cares more about himself than even Clinton — who seemed to genuinely care about the issues more — is because Obama could not continue to channel his narcissism into the cause and bear the situation as it actually exists. Clinton could do this because, under his watch working Americans were doing better. Under Obama they are not and so his narcissism must flow into more immediate channels — his wife, his kids, his wit etc.

    1. dan

      This is a really great point. I would only add that Obama’s preference for the celebrity spotlight more than most further supports the argument that he never was and never will be a true progressive.

      1. Lambert Strether

        Celebrity is a cancer. I think that in the long run Occupy’s idea of a leaderless or rather leaderful movement will turn out to be correct. No single point of contact, no celebrity.

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