Guess who showed up at the second presidential debate, President Barak Obama. As we all know he seemed pre-occupied at the first debate and was unable to really participate. The problem he has is that it is very difficult to fit into one debate all the points that your opponent has had two debates to make.
An old saying that holds true here is that when you are explaining you’re losing. On Libya and energy I felt the President was doing an awful lot of explaining. Because of his weak performance two weeks ago, he had to get all points from abortion and equal pay for women, to auto bail-out policy for Ohio, and immigration for Hispanics, especially in Florida, into his limited time during the one and a half hour of the debate. In my view, too many messages for one evening.
Gov. Romney was able to stick to his main message of jobs and the economy. At a few points he may have come off as somewhat of a bully; but I am not convinced that is so bad in a political leader. I am reminded of my days working in New York City and the leadership of Rudy Giuliani who was a genuine bully in his approach to governing the city. However, his bullying style was critical to his impressive record of success – saving New York City. While being a bully might not be a factor in choosing a best friend, it may be a good trait when dealing with the Iranian Ayatollahs, President Putin, or the Chinese leadership. I don’t think he hurt himself.
There has been a lot of unhappiness on the right caused by Candy Crowley interjecting herself between the candidates on the position the president took on the Libyan terror attack. In my view the problem isn’t so much what Crowley said, as the whole role the moderator plays in the current debate format. I heard Tom Brokaw interviewed recently when he stated when he was the moderator he made it clear he was not going to be a wallflower, yet that is exactly what is required.
In today’s media focused world the news reporters and anchors have become media personalities, and need to show their stuff when they moderate; and they are just about incapable of recognizing their own irrelevance to the process. Yet at a presidential debate, they are irrelevant to the decision making process the American people have to make, and in my view, their role should be to ask questions and keep time, and not become part of the story.
Finally, I think the topic constraints on the debates will end up being a real negative for the president. Having failed to score any points in the first debate, having to hit too many points in the second debate, President Obama will not be able to hit his points on autos, contraception, health care, and immigration in the third debate which will be focused on foreign policy. To make matters worse he will again have to explain the decision making process with respect to Libya, and as I said at the outset, when you are explaining, you’re losing. Not a good last impression for the president to leave on a very closely divided electorate.
Tom Block is a public policy consultant who had a 21-year career with JP Morgan Chase where he served as head of government relations in NYC and created a Washington research product. He also created the bank’s EU Government Relations program and developed a new position as U.S. Government Policy Strategist focusing on how U.S. government policy impacts capital markets. He has an extensive government and banking background, has worked on political campaigns and as a speech writer. He is a family trustee of Bernheim Aboretum in Louisville and holds a B.A. degree in political science from American University. He and his wife make their home in Kentucky. He is a regular contributor to KyForward. Contact him at email@example.com.