And They Meet Again

The major difference between last night’s debate and the first debate was President Obama’s performance.  Whereas last week the President seemed disinterested and weak, he was much stronger last night.  He spoke quickly and more clearly and there were fewer verbal ticks and hesitations.  Overall, he was much more confident.  Governor Romney also gave a strong, confident performance.  The town hall structure also allowed both candidates to utilize more expressive body language and several camera angles.  However, I think both candidates failed to connect with the audience as much as they might have hoped.  There were some tense moments between the candidates that were a bit uncomfortable to watch and I can only imagine what the atmosphere in the hall must have been like.  Showing that much aggression probably did not help to humanize them or make them more likable.  That should be a concern for both candidates as Romney has been characterized as being privileged and out of touch with the general population, while Obama has been criticized for being too aloof and even cold.  The body language of the audience was also interesting.  There were lots of crossed arms and legs at several points, possibly signaling that the audience was not “feeling” the candidates’ arguments.

That brings me to my next points about undecided voters and the goals that each candidate had going into the debate.  With only twenty days left until the election, the idea of the undecided voter is probably disappearing pretty rapidly.  I would argue that by this point, the majority of voters have made their decisions.  After all, the limitations of presidential debates don’t really give the candidates the ability to give in-depth explanations of their arguments or policies.  These debates boil down to tag-lines and sound bites.  Additionally, there are not a lot of new arguments or policy announcements in the debate.  Most of what was said last night are things that have already been presented or campaigned upon in stump speeches.  The real goals for both candidates last night dealt with motivating their own parties.  The President needed to make up lost ground from the last debate and re-energize a wounded Democratic party.  He needed to convince voters that lost interest and motivation in his campaign after the last debate to reconsider.  I think the real goal was not to persuade “undecided” voters, but to convince his own base to actually come out and vote for him.  As for Romney, he needed to keep his momentum going.  He also needed to unify his base.  The Republican primaries were contentious and there were many members of the GOP not pleased with the selection of Romney.  His goal was to then give Republicans a candidate the felt comfortable voting for and convince them to come out and vote for him instead of simply abstaining.

I think that both candidates met these goals.  Obama was much more aggressive than in the first debate.  He made offensive arguments, defended the progress made during his administration, and really challenged Romney’s record (i.e. The 47% comments and Romney’s “flip-flopping”).  For his part, Romney did not let the President off the hook easily.  There was more clash within this debate ( particularly within the energy independence question and the Libya question).  He kept a consistent message and was able to distinguish himself from President George W. Bush in a way that wouldn’t alienate members of his party.

With these things said, I think that Obama won the debate (by a slim margin).  Part of his victory lies within the fact that this debate was not nearly as much of a face-crush as the last.  Additionally, he successfully made up the most ground and met what were probably the larger and more challenging goals.

If you missed the debate, this website has the links to both the full transcript and video; as well as the schedule for the upcoming final debate.

As always, happy debating!


The Wingmen Take Center Stage

While the influence and significance of Vice Presidential debates has been questioned, it would be fair to say that tonight’s debate was fairly important.  Vice President Biden was faced with the task of reinvigorating the Obama campaign after last week’s debate, while Representative Ryan needed to prove himself as a qualified candidate.  To these ends, both candidates had different strategies and ways of conducting themselves.

The consensus has been that last week’s debate was a pretty big loss for President Obama and his campaign.  Vice President Biden and campaign staffers definitely had this in mind as they worked on debate prep.  The biggest objective Biden needed to accomplish was to make up for lost ground in last week’s debate.  He needed to defend the President’s record and be more aggressive in the debate than the President was.  He also needed to challenge the narrative of the Romney-Ryan campaign.  The Vice President accomplished all of these goals.  He was definitely more aggressive than the President was last week, making more offensive arguments and even going so far as to interrupt Representative Ryan several times.  He also defended the administration on Medicare, the stimulus plan, job creation, economic growth, and foreign policy actions.  Another important line Biden pursued was challenging the Romney-Ryan campaign record.  He riffed on some of the flip-flopping that the campaign has been accused of.  He also waxed poetic on Governor Romney’s “47%” comments, something that Obama was criticized for not doing.  Overall, Biden set the stage for Obama to be more aggressive in Tuesday’s debate.

While Ryan has acquired debate experience during his 14 years in Congress, this was his first time on the stage in the national spotlight.  His biggest goal was to prove that he was fit for the job.  I believe that he did that.  He handled himself very well and had clear, well explained arguments.  He avoided any major gaffes or missteps and showed Americans that he was ready for the job.  He also needed to stick to the consistent message the Governor Romney presented in last week’s debate and he did just that.  Since last week’s debate was focused on domestic issues, this was the first time the Romney-Ryan campaign got to speak about foreign policy issues.  Ryan did a solid job of outlining the foreign policy stance of his campaign. In fact, I think Ryan did a better job answering the Syria and Iran questions than Biden.  Basically, Ryan’s job was to add fuel to the fire of the reinvigorated Romney campaign and he did just that.

Since the candidates had different goals, there were some marked differences in how they handled themselves.  Like I said before, Biden was much more aggressive that Obama.  He put Ryan on the defense more than Obama ever put Romney on the defense, especially on Medicare and tax policy.  He also was much quicker than Obama in making specific arguments and using “facts” and citations (I use the word facts cautiously because, as always, both candidates need to undergo aggressive fact-checking.)  The Vice President was also much quicker and clearer than the President.  His answers were much more coherent.  The biggest issue for Biden could be the smirking.  On several occasions he had a wide grin on his face and even went so far as to laugh at Ryan’s arguments.  His goal was to appear more confident and discredit the arguments Ryan was making.  It’s not unusual for debaters to do this to perceptually try to discredit an opponent’s argument.  However, it should be done cautiously to avoid appearing overconfident, rude, or condescending.  The base will of course enjoy Biden’s smirk.  It will be perceived as a sign of confidence that the President never presented last week.  Conservatives will criticize it as dismissive and condescending.  Biden pushed the line between confident and condescending, so it will be interesting to see if that has any impact on undecided voters.

Ryan was very respectful and kept his cool.  Biden was hoping to throw him off by interrupting him, but Ryan handled it better that Biden had probably hoped.  It is also worth noting that the two candidates were more cordial to each other than Obama and Romney.  This could be attributed to the fact that both candidates served in Congress together at the same time.  Ryan also did a good job of putting Biden on the defensive on foreign policy issues.  While he didn’t have the same theatrics as Biden, Ryan was collected and confident.

On a more general note, this debate was much funnier than the first.  The two candidates were not afraid to riff on each other.  Biden made a comment about the Romney campaign maybe not being the most consistent and Ryan responded with a line of his own about Obama’s disappointing performance in the first debate.  I appreciate the little jabs.  They certainly liven up what could otherwise be a pretty boring debate.

The bottom line is that both candidates did their job in this debate.  Ryan delivered a confident performance that solidified his place on the national stage.  Biden eased the wounds of the President’s performance last week.  Overall, this debate was clearer, better structured, better moderated, and more entertaining than last week.

The next debate is Tuesday, October 16.  The presidential debate will be a town meeting format covering both domestic and foreign policy.

Additionally, if you missed a debate or would like to rewatch a debate this website has both full length videos and transcripts.

Vice Presidential Debate: Tonight!


Just a reminder that the Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan is occuring tonight.  The topic is both foreign and domestic policy.  The debate will begin at 9 PM ET ( 8 PM CT) and will be broadcast on all major networks.

Don’t forget to tweet about it as well! Tell us your thoughts about the debate as it happens! Just use the hashtag #mck2012 when you tweet.

Happy debating!

Round One

While President Obama was the favorite heading into Wednesday night’s debate, Governor Romney left Denver with the victory.  The word to describe Romney’s strategy last night is “vague.”  Romney was quick to criticize the President’s policies, but when asked about his own was short on specifics.  There was also a difference in the way the candidates presented themselves.  Romney was quick and confident (although there was a disappointing lack of zingers) while Obama appeared more hesitant.

The first segment of the debate dealt with the differences between the two candidates’ policies on job creation.  Obama looked towards the tax code and tried to back Romney into a corner on his tax plans.  The President accused Romney’s plan of costing $7 trillion through a $5 trillion tax cut and $2 trillion in additional military spending.   Romney’s response was that he would close loopholes and deductions…but we are left in the dark about which loopholes and deductions he would actually close.  In the end, the issue came down to Romney asserting that his plan would lower the tax rate on middle income families, promote small business, and that his plan would cost nothing in the end.  We never get a clear explanation of what that plan is.

Next, the candidates tackled the issue of the deficit.  Romney said that he would reduce the deficit by lowering spending for unnecessary government programs without raising taxes.  As if Jim Lehrer wasn’t having a rough enough night already, one of the only specific programs Romney said he would cut was PBS.  Romney also attacks Obama on the Simpson-Bowles plan.  He argued that Obama should have supported the plan more aggressively since it was a truly bipartisan solution.  Of course Romney himself preferences his plan over Simpson-Bowles; but, again we are left wondering what exactly Romney’s plan is.  This same sort of argument is made again when the Dodd-Frank regulations come up.  Romney said that he likes some of the regulations but thinks that Dodd-Frank should be repealed and replaced with something else, no clarification on what that something else is.

When it came to healthcare Romney was at his most specific and this was Obama’s biggest victory in the debate.  Romney said that he supports turning Medicare into a voucher system, a position that is deeply unpopular with elderly voters in swing states.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Obama campaign will capitalize on those statements.  If you live in Florida, expect to see those ads running soon (if they aren’t already).

The best way to summarize Romney’s strategy is that he heavily criticized what is happening under Obama in the status quo without offering a clear explanation of his own counter-plan.  It is easy to make claims that the United States will be better once you’re elected when you aren’t bogged down in the specific details of your plan and their unpleasant consequences.  Additionally, Romney was much quicker with a list of statistics and anecdotes than Obama.  Although both candidates need to undergo an intensive round of fact checking, it is much easier to win when you can quickly rattle off a string of arguments that go largely unchallenged.  Obama does a terrible job of answering Romney’s arguments.  His response should have been to defend his first term in office and he never did that.

Governor Romney was also smart to appeal to moderates and independents.  That is absolutely what he should have been doing.  He reclaimed his record of bipartisanship in Massachusets and said that he would be willing to pursue bipartisan solutions if elected.  Romney was also smart to appeal to the middle class when explaining his tax plans and plans for job creation.  If he sticks to these messages, Governor Romney stands a chance of winning some of the important undecided vote.

A part of any public speaking event is presentation.  Romney was energetic, aggressive, and confident.  For his part, Obama tried to play it cool and collected; maybe he wanted to appear above the fray of today’s combative politics or maybe, as some have suggested, he was trying to avoid the “angry black man” stereotype.  Either way, Obama did not challenge Romney nearly enough.  He came off as flustered and complacent.  Frankly, I was not particularly convinced President Obama wanted the job.  Obama has always been a slow speaker, but in this instance his slowness came across as hesitation and uncertainty when compared to Romney’s confident manner.

Certainly last night’s debate was a learning experience for both candidates.  For Romney, he should stick to the message he presented last night and continue to heavily criticize the President’s actions.  Obama should should give detailed explanations of his policies but be more aggressive with Romney.  It will be interesting to see how both sides adapt their strategies for their next debate.

The next debate is the Vice Presidential debate, which promises to be a real treat.  Until then, happy debating!


34 Days

Welcome to McKendree Debates 2012!

My name is Amanda Walker and I am a junior International Relations major at McKendree University.  I am also a member of McKendree’s excellent Debate and Speech team.  I will be following the upcoming debates and sharing my analysis of them here.  Check back here for an update after every debate (and maybe some updates on McKendree’s own debaters).

As the race for the White House enters its final month, both campaigns are digging in and gearing up for a final push.  An important part of this final stretch are the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates.  These debates offer a chance for voters to directly compare the candidates and their policies.  The purpose of this blog is to objectively analyze these debates.  What sort of strategies do the candidates use? How do they present themselves and their ideas? What were the key arguments each candidate made (or needed to make)? And since this is America, who won?

The first debate takes place Wednesday 10/03 at 9:00 PM ET (8:00 PM CT).  The topic is domestic policy.  The debate will be aired on all major networks (FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, MSNBC, CNBC, and FOX NEWS).

If you’re like me and can’t wait, here is a helpful guide to the first debate.

Happy viewing!