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Romney and Obama Go toe to Toe!

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Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Ephesus, Turkey

WATCHING THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

FROM HALF-WAY AROUND THE WORLD!

 You know you have a die-hard interest in politics when you must see the national presidential debate regardless of the major effort required to find a place to watch it. That was the situation last week, when I was in southern Turkey, just as the Turkish conflict with Syria was heating up. I was unable to tune into the debate on U.S. national networks or even CNN International. And even if I could have found a station carrying the debate, the time difference meant I would be watching at 3:00 am. No such stations beaming into Turkey could be found. Apparently, we are not as important in this part of the world as many in Washington may think.

 But when you’re a political junkie like me, and write about major issues facing the country in a weekly column and talk about them on a national radio show each weekend, you give it your best shot. I got up in the middle of the night, and found a BBC station that was carrying the entire presidential debate. Turkish black coffee and baklava would keep me up for what I anticipated to be a lively give and take confrontation by the President and Mitt Romney.

It wasn’t long into the debate before I wondered if I was still asleep and perhaps dreaming. The President was about as enthusiastic and focused as the chair Clint Eastwood portrayed him to be at the Republican National Convention. And to the die-hard Republican conservatives, Mitt Romney morphed to the center, agreeing with the President on numerous issues, and confirming to many on the right what they had suspected all along. Old Mitt wasn’t really in their corner after all. But at this stage of the campaign, many of these conservatives still support him as the lesser of the two evils.

The Obama team tried to paint Romney as an uncaring soulless ideologue. But that dog just would not hunt. Romney, time and time again, presented himself as a moderate who would work with Democrats to find a middle ground on key issues for both sides to support. He praised the warm relationship between Republican President Ronald Regan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neal. (I interviewed Tip O’Neal on a television show I hosted back in the 1990s. He had this to say about Reagan: “He was a real SOB during the day. But we would kick back in the evening, have a drink, and he charmed your socks off. It was hard to turn him down.”)

Romney confronted the President for not working with Republicans in congress, and pointed out that as governor of Massachusetts, he met with the democratic leadership every Monday morning. Yes, Romney did conveniently fail to mention that the Republican leadership in Washington vowed to oppose the President from day one. Remember Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell’s statement: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Still, it was a good “hit” by Romney. After all, it was a year and a half into his term in office before President Obama had a one on one meeting with House speaker John Boehner and McConnell. The bipartisanship offer by Romney sat well with a large number of independent voters watching, who were looking for a President who would “tone down” the rhetoric, and become more results oriented.

The Obama team had prepared the President for a conservative ideologue, but his opponent showed up as Governor Romney. This time, it was all about compassion, the middle class, and being a pragmatic president. “We’re a nation that believes that we’re all children of the same God, and we care for those that have difficulties.”Â  He spoke of finding more teachers. And not reducing government, but making it work more efficiently. He said that “regulation is essential.”

The Romney flip flopper label has worn well, comparing what Romney said in last week’s debate vs his changing positions during the primaries. Nevertheless, Romney’s rhetoric during the debate was well played to moderate independents, located in a handful of swing states.

And Romney on healthcare?  Guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, allow children to be covered up to the age of 26, eliminate restrictions on interstate insurance sales, and subsidies for those who cannot afford healthcare. Sounds awfully much like Obamacare to me. But just change the name, and moderate independents seem willing to eat it right up. Flimflam?  Probably. But it seems to be working.

So where was the President? He seemed otherwise engaged. On Medicare reform, Romney and Obama really offer the same numbers to make the program work. But you would not have known it from Obama’s weak defense. Social Security?  Obama said:  “I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.”Â  Man, did he blow a chance to score big here. Romney’s VP pick, Paul Ryan, has proposed privatizing Social Security. Older voters don’t want it touched. So the President says that he and Romney have a similar position?  Obama sure did miss a perfect chance to paint Romney into a corner and into the defensive.

Both candidates seemed to agree on no more deficits, lowering the tax rate but eliminating many deductions, and clean energy development. And with Obama seemingly disengaged, looking down at his notes, Romney’s forcefulness allowed him to win the day. In fact, style had a lot to do with Romney’s success. Not so much what he said as how he said it in what many believed to be a presidential way. You might say Romney had a triumph of style over content while the President was asleep at the switch.

The third debate, on October 16th, will be strictly about foreign policy. The president will have a lot to brag about (Osama Bin Laden), but also much explaining to do considering the turmoil taking place in much of the world. Romney will have to show competence in an area more unfamiliar to him. So there are still opportunities and dangers for both candidates.

Was the debate worth getting up in the middle of the night half-way around the world?  Certainly. We are talking about America’s future during uncertain times. With two more debates plus a vice presidential debate to go, I’ll be watching wherever I happen to be. And thanks to the BBC. The coffee, the baklava, and your programming made my night, and allowed me to stay engaged as a concerned American.

 ******

 “The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud that our political campaigns have become”¦ a format that defies meaningful discourse. They should be charged with sabotaging the electoral process.”-Walter Cronkite

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

 

 

 

 

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