Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The First Presidential Debate 2012

Photo: AFP
Tonight marked the first presidential debate of the 2012 election season. Communication Studies scholars along with speech and debate coaches and students have written nonpartisan critiques regarding the challenges, triumphs, and big takeaways:

Professor Pfister, Rhetoric and Public Culture:
The format of this debate was a disaster. The moderator Jim Lehrer's
attempts to move things along were half-hearted, and he was ultimately
run over by the candidates. It's unfortunate, because there were
several "segments" that could have been discussed more in depth. That
said, a more freewheeling exchange did enable Obama and Romney to
provide rich contrasts between their respective positions. The
candidates' approach to the debate was evidenced by the direction they
looked: Romney usually looked straight at Obama, attacking his policy
directly; Obama usually looked right at the camera, appealing to the
American people.

Mitt Romney was--as expected, and as needed--fairly aggressive in the
debate. While we were primed to hear some real "zingers," no line was
nearly as memorable as "there you go again." Romney was very good on
specifics--identifying regulations he thought were unnecessary and
suggesting changes in the tax code that might stimulate job growth.
The problem for Romney in this debate is that many of his positions
have seemed to shift again--if the Obama campaign is smart, they will
run advertisements that compare Romney's positions in the debate with
his positions on the campaign trail, with his positions in the
Republican primary, and with his positions when he was governor of

Barack Obama's performance was classic "don't lose the game." Ahead in
most major polls and in the battleground states, Obama was
(ironically) conservative in his approach to the debate. The strongest
point for Obama came when he pressed on Romney's proposed
alternatives: what would Romney do to replace the regulations on Wall
Street? or how would Romney replace the Affordable Care Act (aka
Obamacare)? what deductions would Romney eliminate in order to pay for
his tax cuts? Obama's line about how Romney's plans must be so good
for the middle class that we can't talk about them is perhaps the most
memorable line of the night. But compared to Romney's energy, Obama
seemed listless and disengaged. Expect the Romney campaign to pounce
upon the need for new energy to revive bipartisan cooperation to solve
America's most pressing problems.

Photo: Rick Wilking, AP

Jessy Ohl, PhD Student in Rhetoric and Public Culture:
The most astute analysis that I heard of the first presidential debate came from CBS news anchor Scott Pelley immediately after the closing remarks when he stated “the only casualty tonight was the format.” Supports of both candidates should agree that the first debate was not particularly productive from a democratic standpoint. Neither side seemed willing to answer direct questions, list specifics, or follow the agreed upon time limits. Ultimately, the American voter was the loser of the first debate.

Dr. Aaron Duncan, Director of Speech and Debate:
The first presidential debate did as much to point out the problems inherent in our media system, as did to inform us about the differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.  In a night when both candidates kept closely to script and gave truncated versions of their stump speeches, members of the media chose not to than discuss the substantive differences between the two the debate highlighted,  but rather chose to focus on questions like “who had more energy?” and “whose answers sounded the crispest?”  The later being an especially odd choice, since it evaluates presidential candidates on the same scale used to evaluate lays potato chips.   Let’s hope that voters are more concerned with policies than potato chips when casting their ballots this November. 

Daniel Wheaton, Daily Nebraskan:
The first presidential debate on Oct. 3, had each candidate focus on different frames. Gov. Mitt Romney attacked with specifics, while President Barack Obama defended with generalities. Through the entire debate, Romney provided specifics on his economic policy and his opinions on healthcare and education. Riding off of a stream of gaffes, Romney used this opportunity to regain momentum lost during September. When asked about the deficit, Romney described it as a “moral issue.” Romney’s attacks followed the traditional Republican method. He voiced his support for fewer regulations, lower taxes and a diminished role of government. Obama repeatedly used emotional arguments to support his points, aiming to draw in less political audiences. Obama and Romney appeared to be gunning for different audiences: Romney was looking to convince moderates and liberals disenfranchised by the past four years, while Obama sought to convince people less involved in the process. This debate appears to be a draw. This boils down to the fundamental differences between each person’s economic or social opinions.
Photo: Getty Images

Stay tuned as we are continuing to add more critiques! Be sure to also add your own comments below!