Romney Won on Style, Not Substance

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It's not surprising that Mitt Romney won last night's debate, but he did so on style; not substance. He took command of the stage and worked President Obama's defensive strategy in his favor. He didn't provide voters with enough domestic policy specifics to help them cast an informed ballot in November.

Romney's answers were too vague and at some points were verbatim repeats of his campaign commercials. The public wants clarity, but Romney doesn't seem to be listening. Specifics are important because they will help voters prospectively evaluate his presidential potential. The president has the same nebulous propensity, but voters can retrospectively evaluate his past performance to predict the direction of a second term. Past history is a good indicator of future political behavior.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Stylistically, Romney's forceful tone helped a lot. He took control of the stage, and tied all his answers back to his larger job growth narrative. His preparation worked in his favor, but we'll have to see how he performs during the next two debates and campaigns for the remainder of the season. If he turns the crates of lemons he dropped over the summer into cases of lemonade, he'll have a good shot at being the 45th U.S. president.

Overall, this was yet another orchestrated, rehearsed political event. The current presidential debate model is too antiquated for the social media age. Last night's format harks back to an age when television was nascent. It's time for debate organizers to innovate, make them more exciting, use social media, and also give other talented media professionals an opportunity to moderate. Jim Lehrer is a phenomenal journalist, but the steamrolling he got from the candidates last night begs the question of whether or not someone else could have managed the conversation better.

[See a Slideshow of 7 Memorable Presidential Debate Moments.]

CNN's Candy Crowley said it best: Debates are about the candidates, not about voters. It's time to change this dynamic. Give the responsibility of organizing the debates to a nonpartisan entity. Firewall them from meddling political consultants who want to want to tangle them up in more marionette string than the budget deficit. Make debates about promoting the common good of elections. Up until 1984, debates were the responsibility of the League of Women's voters; they stopped that year because the presidential candidates sought to dictate every aspect of the proceedings. And that's what we have today: Ziegfeld Follies of HDTV split-screen wonk-talk.

Jamie Chandler

About Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College

Romney, Mitt
Obama, Barack
2012 presidential election

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