For days in advance of Wednesday night’s presidential debate against Mitt Romney, President Obama’s team has been working on honing his answers and shooting for “crisp” answers.
As it turned out, brevity was more the soul of Mitt.
Obama showed up in his customary professor mode, prepared with lengthy walk-through replies on questions about the economy, the deficit and entitlement programs. In a forum built to provide equal time, Obama had spoken five full minutes more than Romney at the debate’s 65-minute mark. The run-on answers meant moderator Jim Lehrer had to cut one whole segment from the encounter.
Most of the night’s memorable lines came from Romney, who short-handed Obama’s approach to governing as “trickle-down government” and promised to cut government funding for things like public broadcasting even though he claimed to “love Big Bird.”
Romney characterized the decline in middle-class income as “the economy tax.”
“They're just being crushed,” Romney said, drawing out the word. “It's been crushing.”
On the upside for Obama, this is his actual personality. He gives complex answers on complex subjects — not a hard thing for his team to spin in the aftermath of the debate.
And Obama did get off a couple of sharp lines. He cued working Americans that they should worry about the future of Medicare by saying that, if listeners are “54 or 55, you might want to listen.” Obamacare is important to consumers, he said, because it keeps insurance companies from “jerking them around.”
But the real point the president was trying to drive home — that he will be more effective at protecting healthcare for Americans of every age — were contained somewhere within the essay answers that came after.
Oddly enough, at many points during the evening Romney looked like a lecturer himself, albeit one with a more rapid cadence and more individual points to make. He had been working on “zingers” in preparation for the debate.
Throughout much of the evening, Obama smiled, nodded and took notes. The genial demeanor was a far cry from the “you’re likable enough” line he’ll always regret zinging at Hillary Rodham Clinton during a 2008 primary debate.
And it may not be the worst thing in the world if his single most memorable line turns out to be the anniversary wish he gave to his wife from the stage at the outset of the evening.
A year from now, he promised her, they won’t be celebrating their anniversary “in front of 40 million people.”