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Robert Reich
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Thursday 4 October 2012
The question now is whether Team Obama understands that our President must be more aggressive and commanding in the next two debates — and be unafraid to respectfully pin Romney to the floor.

The First Presidential Debate

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In Wednesday night’s debate, Romney won on style while Obama won on substance. Romney sounded as if he had conviction, which means he’s either convinced himself that the lies he tells are true or he’s a fabulous actor.

But what struck me most was how much Obama allowed Romney to get away with: Five times Romney accused Obama of raiding Medicare of $716 billion, which is a complete fabrication. Obama never mentioned the regressiveness of Romney’s budget plan — awarding the rich and hurting the middle class and the poor. He never mentioned Bain Capital, or Romney’s 47 percent talk, or Romney’s “carried-interest” tax loophole. Obama allowed Romney to talk about replacing Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act without demanding that Romney be specific about what he’d replace and why. And so on.

I’ve been worried about Obama’s poor debate performance for some time now. He was terrible in the 2008 primary debates, for example. Expectations are always high — he’s known as an eloquent orator. But when he has to think on his feet and punch back, he’s not nearly as confident or assured as he is when he is giving a speech or explaining a large problem and its solution. He is an educator, not a pugilist, and this puts him at a disadvantage in any debate.

Romney stayed on script. If you look at a transcript of his remarks you’ll see that he repeated the same lines almost word for word in different contexts. He has memorized a bunch of lines, and practiced delivering them. The overall effect is to make him seem assured and even passionate about his position. He said over and over that he cares about jobs, about small businesses, and ordinary Americans. But his policies and his record at Bain tell a very different story.

The question now is whether Team Obama understands that our President must be more aggressive and commanding in the next two debates — and be unafraid to respectfully pin Romney to the floor.

This article was originally posted on Robert Reich's blog.

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ABOUT Robert Reich


ROBERT B. REICH, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at Robert Reich's new film, "Inequality for All" is available on DVD
and blu-ray, and on Netflix in February.

I think some people have

I think some people have misinterpreted my criticism of the President's performance in the debate.

Obama should have spent a lot more time preparing for the debate than he did; that much was obvious. But he has to acknowledge the power of appearance to sway undecided voters. To me, anyone who hasn't decided by this time, is going more by gut than by brain, and what I am saying is that Romney's performance would wow that kind of voter, so I think now they'll be moving to his corner.

I really can't think that Obama's frowning and distracted performance is part of some grand strategy. This first debate was focused on domestic issues, and it should be apparent to all that domestic issues would be the President's strongest argument against a plutocrat like Romney. So, if Obama couldn't (or wouldn't) blow away his opponent in the first debate, would he really knock him out on foreign issues?

(Most voters are concerned primarily about the economy and jobs and the survival of the "safety net," so-called.)

Reich had observed Obama in his debates with McCain. I had, too, and that's why I worried that Romney would overwhelm him in the debates.

Republicans seem to be appealing to their mass base on the level of personal characteristics. I've seen some of the most degrading and insulting depictions of the President, in words and in drawings, and it makes me furious, but it seems many voters are so brainless that such propaganda appeals to them.

I vote for the candidate whose principles are the most closely aligned to my own AND who will do the most for me, quite frankly. I can understand why millionaires support Romney, because he's one of them, fighting for them; but why in Heaven's name would a working man or woman support Romney? Only if they vote from their gut, or their emotions, and definitely not their brain.

I am voting for Obama because I vote from the brain, but if he wants to win this election, he has to make a much better effort to appeal to the many who vote from their emotions, not reasoned thought. This is confronting the reality of voting in America. Romney is a liar and a hypocrite, but he's also an accomplished actor and he "performed" well in the debate, whereas Obama appeared nervous, frustrated and distracted. You can't do that on TV and expect to win elections. That's unfortunate, but we all know it's true. If Obama doesn't want to lose this election, and millions of average Americans NEED him, he'd better do a much better job in his remaining debates with Willard.

Be sure and put all of your

Be sure and put all of your focus on the two figureheads who have been pre-selected for you.

Do Not Waver From That Focus!!!

old hat, The debate was

old hat, The debate was unfair because Romney lied and bullied. It looked like to me Obama was trying not to lose his temper. RMoney was a bullying CEO who fired PBS, Amtrack and Big Bird on national television.

We saw CEO-style bullying.

We saw CEO-style bullying. It's how Romney got rich. Lie with a straight face, interrupt and discount everyone as beneath you. Demand the last word on everything. Act like you know what you're talking about even when you don't. Change opinions at will. CEOs can get away with that stuff because "The boss ain't always right, but he's always boss." It's also why CEOs make terrible Presidents.

How to deal with a CEO bully? Interrupt him, stand up to every lie when spoken. Don't back down. A CEO is used to talking down to staff. Let them know early on that YOU are not staff. Government can't be operated like a for-profit fiefdom.

It's not surprising that gentleman Obama was taken aback for awhile by the CEO bullying. He expected a real debate, rather than a monologue of lies from Romney. But Jim Lehrer was most to blame for leaving the CEO bully free. He's the real loser of the debate.

We tend to rate debates like sports events, awarding the "win" to the dominant participant who "scored the most points," regardless of the merit or veracity of their argument. In real debating, it is the merit of the arguments that carries the day. And for President of the United States, the people, at the end of the debate should ask themselves "Which one of these cares about me and will act in my interests." That's still, hands-down, President Obama.

I could not agree more about

I could not agree more about Mitt Romney's CEO bullying style. Sometimes I wish it could be made clearer that we either build a stronger government, or like healthcare in America we let it be corporate controlled. Corporate control raises prices to pay CEOs' and share holders. Once a monopoly health systems like Duke Hospital, charge ridiculous sums because they can. I have worked for the govt. and for corporations. Corporations I have found do not make good employers. The soul is lost in the bottom line. Romney is "trickle down" That did what it was intended to do. Syphon the money out of the working class. It is a kind of terrorism. Enough! Do we build a stronger fairer govt ( yes, the privileged are way behind on paying their share) or do we have more corporate control???

Many good posts. I think in

Many good posts. I think in this debating sphere, the pundits look for fluff because there is little else, as the issues weren't considered as important as the possibility of a really good fight with maybe a knockout punch. This is good stuff for the major networks, including PBS-- but not for me. Once we go there in this way in judging who will lead us we've descended into Roman games and circus. I'd rather get angry and teach those about me, perhaps in small ways, how to survive and to think about what are the things that matter in that endeavor aside from what's seen on the tube. Quick fights to the death will get those at the bottom little except fostering a belief in instant gratification, which always beget more wishes for instant gratification.

The whole exercise was a

The whole exercise was a puppet show. romney had nothing to lose and everything to gain by coming off loud and assertive. The rules of the debate constrained the nature of the sparring such as it was. Obama has to maintain decorum..... he's the president of the USA. No amount of romney's posturing or blustering his way through a debate is going erase his unambiguous membership in the plutocratic class, his history of being a bully, a chickenhawk, his callouness towards his pets, a vulture capitalist and his history, reinforced last night, of willingness to say anything at all, regardless of it's connection to reality, to be accepted by his audience. I would take some pleasure in seeing Obama saw him off at the knees in the next debate nonetheless. Even Republicans don't like him.

Maybe the Democrats know that

Maybe the Democrats know that the economy is going to get a lot worse, and they're going to concede the race so in four years the Republican party will look like it did in 1930.

I mean Romney has no plan. It's the same old cut taxes for the rich, delete entitlements, convince people that they are more American working longer, harder, and for less.

If Romney wins, he's going to inherit a similar economy that Obama inherited. And the world economy, for many reasons, is never again going to grow like it did in the last 200 years. In fact, it will recede.

I was also disgusted with

I was also disgusted with Romney's smarmy phony benevolence, all of a sudden, with the poor and the middle class. If he said there were "crushed, being crushed, crushing" once he said it ten times. Obama could have exposed Romney's ( the new Romney?) with the 47 per cent remarks at least once. It isn'g easy to dismiss that video, and it would have put those words back in poeple's minds immediately.

There is no one perfect

There is no one perfect handled in any government only what we do is give them a chance to move and forward,President Obama can do it!

Robert, Has no one here heard


Has no one here heard of "Rope-a-Dope?" Let Romney have his time of wishful hope for power. The smiling empty suit of vacuity and greed gets his round or two, so that when he ends up on the floor, out of consciousness, no one feels sorry for his sorry butt. I would suggest that this debate non-performance by Obama was a very carefully crafted, foxy strategy to give Romney enough rope to hang himself. He grabbed the rope with flippy-flop statements trying to make himself sound like a combo Clinton Democrat/Ron Paul Libertarian. Those statements are now on record for Obama hard jabs during the 2nd debate and the knock out punches of the 3rd debate.

Yes, it was disheartening. Re

Yes, it was disheartening. Re the 47% - I think the reason Obama stayed away from it was that he knew Romney would have spent a lot of time preparing a really plausible excuse/explanation for the remark. However, that speaks to a lack of confidence and, frankly, cojones to grapple with Romney on it.

Afraid Romney did best (if

Afraid Romney did best (if largely untruthful) in the first debate:

What we and the electorate must remember is that Romney is a captive (as is the Repug party ) of the Tea-Party . As President he would be utterly beholden to them, who would not permit him to govern in anyway other than as supporting their misguided austerity program; which I believe, will ultimately drive into the streets the millions of poor and once middle class sufferers .

Hard for us to remember that as of now one in six children in the country are hungry !!!

ABRAZOS, y Por ahora, chao. -donDonaldo (Porter)
36 Coult Lane, Old Lyme, CT 06371
860-434-5487 Cell 860-367-1175

the debates are unfair to bho

the debates are unfair to bho because he is not allowed his teleprompter

Why should the President

Why should the President stand there and argue with a lire????All the junk Romney says has been fact checked and it is crap. I think the Pres should have went out to dinner with his wife for their anniversary and left Romney on stage..he could the word of the ventriloquist Jeff Dunham.... argued with himself. Then he would have really won. I would not want some of the people who are crabbing this morning to have my back They are to easily swayed by the enemy side. He can not undo some of the things they are blabbering about with out the cooperation of the congress and we all know how that has been going and if you do not shame on you and do not tell me another thing ,,,you are uneducated and do not know what you are talking about.

So much is being said, I

So much is being said, I don't have much to add. Only that when I'm confronted by a sociopath, I feel disheartened. I have the sinking feeling that nothing I say will have any effect and nothing I do will mean anything. I read those feelings on our presidents face and posture last night. There are things he can learn and do about this with a little help. Here's my simple advice: get angry, speak freely, trust yourself to get it right. No one is better equipped for this than you.

Excellent point. There is a

Excellent point. There is a point where the argument is so ridiculous that you get lost in disbelief. It's somewhat paralyzing...knowing there's no way to fight a liar.
People will believe what they want to believe. And, unfortunately, too many people want to believe lies.

You are so right and now that

You are so right and now that he sees the stance Romney is being advised and trained to take, he needs to do exactly as you say; "get angry, speak freely" and trust that he will get in right. This is an extremely bright and thoughtful man and I think he is also a quick study, so I look forward to a much livelier debate next time.

O.K. The Shoot From The Hip

O.K. The Shoot From The Hip style doesn't work against a well prepared parrot, so take off the gloves, forget the politesse and go for the jugular. give the people the locker room speech before the second half. Tell them what is working. Tell them the weaknesses in the opposition's playbook and exploit spades.

You were hit by the same play 5 times and you didn't adjust. That is a recipe for failure....and we know better. Respect your opponent.. and then beat him with his own lack of understanding, his own poor grasp of economic reality. He actually believes $250,000 is the median income of the mythical middle-class, for #@$$^'s sake! Remind him of the economic rebuilding after the Depression that built the middle class, returned the U.S. to solvent nation. Remind him what the tax levels were that made that happen. Remember the G.O.P. deals in fear mongering. Primarily because they know that much of their platform is outrageous and is built on a fabric of lies that, when exposed, would dismay a reasonable populace.

We have always been a "can-do" nation. We'll provide the "can", but Mr. President, you must provide the "do"!

One successful debate does

One successful debate does not a President make. Yes Romney can talk a good talk and tell people what they want to hear but I do think that the American people are not as naive as he thinks of them and that they can see through him more that he thinks. After all what looks like a duck and quacks like a duck will always be a duck no matter how well he is able to pretend to be anything else.

I waited and waited for the President to come alive, he had chances to bring up the 47% and didn't. I have a feeling it is all a well thought out plan to leave the best for last. After all there are two more debates to come and he intentionally planned to let Romney bring up all his plans and half truths first and then throw them back in his face in the end with no chance to defend or deny.

I have a theory that Obama

I have a theory that Obama knew what he was doing by letting Romney win the first round. The GOP had let it be known that they were willing to dump Romney because of all his missteps, etc. and put all their money and resources into keeping the House . Now it could be that the strategy was to let them think that Romney is worth fighting for. While Obama has so many segments of the population on his side, women, Latino, black, Ohio, auto workers, teachers, environmental, gay, etc. etc. perhaps it was worth the gamble to make Romney appear to be worth spending their GOP money on.

I did not watch the debate,

I did not watch the debate, but listened to it. (one of the advantages of having no TV).

My radio stayed on the whole time, but I listened inattentively after the first 20-minutes or so. I was hearing a polished salesman driving home the pitch for HIS bad idea, while a slightly disinterested alternative salesman was going through the motions to say 'well, his product is not what he says it is, so maybe you are interested in my own questionable product'. I also came away thinking about how poorly great teams play in the first game in the big playoff series, because they blew away their earlier opponent in a 4-0 series sweep and have sat and watched for weeks before going up against a team that is motivated and has been applying their playing skills during those weeks. It takes a while to spool up.

The overall picture (to me) was Romney has now shown he will continue to play the smile-and-lie game, selling snake oil and hoping the voters are dumb enough to not ask themselves 'wait a minute, what about all those jobs you sent down the Bain?'. No surprises. Certainly some (on the Obama side) hoped he would come out looking like a timid rookie next to the great sitting President, but we should not have expected that, given his oft-demonstrated capacity to look past his own lies. If Romney REALLY wanted to win sustainably, he needed to get into facts and disclosures, show he has something new to spark a reason to be elected. He did not do this. At all.

I have a lot of faith in Obama. He made some good points but, most importantly, he took a few splashes of cold water to the face. He will wake up; he will fight back. We need to fight with him. Get Obama reelected and make sure he focuses his second term on restoring our government, reclaiming our country from the tiny but controlling moneyed elites.

I have nothing to add except

I have nothing to add except to say that Mr. Reich has summed up the situation handily.

I smell a rat! The two

I smell a rat! The two annointed parties met privately with the Federal Election Commission (sounds official doesn't? It's not a function of our government but another egg-sucking corporation with a friendly sounding name!) to set the questions for the debate, among other nefarious things. This whole debate show was another set-up to make us think that our votes matter anymore. They don't because groups like ALEC are so powerful and are actually the ones writing our laws now. Another big problem I had with the sham was that it was not a complete and fully represented panel of debaters. Doesn't it bother anyone that the Green Party or any other party wasn't represented? Luckily the awesome team at Democracy Now did an expanded debate where they stopped the recording after Obama or Romney spoke and asked the same questions of the Justice and Green candidates. It was incredible to see the true spectrum of what our country has to offer us. I urge you thinking people to see what they are about. The Green New Deal has clear, concise plans that could lead us out of this quagmire, party and politics be damned.

I think R.S. Becker is on to

I think R.S. Becker is on to something...

RMoney is by birth (as an entitled rich f*ck), training (MBA/Law) and his sociopathic personality predisposed to internalize and completely believe the big Lies that he tells...the Trickle Down bullsh*t that has been conclusively shown to be a failure over the last 32+ years...

Obama, on the other hand, used to have a Progressive outlook and probably still does believe down deep in Progressive values and policies. But he's insanely ambitious and found it necessary in the Corporate States of America to abandon his core values in hopes of gaining some crumbs from the table by "playing the game" -- in other words, play an "expedient" role. And he's NEVER been convincing in THAT role...

As Lakoff nearly says (and RMoney would NEVER agree), the real ROLE of "government" in the democratic sense (not the PARTY for Dog's sake but the concept of democratic self-rule) is to select representatives of the People to do the People's work for the benefit of the People.

USAmerica ain't even close...

Mitt Romney won the first

Mitt Romney won the first Presidential debate the old fashion way, he lied. President Obama was placed at a distinct disadvantage because Mitt Romney Simply lied to his advantage. Unfortunately there are no fact checkers to keep candidates on the up and up during a debate. Obama led with his chin the entire night. The President looked a lot like Jake LaMotta the night he took a dive for the Mob in his fight against a schmuck named Billy Fox. I can still hear that Mob boss telling Jake "This ain't your night."

What surprised me most was that Obama never mentioned the excruciatingly callous remarks Romney made about the 47% or Romney's shameful tenure at Blaine Capital during which he destroyed American companies and sent thousands of jobs overseas. It seems that Romney is far more adept at outsourcing jobs than he is at creating them.

My question is will Obama pass the *"chin check" in the second debate?

* chin check- the ability to take a punch and deliver punishment to your opponent

Romney was Romney in full CEO

Romney was Romney in full CEO mode - the bully in the playground. And Obama was the bullied kid - dazed by his opponent's ferocity, timid in the face of his taunts to fight back. Obama, has been an unusually cocooned president - wrapped in his reasonableness, powers of rational analysis, his enigmatic background. He can be impressive when he has the podium to himself (as he was before the UN General Assembly), but he's no good in a dogfight, as he's shown in his non-advocacy of Obamacare, Bowles-Simpson, mortgage relief, consumer rights expansion, the Afghanistan buildup, Wall Street regulation, and so on. When he sticks his nose out, it usually gets bloodied - first Bibi, now Mitt. Like him or not, Romney seemed fully himself during the debate. Obama didn't seem to know who he, the president, really was. He was literally "beside himself." A depressing night, best expressed by the face of Jim Lehrer - old, exhausted, bright eyes staring into the void, and utterly ineffectual.

I was afraid it might come to

I was afraid it might come to this: a lackluster performance by Obama in the debate. The debate on the domestic issues was his best chance to blow Romney away, and he flubbed it.

I don't think it was because of lack of conviction or anything like that. He just seemed ill at ease during the debate, frowned most of the time, and when Romney was delivering his happy-talk spiel he just kept looking at his notes, as if he was distracted. I don't think Obama is a good debater, and he should have practiced a lot more than he did.

Aside from his letting Romney get away without hitting him with the facts, he just did not come across well on the stage. Romney has all of this experience from the many debates he had in the primaries, and he studied arduously for this debate; he knew what he had to do, and sad to say, he succeeded. He looked at ease, confident, affirmative, and he came across as positive, whereas Obama looked hesitant, nervous, frowning, and sometimes even distracted.

When debating before TV cameras you have to have a winning style, regardless of content, and Obama lacked that completely. I really think that if the next 2 debates are like this, Romney is a shoo-in.

Questions: When Romney was giving his act of compassion about suffering Americans, why didn't Obama ask if they were part of the "47%"? When Romney kept saying that Obama was "stealing" 716 billion from Medicare, why did he let him get away with that? When Romney was looking at the TV cameras and orating on his pious resolve to create jobs, why didn't Obama hit him about Bain's record of losing jobs, plus Romney's sad record at creating jobs in Massachusetts?

It was painful to watch. I had to admit this: If I knew nothing about Romney, his right-wing support and Bush-rehash tax policies, his rotating ideology, I would have been persuaded by Romney's positive performance to vote for him. I almost turned it off before it was over. I hated Obama's looking down at his notes while Romney was speaking, whereas Romney had a silly grin while watching Obama speak.

I'm voting early, and for Obama, but I was really pissed at his performance in this debate. I had forebodings it might come down to this.

"Romney says 47% of Americans

"Romney says 47% of Americans lie at the tit of a welfare machine waiting for the freebies for which they feel entitled. They don't wish to work, they just want to lay about and collect, because they are congenitally lazy and lack the pride of the great caste of men like he and Paul Ryan." That Obama lacked the boldness to begin his statement refuting this grave mischaracterization of the American worker, is disgustingly weak and leaves this American working man feeling betrayed and furiously angry. Grow a set, Mr. President!

Romney Lied and bullied his

Romney Lied and bullied his was through the lst Debate! The moderator, Jim Lear was terrible. He allowed Romney to bully him and control the debate. Pres. Obama had to many missed opportunities. For example the 47% issue, the Auto Industry bailout and more.

the best lack all

the best lack all conviction

"Obama needs to make this election about something." (from Allan Goldstein's fine essay this morning)

Since he hasn't made his presidency about something significant, other than halfway health care and some domestic checks on the worst of Bushism, why would you expect him to make this election about "something"? You still are drinking the Koolaid that Obama is about something beyond himself and conventional political party power centers. Holding power is the "there there" and you enhance his presidency because it's far less onerous than the GOP juggernaut. Though different from the void of Romney, Obama shies away from true content, or programs that would help people (item: the failed mortgage support program). And thus lacks vision and scope.

To be a good debater in this sort of theatrical debate (less about ideas than perceived conviction and power rhetoric), it matters if you believe in anything larger than wonky issues. What Obama's debate performance spoke to his absence of conviction, especially as Lakoff would say, his failure to make politics a moral quest driven by actual human values (progressive or otherwise). The conviction void that is Obama was on full display, and it wasn't pretty.

To Robert S. Becker.

To Robert S. Becker. Adroitly put. Obama, for the duration of his first term in office has been a "half-ass" President. He has repeatedly capitulated to the Republicans for the simple reason that, in many respects, he is one. Taxes, defense spending and enhanced surveillance of American citizens, predator drone attacks with little to no remorse for the slaughter of innocents, off-shore oil drilling permits even after the gulf disaster, no Wall St. miscreants sitting in court or, more to the point, a jail cell, Bradley Manning tortured for nearly a year for the crime of telling the truth by an administration that came into office promising "transparency," nary a word supporting women's reproductive rights which are under attack as never before, more free trade deals certain to continue the hemorrhaging of U.S. jobs, a total lack of endorsement for single payer health care...must I continue. He didn't attack Romney because in many ways they share the same viewpoints. As little as 20 years ago, Obama would have been considered a moderate Republican. Virtually every action taken by him in office is commensurate with this labeling. He can't call out Romney for being a disconnected elitist because he's basically one himself. It's rock and a hard spot time. Both parties are corrupt. Neo-liberal policies are the foundation for both of their paradigms. How the hell can the voters not figure out this basic truism?

Thank you WoeToPoe and Robert

Thank you WoeToPoe and Robert S for saying what needed to be said.
We are on the Repub/Dem Superhighway to Hell, and the Burma-Shave signs were writ large throughout the debate.

I don't necessarily agree

I don't necessarily agree that he lacks conviction. I think too few of us have read Lakoff and know that the Moral mission of Government is to Empower and Protect the people.

That means we don't know how to frame our convictions though we may behave with an end in mind that empowers and protects.

I do hope it's a wake up call for Obama and his team... and I hope he pins Romney to the wall next time. And pin him to his misrepresentations all this week.

I would love to hear some Lakoff framings come up some time too.

I was extremely disappointed

I was extremely disappointed and kept waiting for the President to stop Romney from saying "716 billion cut from Medicare." (Did anyone count?) There is no reason I can see that he couldn't come back with answer to that lie and bring up what Ryan does in his budget with that money. One Lakoff frame is to NOT use the opponent's language, but of course it's too late to change "Obamacare" to something reasonable. Using that terminology shifts meaning to the Bad Guy, the Muslim, etc. the birthers so love, and the image of Socialism and government take-over is not far behind.

Apparently no one in the White House inner circle has read THE LITTLE BLUE BOOK, but someone better read it and prep Obama before the next debate. Maybe he was distracted by his and Michelle's anniversary. Someone needs to light a fire under him. Language is one way. Fighting back is another. He looked passive, seemed unconfident, and almost uninterested. This will give the Repubs a boost and probably in the polls, too, in swing states in the next few days.

Obama must get in a room with

Obama must get in a room with his wife as the opponent.

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