What passed as a presidential debate, Wednesday evening, was nothing more than a series of carefully-rehearsed, often rambling, mini-speeches that were more focused on generalities than on specifics.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, experienced debaters and strong orators, each threw out several points at once, hoping a few would stick; the rebuttals were a counter-speech, most of which didn't address the points at all. The party nominees talked over one another, and both talked over the moderator. More important, numerous critical domestic issues, the first debate's primary topic, were never discussed. Part of the problem was that Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of "PBS NewsHour," who had moderated 12 previous debates, didn't control the candidates or the debate, nor ask probing follow-up questions. The direction of the debate became quickly obvious when strict time limits were shattered on the first question and every question after that.
Even the most pro-Obama supporter would have to acknowledge that Romney had exceeded expectations and was able to dominate the President, who was not as sharp as he needed to be. Romney was strong and skillful, perhaps surprising even his own campaign staff. President Obama failed to adequately challenge Romney's vacillating record and statements that may have bordered on truth, nor did he defend his own record as vigorously as necessary. The President's closing two-minute speech was, at best, lame and not indicative of either his presidency or his oratorical ability. This was not a time for the professorial "No Drama Obama" personality to dominate. Indeed, this debate was nothing like the much-remembered Lincoln--Douglas debates of 1858 or even the quality of the average debate by college teams in hundreds of tournaments each year.
The third presidential debate, Oct. 22, will focus upon foreign policy. The format is the same--six segments of 15 minutes each, with each candidate being given two minutes to answer the question. In between will be a town meeting debate, Oct. 16. Non-committed citizens chosen from a Gallup poll will ask questions. A candidate has two minutes to answer the question; the other candidate has two minutes to respond.
The vice-presidential debate is Oct. 11, with nine segments of 10 minutes each.