Obama the debater: He doesn’t add up
by Melvyn L. Fein
October 08, 2012 12:00 AM | 1716 views | 6 6 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The president has said it often. Almost every time he gets on the stump, he declares that Mitt Romney’s proposals for boosting the economy and reducing the deficit “don’t add up.” He then maintains that it’s “all about the math.” Indeed, he did so again during the first presidential debate.

The problem, from Obama’s point of view, is that his own programs frequently do not add up. This was painfully evident as he struggled to make these sound plausible. While he could lambast Romney for failing to offer specifics, his own bill of particulars was woefully lacking.

Take the issue of reducing the deficit. Once more the president claimed that he had a plan for reducing government spending by $4 trillion. But then he punted the ball. Instead of explaining his plan, he suggested that viewers go online to fill in the details.

If they do, they will find that this is the same scheme I discussed in a previous column. At its heart is a proposal to save $1 trillion on the war in Afghanistan that no one intends to spend. In other words, it is a phony plan that even his supporters have described as depending on “funny money.”

So why did he do this? There are several possible reasons. One is that he does not want the public to know he has no real plans for curtailing our unsustainable deficits. Another is that he does not understand the details of his policy. A third is that he was flummoxed by Romney’s assertive questioning.

Obama was certainly off his game when he confronted by his challenger. Despite four years in office, he clearly did not have as good a grasp of the issues as his opponent. As a result, when called out on his shortcomings, he fell back on a grab bag of stale talking points.

He also resorted to flogging trivial correctives for a massive predicament. Thus, he argued that eliminating tax breaks for oil companies and private plane owners would reduce the budget shortfall. The trouble with these adjustments is that while they would save less than $10 billion, we are annually in the hole for well over a trillion.

But the real dilemma Obama faced during the debate was more subtle — and more intractable. This was his demeanor. Many commentators have noted that the president rarely looked at Romney as they talked. For the most part, his eyes were on the podium or the moderator.

Worse still, Obama seemed small and unpresidential. Manifestly uncomfortable when being confronted by an assertive rival, it looked like he wanted to be elsewhere. Dare I say it — at times he even appeared to be intimidated by his more self-assured foe.

This was not good! But what made it disastrous is that one of Obama’s greatest strengths has been his unflappability. Others might be thrown off stride by unexpected events, but he always maintained his equanimity. The unspoken message was that whatever the challenge, he could master it.

What is more, thanks to his self-possession, the most egregious nonsense generally sounded reasonable. This was because listeners responded more to his body language than his words. Plainly almost anything he said seemed true because he was so comfortable saying it.

This advantage deserted him last Wednesday. Absent his usual swagger, people could see through the shallowness of his responses. His supporters might not like it, but even they could recognize a pastiche of focus-group tested shibboleths, as opposed to a deep understanding of the trials facing our nation.

It is too soon to say what effect Obama’s meltdown will have on the election. His fans will surely forgive him whatever weaknesses he displayed, while his detractors will gloat as his ineptitude.

But what of the moderates? What lessons will they draw from this unexpected turn of events?

Michelle Obama looked worried — and she should be!

Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Devlin Adams
October 08, 2012
Dr. Fein, it might be a good thing if we let Obama win.

The way these libs are stressing out and going crazy with stupid accusation just because he lost a debate, they will go into terminal meltdown when he loses the election.

Wait...I thought here was a bad side to it. I guess not.
Kevin Foley
October 08, 2012
It's easy to be "assertive" when you lie as smoothly and unabashedly as Romney did.

One of his biggest of the night was that Obama cut $719 million out of Medicare because of the Affordable Care Act. Romney knows this is bogus. The $719MM is mostly a reduction in overpayments to insurance companies under Medicare Advantage, not payments to beneficiaries. Paul Ryan’s budget plan keeps those same cuts.

Why does Romney do it? Because he knows there are a lot of low information voters out there like Dr. Fein who hate Obama and will believe any lie they hear if it affirms their bias. More on that Friday.
Ole Man
October 08, 2012
It is so easy to state Romney lied, but look at your candidate. He would not know the truth if it struck him up side his head.
Samuel Adams
October 08, 2012
Oh we can't wait Kev.

I see you finally got your talking points, but not before your deadline, so you won't be talking about the debate until ten days later? Save it and let's try something timely that every national pundit hasn't already deconstructed. Got anything new? Any new thoughts? A one? Maybe something on the local democrat party? What you say? You don't know that person? hahahahaha
October 08, 2012
Here's some info for the "low information voters" who aren't reading this anyway:

Georgia will have a doctor shortage soon. It said so in the MDJ.

Obamacare will make it worse, restricting older patients from getting certain procedures deemed only for the younger folks. If someone, say in their 50's, needs a CAT scan for example, or hip surgery, they are going to have to wait. In the closest semblance of Obamacare we have here in this country, the nation's military hospitals, it can take up to six months to get back the results of a woman's pap smear. You know, you could be dead of cancer before you even get your results, but this is socialized medicine for the masses.

If you have Medicare right now, Obamacare is going to steal from your program. But don't worry, so many doctors are going to stop being Medicare providers it won't matter. You'll all be on Obamacare as well. Except if you're an employee of one of Obama's bundlers' companies, or another big donor to the Democrats. They will control your medicine. They will control your life.
Mary Grabar
October 09, 2012
Almost as enjoyable (or maybe entertaining) as your columns, Professor Fein, are the laughingly predictable ones by Kevin Foley.

We did not see the same cocky Obama we saw debating John McCain. Back then he had no record to defend. All the "hope and change" was in the future.

It's a different story today, with a much stronger Republican candidate and unknown who shown how inept he is.

Great column, Mel. Keep writing, Kevin Foley. You give me a good laugh.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides