Why the Pundits are Wrong About the Debate

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama wave to the audience during the first presidential deb
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama wave to the audience during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Today you will not be able to swing a dead cat without hitting laments about Obama's awful performance in last night's presidential debate and assessments that Romney is back in the race.

Why didn't Obama come out swinging? Why was he so dull? Where was his energy? It's a game-changer! Romney could take the White House! OMG!!!


Last night I placed a five-dollar bill into a bowl at the start of the debate, clipped to a prediction that Romney would be declared the winner. Not especially because I think that Romney is a better debater, or that I feared Obama would make some horrible gaffe - but because that's how The Script has to go in these cases.

Obama did what anybody paying close attention would have known he would do. He played it safe. And he stuck to a rather dull rhetorical style because - he has a rather dull rhetorical style. Also because that's what you do when you're the frontrunner. You don't say or do anything wild and crazy. You let your opponent jump up and down and make excitable noises. Which is precisely what Romney did. Some have read Romney's stance as aggressive, others as pushy, but there's one word that you're unlikely to hear: "presidential." Makes for good theatrics. But it won't win you the White House.

So why did the President keep on the gloves? Obama did not jump on Romney's 47%-of-Americans-are-Losers comment because his campaign had already done a handy job with that, and there was no need to drive home the point and appear undignified. He could have pummeled Romney on various economic policy points, and he did this once or twice, such as his questions about the details of Romney's tax plan. But mostly he just looked bored. That can be read as, "Jeez, look at what I have to put up with!" That's 100% Obama. And yet frantic media accounts suggest that pundits expected to see a gladiator emerge from his staid persona.

In a race that appears to have a frontrunner, media types have an incentive to tighten things up, and this, of course, whips up public opinion. But it won't amount to a hill of beans in the long run. I predict that the needle will wobble slightly, no more (Early poll show Romney up a measly point). The real loser of last night's debate was the American public, which was not properly informed and frequently lied to.

Obama may well be seen to lose every single debate. But it will not matter to the outcome. Slow and steady does not make good TV viewing of an evening, but it wins the race.

Remember the Tortoise.