Obama’s Watch Moment: First Presidential Debate


By David Beilstein

IT appeared, perhaps, Obama was not prepared for tonight’s first presidential debate at the University of Denver. Worse for the president, Obama seemed inimical to being on stage with Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Obama started slow. He gained some momentum in the late hours — all the while seemingly buttressed in a demeanour that someone else would be standing across from him beside Romney. It could have been George W. Bush — Obama’s nemesis, or even John McCain.

It was neither.

There have been many comparisons of the upcoming Nov. 6 elections to the 1980 presidential election. Ihave made them myself. Contrarian that I am, I could be wrong here. I have also been on record saying the 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be an instant replay of the presidential election of 1992. So much, even, that in slow-motion replay of former President George H.W. Bush’s ‘watch moment’ — when a laggard Bush Sr. looked down at his watch while Gov. Bill Clinton scored a succession of punches — Obama doubled down on the Bush-esque moment by asking moderator Jim Lehrer,

“Maybe it’s time to move onto another topic.”

It was not a good moment for the president. This exchange happened early — early enough for viewers bored of the debate to have probably caught it and if anything, felt it odd. It was immensely odd. And it visibly illustrated the unraveling of a president who has never been tested by fierce winds because the media has enfeebled the president by a hussy-like partiality.

In the iconic Bruce Lee martial arts movie, Enter The Dragon, Lee faces off with a stygian-eyed Bob Wall in an epic showdown. They come together, bowing in ceremony. Then, Wall breaks a board in front of Bruce Lee to intimidate him.

Lee serenely replies,

“Boards don’t hit back.”

That is what happened to President Obama last night. Coasting on a media crest of ‘supposed’ evitable victory, of talking points aimed at straw men who cannot hit back, Obama tried to fight Romney’s inspired competence with prosaic talking points leaving room for Romney’s quick counters, particularly suited to combat negative impressions of himself (detached, tepid), ironically erecting an entirely different edifice: competence. This was, then, all the more successful for Romney because of how hesitant and unprepared Obama appeared.

Needless to say, Romney’s job tonight was simple… be presidential, stay away from hand grenades thrown by President Obama, and cast a series of rejoinders strafing with acuity and substance. In a moment of great fortune, purchased by astute preparation, Romney achieved all of the above.

While the election is still tight, one thing was proven tonight: Romney came off deeply saturated in economic facts and figures, capturing an authentic, and important empathy to voters. If tonight’s debate becomes the apotheosis in the march to Nov. 6, Romney put himself in the best possible position to win the presidency.


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