I just finished watching the first presidential debate in Denver, Colorado between President Obama and Mitt Romney. I didn’t get to watch it in real time because they scheduled it during my small group meeting. I told both candidates that Wednesday night was a church night and not very good for me. They were both willing to change it but the networks wouldn’t budget. Sigh.

So, I DVR’d it and as soon as I got home I popped some popcorn and watched it straight through. My family even watched it with me. Kim swiped my popcorn and finished it off but I didn’t care. I was in a political geek mojo.

Let me disclaim two things. One–I endorse no political candidate. I have reservations about Mr. Romney and the President supports some public policies which I find untenable. Two–I have not fact checked anything. My opinion here is based solely on the performance of the debate as a speaking art.

Here is what I noticed and what interested me.

1. Mitt Romney won the debate, hands down. In fact, he commanded the stage over the President. This surprised me quite a bit, to be honest. Mr. Romney was focused and on message. He succeeded in presenting the President as a ‘big government’ man contrasted with his ‘small business’ model.

2. The President looked very uncomfortable defending the home field. Four years ago he was the one fighting for change and that fit him well. Now, he has to defend the status quo and that does not come as natural for him. Several times he talked about bad things like corporations and loopholes for moving companies. That is usually something the challenger should say, not the incumbent.

3. Jim Lehrer was awful. I’ve seen him moderate other debates much better than this one. Tonight he seemed to have no control. His questions were okay enough, but they were not as specific as one would like. However he failed miserably to keep the candidates on target and on time. It felt like there were so many other topics that needed to be addressed that were never gotten to.

4. The President needs to smile more. He has a great affable smile that makes me want to like him. However, tonight he was in full “Professor Obama” mode and kept his likeable nature bottled up. I do not know if this was a calculated decision or just how he felt tonight, but it was not a positive for him.

5. Mr. Romney could have played one of the robots from the Terminator movies.

6. What was that noise about three quarters through the debate backstage? Both Romney and the President jumped and turned to look. I bet they were both thinking the same thing: Duck!

7. Neither one wore very nice ties. Romney’s tie had a funky knot I didn’t like and the Presidents tie screamed NERD.


Okay, those are the things I noticed. I’m going to bed now. I am looking forward to the Paul Ryan VS Joe Biden debate. Joe Biden scares me, which is why I pray for the Presidents health often.


Tonight I popped me a bowl of popcorn and turned on the television to watch the State of the Union address by President Obama.  I’m no political pundit, but I am someone who speaks publicly often (well, actually, weekly) and so I watch these things with the eye for the effect and style as much as substance.  What I noticed about the flow of the speech is that it started very slow and very wonkish but constantly and steadily increased in rhetorical flare as the monologue progressed.  I’ve broken my evaluation down simply into what I liked about it and what I didn’t.

What I liked:

  • I liked Obama’s tie.  It was rockin’ awesome.  He looked great.  However, I did notice that the three years in office have taken its toll on him.  He looks like he’s aged 10 years.
  • I liked that Joe Biden couldn’t seem to sit still.  Watching him squirm back there reminded me of an eight year old boy sitting through a concert he hates.  At one point it looked like he actually put a mint or candy in his mouth.  Joe Biden is a major motivating factor why I pray for Obama’s health and safety regularly.  On a side note, John Boehner didn’t look as orange this year.
  • I liked that Obama rattled off initiative ideas that sounded great without giving any kind of specifics at all.  It was brilliant.  That way people feel he is on the job, but in reality, it was just paper.
  • I liked his conclusion.  It was a real tear jerker to go to the Navy Seal team that took out Bin Laden and speak about it in such patriotic tones.  Nice touch and well done.

What I Didn’t Like

  • I didn’t like that he did the whole thing where he referenced people sitting up in the box by the First Lady.  Bill Clinton was the master at it and for Clinton it had the effect of being novel and innovative.  When Obama does it, it feels forced and is not very effective.
  • I didn’t like all the references to fairness in taxes.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge believer in fairness in taxes; but we will never have fairness in taxes in our nation until there is a major overhaul of the tax system and it is replaced with either a flat tax or a nationwide consumption tax.  In my personal opinion, income taxes are, by nature, unjust and unfair.  I like the consumption tax, but I would settle for anything that is sane and simple.
  • I didn’t like how many unilateral decisions Obama seemed to be making.  I know it is political posturing.  He is attempting to couch the congress as a “do nothing” group while he is out there doing stuff to make things better.  However, as a historian I realize that the arguments for “effectiveness” and “efficiency” are often the mask for power grabs.  I am not really accusing Obama of doing that because I do think it is just election year politics, but it does make me nervous.

The best moment of the evening, for me, was before the speech ever began.  When Gabrielle Giffords came into the room, and then Obama hugging her, was special.  That tugged at me at a level that goes beyond politics, beyond patriotism, and into the human and spiritual realm.  That actually is an image I will retain for a long time.  It reminds me of when Bush (43) in one of his State of the Unions announced a massive AIDS spending initiative for Africa.  Obama and Giffords will last longer in my memory than any of the particulars of the speech.