Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014

Obama, Romney miss mark in presidential debate

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:24 PM

The old-fashioned presidential debate has become, well, old-fashioned. At this point, does anyone really care about the endless array of statistics – real and imagined, and no doubt for the most part ginned up – that the two candidates recited endlessly last night?

Both men looked haggard, especially the president. No doubt both had been cramming their brains full of these useless fake factoids for weeks. Really, what they should've done is hung out by the pool for a day or two beforehand to collect their thoughts.

There is something awkward and indeed strange about receiving detailed economic plans for the first time in oral form. What are we, the citizens of a society based on oral tradition? There is this little thing called the Internet. Why don't the two sides post the details of, for example, their economic plans online months before the debates? Let the media, experts, the Congressional budget office, etc. analyze the plans so that they have been fully synthesized by the public before the two candidates meet.

Presidential debates are a chance for the public to compare and contrast to visions of the way that the country should move forward – or, in a democracy, multiple visions. But we don't have that. But I digress.

Obama seemed especially exhausted, like a college kid who it spent the night studying the night before. Overall, I would give the advantage to Romney, but not because Romney was particularly impressive. One edge that Romney did have was his ability to tap into personal stories, such as the unemployed folks he met in Dayton, Ohio.

Both men, but particularly Obama, appeared like college kids who had spent the night before cramming for an exam. They were rote and robotic and uninspiring and uninspired.

Voters need to know what each candidate's vision is for the country. Instead, especially from the president, we got different "approaches." Obama said, I have a different approach to this from Mitt Romney. I have a different approach to that. We don't need approaches.

Obama seems bloodless. Which, considering that he was standing next to Mitt Romney, is saying something. Why didn't he talk about his vision?

If I had been standing there, I would have talked about the country that is possible. A country in which nobody is sleeping outside due to lack of money. A country where losing your job doesn't mean losing your dignity. The country in which a CEO is not allowed to pay himself $40 million the same year that he fires thousands of employees.

I would talk about building a country with different priorities, such as one that does not squander trillions of dollars on stupid, counterproductive, brutal wars while millions of our citizens are starving and denying themselves medical care. I would talk about the need to provide a college education to everyone who wants and qualifies for one. I would talk about the need to rebuild our infrastructure from the ground up, and talk about the lack of dignity created by this system.

Even within the constructs of capitalism – the most evil, reprehensible, discriminatory economic system ever conceived – there is still space to argue for the kind of reforms that would not only make most people's lives better, but would save the system from the inevitable collapse and or revolution to come. Once again, both standardbearers of the major political parties squander their opportunity to show that there is any way out, or that reform is possible. Maybe that is because it is not.

Ted Rall's new book is "The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt." His website is This column originally appeared at's Lean Forward blog.

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