Election Debates has declared Barack Obama the winner of the Third Presidential Debate. [Watch the debate]
Though the panel was split on the winner, all judges agreed it was a close debate – and for substantially the same reasons.
The main reason for the tightness of this debate was a lack of real debate. From the outset, Romney sought to neutralize a number of foreign policy issues by falling into line with the Obama Administration.
Andy Hume noted “that there was very little actual clash between arguments. Time and again – on Syria, Pakistan, China and Israel – there was no substantive disagreement between them”.
This gave Obama a matter advantage, as he stood largely on his record with only limited challenge from Romney. The Governor’s approach resulted in a series of concessions.
Obama sought with some success to portray Romney as a politician of convenience and not conviction, presenting his changing positions on key foreign policy issues to undermine the challenger’s credibility.
There were some issues that were keenly fought including questions relating to China and defence cuts. On these issues Obama was more persuasive according to Ray D’Cruz. Romney sounded inconsistent on China while Obama’s “horses and bayonets” rebuttal showed Romney to be profligate and non-strategic on defence spending.
“Well, Governor,” Obama said in response to the criticism levelled about the size of the navy, “we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.
While Obama gained the upper hand on matter, it was all too common for speakers to refuse to rebut specific claims and preferred fending off attacks with “that’s not true” and “people will look it up” as Neill Harvey Smith noted. Despite what the post-debate spinners may say, this was not a good debate.
Fenja Berglund was more scathing: “at times the superficiality would have been comical. While it’s touching that everyone loves teachers and wants world peace, it would not be unreasonable to expect a higher level of analysis of how to go about achieving these things from presidential candidates than we normally expect from Miss World contestants.
Perhaps the Donald could have run, after all.
The other reason this was a close debate was because Obama’s matter advantage was largely reduced by Romney’s manner advantage.
Obama’s manner was clumsy. He swung wildly, and while landing the occasional blow – he lacked warmth. Without subtlety, Obama made personal attacks. He didn’t look comfortable. The attacks seemed contrived and were unnecessary given the upper hand he held on the arguments.
By contrast, Romney was calm and measured. While some of his arguments were weak – he was not. Andy Hume explained that if Romney “was trying to project the “presidential” image so beloved of advisors and debate coaches, he broadly succeeded.”
While Obama found a better balance between positivity and negativity as the debate entered its second hour, and Romney lost some fluidity, the manner advantage sat with Romney.
In the end, the majority felt that Obama’s advantage on matter outweighed Romney’s superior manner. An Obama win in the closest of the three presidential debates.
Opinion by Ray D’Cruz
Australian independent MP Rob Oakeshott has revealed that the Gillard Government is close to finalising the creation of a debates commission. The creation of an independent commission was part of the deal negotiated by Oakeshott and fellow independent MP Tony Windsor when they agreed to support Julia Gillard’s minority Labor Government following the 2010 election.
It was almost certainly the politicking about the debates during that 2010 election that led the two independents to include this reform as part of their deal. That election featured an array of unedifying and self-serving positions from the major parties about how many debates should be conducted, in what format and when. It demonstrated the need for a debates commission, as we then wrote.
Election Debates has been arguing for the creation of an independent debates commission for some time. We’ve laid out principles for Australian Leaders’ Debates that would help meet the two aims of election debates: to engage and inform voters. The final principle – principle 8 – is perhaps the most important. It stresses that the debates commission should be independent.
There is a risk that Australia will look to the US lead and clone the bipartisan Commission for Presidential Debates (CPD). The CPD, charged with overseeing US Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates, is comprised of senior Democrat and Republican figures. Cloning this model would only guarantee that the public bickering heads indoors. That might be attractive for the parties, but it doesn’t provide any confidence that the debates would vigorously pursue the goals of engaging and informing voters. It would be a risk for Australia to follow the bipartisan model as we’ve noted before.
If we want real debates with depth and analysis, featuring the right leaders and topics, we need an independent model. Surely Mr Oakeshott and Mr Winsdor should know the value of independence.