Barack Obama and Mitt Romney faced off in the first U.S. presidential debate Wednesday night. We asked Canadian expats living in the U.S. for their reactions from across the country.
This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series– expats talking about life and politics south of the border.
Jonathan Havercroft, political science professor in Oklahoma City, from Montreal:
On style I thought Mr. Romney outperformed Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama seemed nervous and tended to wander around his answers and Mr. Romney seemed sharper in his attacks.
But I also thought it was a very boring debate. There were few (if any) of the “zingers” we were promised. And they tended to spend a lot of time arguing about the fine print in each other’s plans. I follow these things closely, and am pretty wonkish, but I found myself zoning out a fair bit. I also thought Jim Lehrer was really bad as a moderator. He ran out of time and let both candidates push him around.
David Levine, a Wall Street lawyer in New York City from Toronto:
From a substantive point of view, and I admit that I’m partisan, but Mr. Obama came out way ahead. Mr. Romney spoke in generalizations, offering no more colour to his simplistic promises, even shunning the opportunity to add some meat to his policy positions. However, a presidential debate is not about substance.
I think it’s apt that we say Mr. Obama didn’t “perform” well, because this was, after all, a theatrical performance. On this level, it was Mr. Romney who performed in a clear and convincing manner. Mr. Obama didn’t take the opportunities he had to attack Mr. Romney, and his comments that Mr. Romney didn’t have coherent policy positions were not delivered with enough force to be heard. Take the whole $716-billion from Medicare canard. Had Mr. Obama attacked the use of this discounted “statistic” more vociferously, then Mr. Romney would not have been able to use it as effectively as he did. The prized piece of ammunition that Mr. Obama could have deployed, that Mr. Romney doesn’t care about 47 per cent of the electorate, sat in his arsenal but was never used.
Chloe Wolman, lawyer in Los Angeles, from Toronto:
Mr. Obama seemed to lack the charisma that I normally associate with him. He seemed to stutter and become side-tracked in a way I had never seen him before.
I feel like the problem was that nothing was really answered. I am as unclear as ever about Romney policies but I felt sad that the candidate I so support appeared tired and weak. Mr. Obama failed to capture the awe of the audience and I believe that that is one of his real gifts. He has always been able to hold the attention of the room. Here, for me, even as a supporter, I felt disappointed. I felt he was not totally prepared and not operating with the A-level Obama standard.
Meredith Nelson, former management consultant in Raleigh, N.C., from Ottawa:
Hate to admit it but I think Mr. Romney completely overshadowed Mr. Obama during the debate. He appeared unruffled and whether or not his answers made sense spoke clearly and concisely. Only during the “Obamacare” aka “Romneycare” portion did Mr. Romney become somewhat uncomfortable and I fear Mr. Obama did not manage to take advantage of the situation. He certainly did not score a knock-out punch.
Mr. Obama wouldn’t make eye contact with Mr. Romney and came across as professorial, nor presidential. I don’t think his performance would deter his supporters but this election is all about the independents, and in my opinion, Mr. Romney looked like a credible commander-in-chief for the first time since his convention. Mr. Obama never found a way to bring up the 47 per cent.
Who says debates don’t matter? I think we are looking at a very difference contest during the remaining month.
Kieran Edling, graduate student in Philadelphia from Toronto:
On taxation of the wealthy, it was interesting to see Mr. Romney change his tone. All campaign long he has championed not increasing taxes on the wealthy, tonight he indicated he wasn’t concerned about them. Mr. Obama tried to hammer Mr. Romney’s proposed $5-trillion budget cut and $2-trillion defence spending increase, but Mr. Romney countered well – specifically, he denied and clearly itemized how Mr. Obama’s claims were false. Very presidential.
On health care, it was nice to hear Mr. Obama owning “Obamacare” by name and attempting to sell it – he looked directly at the camera and explained specifically why it was a step forward and how it was Mr. Romney’s idea in the first place. Mr. Romney counterpoint that Romneycare was appropriate for Massachusetts but not federally i s a tough sell.
Jennifer Khurana, human rights lawyer in Washington, D.C., from Ottawa:
Mitt Romney was clearly well coached and performed beyond expectations. He was aggressive, held his own by sticking to sound bites and to simplistic characterizations of his policy (or to tonight’s version of his policy). In watching the President, I wondered how much of his underwhelming performance was a result of advisers who told him not to come out swinging and not to bring up the hot button issues that he could have capitalized on. He seemed more at ease in discussing social issues however – education, health care and Medicare – and more on the defensive in discussing jobs and the deficit. At various moments I wanted to hear more of a fight in the President – he had so much material to use and it seemed a waste not to just go for it at least a few times.
While the President wasn’t as passionate and filled with sound bites as he could have been, he did however sound thoughtful, rational, balanced and fair…and perhaps thoughtful and balanced and fair is not what this electorate needs or wants. Phrasing things simply, avoiding details and keeping things as basic as possible appears to be the formula for success in this country and for appealing to a broader swath of the population.
Jenny Zhang, who works in advertising in Greenville, N.C., from Toronto:
I wish Jim Lehrer had done more moderating, instead of letting the two presidential candidates talk over him whenever they pleased. I also wish there had been more issues in discussion, focusing on not only the middle class but also those to whom being “middle class” is an aspirational dream, as well as some of the contentious social issues affecting women and minorities currently in play in U.S. politics. No discussion of same-sex marriage, immigration, voter ID laws, or reproduction freedom. The discussion felt very monotone, for lack of a better word. Despite the length of the U.S. campaigning season, it really doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of time for intellectual discussion of actual policies.
Colleen Pendergast, who lives and works in Nantucket, Mass., from Edmonton:
I was disappointed that the last question about overcoming gridlock in Washington was given so little time. That is one of the most important issues today, in my opinion. Mr. Romney’s answer that he governed a Democratic state as a Republican was better than President Obama’s vague response (and poor track record), but I don’t feel confident in either of them. I would have liked to hear more from Mr. Romney about tackling the division in Congress.
On a final note, cutting Big Bird really ruffled my feathers! Leave PBS alone, Mr. Romney. (Seriously, of all the programs to target at that moment, what a poor choice!)