In the World

Live-blogging the debate, sort of

I didn't post anything during the presidential debate last night, because I watched it without the benefit of an internet connection. Also because bona fide live-blogging can be seriously annoying to read. But if you want it in digest form, here's how I reacted in front of the TV.

8:03—Obama wins coin toss, gets to be the first to mention his 20th wedding anniversary. Would have been sweet and humanizing coming from Romney.

8:05—Romney congratulates the Obamas and lands a cute joke about it.

8:13—Obama: We cut middle-class taxes by $3,600. Of course, almost nobody knows this, because we're so good at hiding our political light under a policy bushel.

8:17—Romney: Why won't my tax plan increase the deficit? Because I said so.

8:20—Which candidate makes more awkward and condescending faces when the other is speaking? We show them in split screen; you decide.

8:24—Romney: Actually I think I'll make the debate rules, Jim.

8:27—Lest there be any doubt about the Dems' embrace of the once-pejorative term "Obamacare," Obama interrupts Romney to say, "I like it."

8:28—Romney: To avoid borrowing money from China, I'm going to repeal the deficit-reducing health-care bill and kill the negligible PBS subsidy.

8:29—Not one but two instances of "What we've said is" from Obama means not one but two drinks, folks. You'd think that excruciating bit on Jimmy Fallon's show would have killed this particular Obama tic.

8:29—Again with the "Dwight Eisenhower." Obama's on a first-name basis with the guy but not a middle-initial one.

8:30—Obama: The other guy's for a pathological and premature obsession with the deficit that excludes the possibility of new revenues; I'm for a pathological and premature obsession with the deficit that includes the possibility of new revenues. America has a clear choice! Didn't you notice our color-coded ties?

8:31—Romney: I won't say whether I support Simpson-Bowles, but I do think the president should support Simpson-Bowles.

8:33—Romney: Even though both parties have pretty much abandoned the time-proven wisdom of Keynesian countercyclical spending, I'll just give a quick explanation and endorsement of it anyway, since we're talking at the moment only about the tax-cut kind of spending, which is always good.

8:36—Obama: Hey, here's a campaign-trail anecdote. It's from Nevada—just happens to be where it happened.

8:40—What Obama's trying to say: The rise in the cost of health-care generally, not government-funded care in particular, is driving the deficit. What he's actually saying: Blah, blah, blah, I'm an exhausted policy wonk.

8:43—Romney: If you're over 60, stop listening. We all know you only care about yourself.

8:43—When Romney lands a hit Obama thinks is not-so-clean, Obama's facial expression is annoyed and condescending but also a little impressed.

8:47—Lehrer: Governor, do you support Medicare vouchers for the not-yet-old? Romney: Can we talk about the already-old instead?

8:48—Romney has learned to deliver his line about consumer choice crisply, persuasively, and without easy-to-distort cracks about how he likes to fire people.

8:50—Obama tries again to mention the cost of health care generally. Both Romney and Lehrer cut him off.

8:52—Obama's visible annoyance is approaching Al Gore's in 2000.

8:52—Lehrer: "Let's not." A bit too little too late with the tough-guy stuff, Jim.

8:53—Obama: "We said…" Half a drink.

8:58—Romney: Why did Obama go straight to health care when he took office instead of dealing with jobs? If only he had pushed through some sort of economic stimulus first.

8:58—Following Romney's clear list of what he doesn't like about Obamacare, Obama trails off and reverts to old boilerplate about the bill's consumer provisions. Why isn't he responding point-by-point? There are worse things than being on the defensive.

9:00—At the top of the hour, our top story: Distinguished newsman Jim Lehrer continues to get no respect.

9:03—Obama tries a joke about how silly it is to blame him for Republican obstruction and disengagement, but it's too subtle to register. Romney's just killing him on health-care reform.

9:04—Our policy-wonk-in-chief gives a good explanation of the importance of doctor incentives, using the Cleveland Clinic as his example.

9:07—Romney: But the Cleveland Clinic is private! He doesn't actually say that Obamacare's market-based reforms would somehow turn us into the UK, but if viewers infer that, he won't complain.

9:10—Another Obama would-be zinger goes awkwardly off the rails.

9:11—Romney implies that Obama is a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. This will be news to the liberals who almost stormed the White House during the debt-ceiling fight.

9:11—Romney: We could cap tax deductions. Let me just pull a possible number out of thin air, a totally arbitrary number that happens to be a bit higher than the other one I floated recently, when everyone responded that it was low enough to hurt a lot of middle-class families.

9:13—Obama: a government's first role is security. No, it's whatever the people say it is.

9:14—Obama busts out another "what we've said is"—while hyping school reform. Fellow public education supporters, that's two drinks: one for fun and one for sadness.

9:20—Lehrer: Governor, I'm interrupting Obama before he gets to the gist of his sentence to ask, do you agree with him? Romney: Yes. Yes I do.

9:21—Obama on who does and doesn't have the ability to borrow college money from parents. Driest populist dig ever.

9:23—Romney: The government should make business more effective and more efficient. He's right! Great examples I'd offer: Romneycare and Obamacare.

9:24—Lehrer: Now I'm going to talk for a minute about how we only have three minutes left.

9:25—Romney is again suggesting that Obama's short on bipartisan collaboration. I suppose a line that makes liberals want to throw things at both candidates can't be bad for Romney.

9:26—Obama gives us an incredibly awkward zinger followed by a "Look." Shot and a chaser.

9:27—Obama rambles. Here's the line he wants: "I tried for months to work with the Republicans. They weren't interested, and they said so."

9:28—Obama thinks this was a terrific debate! Even though he got creamed.

9:31—Romney: Obamacare means "a whole different way of life." I assume he supports whole different ways of life in Massachusetts, just not nationwide.

9:33—There are so many Romneys on stage with POTUS and FLOTUS, but nary an Obama daughter. Everybody's so smiley and linger-y! Maybe they'll stick around for a while and chat about a bipartisan strategy for making the next debate even less fun to watch.

Steve Thorngate

The Century managing editor is also a church musician and songwriter.

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