Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

In the first "debate": President Obama by 5 1/2 over Romney.

   President Obama is reported to have crammed for the "debates" (I wince to apply that term to the glorified Q & A sessions to be held) he faces in the next couple of weeks versus Mitt Romney.

   One of my law professors, Henry Karlson, commented to my first-year Crim Law one day that, the previous evening, a former student had called to ask a question about evidence. That particular lecture was on a Friday. The student had called because he was taking the bar exam. The bar exam was a two-day affair. Tensions were high for those was sat for it. Professor Karlson said he told the former student to relax; if the guy did not know the material now, last-minute information would not be of any help.

   From a different perspective, we had debate practice in both high school and college. Practice was onerous. A round took up two hours, nothing was on the line, the adrenaline was missing, and at the end, we still were headed to a tournament in however many days. I made my arguments in front of a mirror, and tried to anticipate opponents’ questions. We did well in tournaments.

   A final perspective I will give is that of an appellate advocate. When lawyers "moot" cases, the lawyer who is scheduled to argue presents her or his argument before colleagues. Those colleagues take on the roles of appellate judges and drill the lawyers with questions. Every time I have mooted an appellate case, I have benefitted from the experience. Other minds look at the issues with different sets of eyes. Questions, of which I had not thought, will be posed.

   The stakes in the "debates" between President Obama and Romney are much higher than were those in any high school or college competition. Preparation is important. It is interesting that the Republican Party already is downplaying the "debates." I think they anticipate their candidate will not do well.

   Romney does not answer questions posed to him. His approach is one used by many in politics. He uses a question to "spin" "talking points" out to his audience. He can be as difficult to nail down as Jell-o®. The panelists might let him slide. An aggressive panelist might be seen as in breach of protocol in some way.

   This brings me to a final point. In oral argument before an appellate panel, one can effectively advance a position when opposing counsel ducks a question from the bench. This is done by taking the lectern, in one’s turn, and saying, "Your Honor asked a question a few minutes ago that I would like to address..." Then one answers the damn question. If Romney ducks questions—and that is his manner—I will not be surprised to hear President Obama grab the opportunity to answer those questions.

   On the ballots used in high school and college debate when I debated, each speaker could score up to 30 points. Good debaters in good rounds scored 27 to 29 points. 30-point rounds were exceptional. In the presidential "debates" there are no points, as such. If there were, and using 30 as the possible high score for each candidate, I would take President Obama by five-and-a-half (5 ½) points right now. In debate, that would be a solid win.

   I just do not see Mitt Romney as capable of brining President Obama down to Romney’s level. That’s what Romney needs in order to win. The President has been prudent to prepare for the events. This is no time for an "upset."

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Comment by Paul K. Ogden on October 1, 2012 at 10:23am

Presidential debates are all about playing the expectations game - raising them on your opponent while lowering them on yourself.  Whether you win or lose is measured against those expectations.

Let me just say that President Obama is the best debater on the planet.  No one can compare to him, even the legendary college debater Mark Small.  Mitt Romney, on the other hand, will be lucky to utter a single coherent sentence during the debate. 


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