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Obama vs Romney—Round One of the election debates (published in Malaysian Insider’s Side Views 8 Oct

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney rather annoyingly nailed it last Wednesday. His slick jabs left a stumped Barack Obama licking his presidential wounds and rich post debate pickings from which the tabloids gleefully spat out the headlines: “Romney batters Bam in first debate: DIRECT MITT!”, or better still, “Mitt’s Massacre”.

Was President Obama having a bad day? Did swapping a romantic supper á deux with Michelle to mark their 20th wedding anniversary for a debate with a hawkish Romney tip the balance?

Critics suggest he was simply ill-prepared: Obama certainly didn’t bunker down to prepare for the onslaught at University of Denver’s red carpeted hall as did Romney; then again, he did have country to run.

The most disparaging remarks I’ve read were that Obama reckoned on a Clint Eastwood-styled opponent. Or that he gave credence to the tip off to The New York Times (by the Romney campaign) that Mitt had been preparing “zingers” since August, suggesting that he would be aiming low.

Even Republicans admit Obama’s a well-seasoned and masterful speaker, but perhaps the scrupulous lawyer in him got the better?

This debating of ‘the debate that went wrong for Obama’ has consumed press articles and chat shows since Wednesday. Which says one thing: performance is everything in election debates, they are the political arena’s equivalent of the Oscars where candidates face the biggest screen test of them all…how to entertain.

Facts, figures and policy play second fiddle; it’s the body language, tone, lines delivered or left unsaid and stage gravitas that captivated an audience of more than 67 million Americans pinned to their sofas for a full commercial-free ninety minutes.

The golden statuette for the best Hollywoodesque performance fell into Romney’s mitts, for his cocky display of shrewdness and punch that made him the millionaire businessman he is today. Who cares if he got several facts wrong, or “lied” even, as suggested by NYT columnist Maureen Dowd’s in her latest offerings.

It wasn’t easy following the tangle of statistics thrown out in the debate. But when you hear a candidate talk of making a $5 trillion tax cut (and no prizes for guessing the lucky recipients of these proposed cuts) when the country’s swamped by a $1.1trillion budget deficit, your ears prick up. When Romney was questioned later on how exactly he was achieve this without expanding the deficit he retorted: “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut.”

A significant loss of short term memory?

He certainly wasn’t lost for words when asked about his proposed cull of Sesame Street’s Big Bird as part of his ending government funding for public broadcasting (the tv channel ‘PBS’)—he joked that while he liked the yellow feathery friend: “I not going to borrow money from China to pay for it”. It would signal the death of a British politician’s career if they suggested the BBC be shut down…

Watching from my sofa, I felt like sticking a firecracker up Obama’s derrière after his feeble attempt to put Romney over the coals for his outrageous criticism and threat to overturn Obamacare if he becomes president. The Affordable Healthcare Act, dubbed Obamacare, is simply the best thing to have happened to America’s precariously selective and expensive healthcare system in decades.

It’s modelled on Romney’s very own progressive healthcare plan he approved while serving as Governor of Massachusetts. The $716 billion raised by Obama from cuts to insurance companies as opposed to patients, as incorrectly claimed by Romney, is ironically the same savings his running mate Paul Ryan advanced in his budget plans, and which the Republicans voted for in the past two years.

Like many liberal New Yorkers, I get the real news from the late night comedian Jon Stewart who recently quipped that Romney’s a “desperate madman that would say anything to get out of trouble, even if it doesn’t add up.”

As the saying goes, it will all come out in the wash, and there’s two more presidential debates before Election Day on 6 November.

My advice to Obama is simple: preparation improves performance. Ask your good wife to pick up a set of Everlast Pro Style boxing gloves as the belated anniversary present, and spar hard ready for round two on 16th October.

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