Why Obama beat Romney – Debate three

 In Learning from Luminaries, Politicians

In the third presidential debate, leaving aside who won the battle of the ideas – the person who won the battle of the words, body language and voice, consistent with a commander-in-chief and leader of state, was Barack Obama.

I gave Obama 8.5/10; Romney 7.5/10.

Romney opening answer began with a weak attempt at humour. The humour attempt was out of place with the moderator’s somber remark about the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. With his first answer Romney looked slightly dazed. He rushed his delivery and ended his answer in an abrupt, awkward manner.

Obama entered the stage with a serious, determined, facial expression and a purposeful gait. His opening was assured and presidential in manner and in tone, which matched the seriousness of the debate topic. (The sit-down debate format suited Obama and helped him project assuredness versus the stand-up free flowing format of the second debate).

Early in the debate there was important, key power struggle with the first heated exchange. Each contender talked over the other. Obama won this mini power-play. He kept talking until he shut down Romney to silence. (This was the opposite of an exchange in the second debate when Romney shut down Obama).

My other comments on the debate are these:

  • Obama ‘owned’ and occupied the space in front of him with his body movement and gestures. He well used a pointed, cupped hand gesture to emphasise his key points.
  • Romney was more constrained with his gestures keeping them low and clasped. He seemed unsure what to do with his hands.  (The sit-down format seemed uncomfortable for him).
  • Obama never lost his cool throughout the debate. He projected a sense of calm and ease with himself. This calm and ease made his witty ‘we also have less horses and bayonets’ retort, available to him.
  • He eye-balled Romney when Romney was on the attack. (versus avoiding Romney’s gaze in the first two debates). He took the ‘hits’ calmly which conveyed a sense of gravitas and dignity.
  • Obama responded with certainty, energy and defiance to Romney’s ‘Apology tour’ jibe.
  • The Roman orator Cicero said ‘the effect is the affect’. Overall Obama’s affect throughout the debate was more aligned (versus Romney) with that of a confident, commander-in-chief.
  • Obama delivered a strong, measured and confident closing statement.
  • Romney’s closing statement was strong, measured and uplifting. He re-used a prior closing structure, of juxtaposing –  what he versus what Obama would do – to good effect.
  • Romney had good moments. One was the genuine passion his voice and face conveyed, when talking about the opportunities in Latin America.
  • Romney had moments of doubt. At one point he uttered, “If I am President” and quickly corrected himself to “When I am President”. There were cracks in his previous, unblemished confident presentation of himself and his ideas, from the first two debates.
  • Romney overused the word ‘tumult’. Overuse of specific words and phrases can give the impression that a person is bereft of new ideas.
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