Tuesday’s second presidential candidates’ debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney came down to three words – two that won it for the President, and one that lost it for Romney. Obama’s winning words were “sketchy” and “offensive.” Romney’s losing word was “binders.”
Those of us who write or otherwise communicate for a living know how important it is to drive home a point by creating a framework for the delivery of a key word or concept that suddenly causes it to make sense. In writing, for example, the ability to capture the inflections in a spoken voice is often the best sign of success. It’s well-framed key words that matter most, functioning like knock-out punches in a boxing match.
So, here’s how it went down in Tuesday’s feisty debate, aside from all the pyrotechnics of the jockeying, jostling and interrupting back and forth between the candidates:
The president was able to sum up the entirety of Romney’s economic plan in what came down to one word: “sketchy.” It was a magnificent blow.
“Now, Gov. Romney was a very successful investor,” he said. “If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want you to spend $7 or $8 trillion and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t have taken such a sketchy deal.”
“Blam!,” to quote Robot Chicken.
All the complicated explanations came down to that, making clear that Romney has never made it clear how he would square all the tax cuts and defense spending gains he is promising with reducing the deficit.
In the second knock-out blow for the president, he dressed down Romney with a scalding reprimand on the issue of the attack on the Libyan consulate.
“The suggestion that anybody on my team – whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. Ambassador – anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as President. That’s not what I do as Commander-in-Chief.”
Romney then sputtered, degrading his response to nit-picking over what the President did or didn’t say in the Rose Garden the day after the attack.
Obama’s rebuke was well deserved, because even when no one really knew what was behind the attack, in the first hours, Romney tried to politicize the incident for his own gain by leveling an attack on Obama, accusing him of accommodating those behind the attack with a leaflet circulated in the area that was actually intended to defuse the potential violence before it happened.
Then there was Romney’s self-inflicted blow, the entirety of his awkward reply to a question about inequalities between women and men in the workplace.
Obama referred to his actions, signing the Lilly Ledbetter bill addressing income disparity, a bill that Romney opposed and his V-P candidate Paul Ryan voted against.
But Romney spoke nothing about income or any other disparities. Instead, he recounted when he tried to constitute a cabinet after being elected governor of Massachusetts. Seeing his advisors recommended no women, he said, he commented, “Gosh, can’t we find some women who are also qualified?”
He continued, “And so we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And they brought us whole binders full of women.”
Yikes! It was like Romney had never encountered a woman in his whole life before that moment. The whole idea of the opposite sex, for something other than homemaking or child bearing, was alien to him.