NAM reached out to our network of contributors, including authors, experts and advocates for their responses to the first presidential debate.
Richard Rodriguez, TV Has Its Own Language
When the first presidential debate was televised in September of 1960, Americans chose Jack Kennedy over the more knowledgeable Richard Nixon mainly because Nixon's upper lip was sweaty and Kennedy looked gold-dusted in an expensive suit and he seemed serene. (Kennedy wore make-up; Nixon refused it.) Presidential debates, ever since then, have been about who "looks" more presidential or makes the snappier zinger or doesn't look bored (by glancing at his watch). In short, television has its own language -- and that language has less to do with ideas or facts than it has to do with the color of a necktie.
You would think President Obama would have understood the dynamics of a televised debate before he headed out to Colorado. His suit was great, but he looked tired (never a good thing on television where a weatherman who looks bored will quickly get himself fired). Worse, the President opened with a line directed to his "sweetie," promising his wife that they would have a more private anniversary celebration next year. He looked down at his notes, when his rival was speaking. He missed the chance to seem less cerebral and remote by not coming to the defense of Big Bird, following Mitt Romney's promise to pull the plug on federal funding of "Sesame Street."
Governor Romney looked squarely at his rival when he spoke about his rival. His suit was as expensive-looking as the President's. He talked over the grandfatherly Jim Lehrer, the debate moderator, who quickly lost control of the evening. (Romney showed signs, at such moments, of being the smiling bully who taunted his high school classmate.)
It turns out that lots of digitalized Americans tweeted nonsense to each other during the debates. We have entered the post-television age, even while we still watch television. But I'll bet that the debate would have "sounded" very different on radio. Who knows? On radio, maybe Obama won the debate. But anybody who listened to the presidential debate last night on radio would have missed the fact that the President wore a blue tie, appropriate to the blue state candidate, and his rival wore a red tie.
Sandip Roy, Sweety Made Me Cringe
The little happy anniversary moment really made me cringe.
When President Obama remembered his grandmother's death two days before the election last time, it made me tear up. Because there was just so much wistfulness, the fact that he could not be there. All of that hung heavy and unspoken. And it didn't seem like he was milking her death for sympathy.
But this gratuitous happy anniversary sweety was like a little parading of a private relationship for a Hallmark moment of public consumption. And just made me think, umm this date you DID know. Did u not get to wish her in the morning?
Dr. Joely Proudfit, Poor Big Bird
As a working Native American woman I felt there was a clear contrast of ideas for moving our country forward. President Obama presented plans for building an economy that would benefit everyone, building from the middle out, whereas Governor Romney seemed to offer a return to policies that benefit the wealthiest. As a working mother, I found Governor's Romney's lack of details frustrating yet he was determined and excitedly explicit about eliminating funding for programs like Sesame Street.
Jonah Most, Give It Up For Romney and Pizza
The consensus in the room: Romney looked presidential; he was sharp, poised, energetic and full of numbers. Our opinions and potential votes swung blue and red with every fact and zinger, as we ate pizza and played the official Presidential Debate drinking game.
Of course the debate wasn't really for us. Sure, who doesn't like to act hard to get, but our group of occupy lefty types, young people, gay righters, a Brit even, know we don't qualify as swing voters. No, it's for those mythical few in the heartland, finicky, easily offended, still trying to decide where they stand on the environment, civil liberties, immigration and social welfare.
Toni Miles, MD, Confused About Healthcare? So Am I.
The points that Gov. Mitt Romney made during the debate about health care were conflicting: Repeal Obamacare, but … No changes in Medicare for current or near term retirees, but … Premium support [vouchers to pay insurers instead of doctors and hospitals] for people 54 years or younger, who could choose between Medicare or a private plan, but … Restore Medicare's Advantage managed care plans, but … Decrease Medicare Advantage benefits for high-end beneficiaries, but …
What does all this boil down to? During the debate in 2009 surrounding the Affordable Care Act, there was advocacy for a public option. This option, run by the government, would have given everyone choices and kept private companies honest. Looks like the governor wanted a public option too. Confused about what he would replace Obamacare with if elected? So am I.
Jon Christensen, Environment Off the Map
This debate was a clear sign of how the environment has virtually vanished from the top ranks of American concerns this year. The only discussion of anything related to the environment was energy, but this was only mentioned in passing, and only in relation to jobs and investments in energy production and green cars, not the environment
This was meant to be a debate about domestic issues and principally focused on the economy, although the role of government and regulation was also raised for debate. Not so long ago, these topics caused great debates about trade-offs between protecting the environment and protecting the economy and jobs. That debate was often tendentious, pitting the two as opposed, when in many cases they are not.
We might take it as a good thing that such simple oppositions are not part of this presidential debate. Unfortunately, however, that is only because the environment has essentially been dropped from the discussion.
Zahir Janmohamed, Immigrants Not Even Profiled
On August 27, The Washington Post reported that President Barack Obama has deported immigrants at a rate 1.5 times faster than his predecessor, George W. Bush. The Romney campaign has argued this is not tough enough and promises it will instill racial profiling practices like the ones already put in place in Arizona.
There was no mention of this during Wednesday night's first presidential debate. Nor was there any mention of the continued indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay or Obama's signing of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 that permits the military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone — including US citizens — accused of assisting terrorists.
The question we should ask the morning after is not who won the debate but rather: just how did we allow the definition of domestic policies to become so narrow?
Jesús Valenzuela Félix, View From the Field
Was the first presidential debate a victory for Gov. Romney? Yes.
The focus of the first debate was the economy with the main argument being for the middle class. However, when the argument for the middle class revolves around keeping those that are there as well as helping those that have fallen, we have an issue -- the argument continues to revolve around the people of privilege and not around those who are born into poverty and will most likely stay poor no matter how much they work. (They call us the working poor.)
This isn't surprising. What is surprising is that the majority of us agree that Romney won. My friend Marichel Mejia, who also works for the United Farm Workers, explained it best: "Romney lied about everything. So you have a president that didn't look strong, but had good arguments and a presidential candidate that looked strong but lied. Yet Romney is crowned the victor."
If this is who we crown a winner, then maybe the more important focus should be on the loser: us. The working poor in Eastern Coachella Valley and across the county.
Hao Nhien, The Trouble With China
For Vietnamese-Americans, the issue of China always raises interest. As the people in Vietnam are more and more wary of their giant neighboring country, Vietnamese-Americans watch for any movement in U.S.-China relationship.
And so it was that they witnessed China getting knocked by both candidates. Romney swore to "crack down on the Chinese when they cheat," and later said he wanted to avoid having to borrow money from the Chinese to pay for federal spending. Of course, since nobody can stop Chinese investors from buying U.S. bonds, it's an impossible dream.
Obama, on the other hand, claimed that loopholes allowed companies to save on taxes when they outsourced to China. That may or may not be true, but it certainly doesn't address other, non-tax reasons that may prompt companies to move jobs overseas.
However, that's not even the point. The point is these candidates were bashing China for all the wrong reasons. The problem with China is not in its trade policies. The problem with China is the oppression of its own people, aggression against its neighbors, and affection for bloody tyrants like Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Now, those points perhaps do not belong in this domestic policy debate, but by shoe-horning China in, both the populist Obama and supposed pro-business Romney were spouting nonsense that will not work in the world of a liberalized global market.
Matt Amaral, A Beauty Contest
As a teacher, I am always looking for my students to delve deeper. People today dwell too much on the flash poll, the aesthetics, the white teeth, and the sparkle. What concerns me most when looking at who will run our country is not their goofy grin but the policies that I either agree with or do not. In a debate mostly about blurry platitudes and vague visions, what I am most interested in is the facts and the direction each man will point to with confidence and say, "Yes, I am going that way."
When President Obama says Mitt Romney has a plan that costs 5 trillion dollars, with 2 trillion more on top of that, with no way to pay for it, I wonder if that is true. And when Mitt Romney comes back and says that is completely erroneous, I then wonder who is lying. So unlike most people interested in immediate gratification, I am going to wait for the next day or two to see who was lying. I want to delve deeper. We don't have to be sheep anymore. We don't have to listen to something said with a smile and say to our friends, "Well, he said it so nicely, it must be true."
Listening to the pundits after the debate was a surreal experience. They agreed on two things: 1) Mitt Romney won because he looked great, and 2) Mitt Romney was lying about almost everything. I don't see how you can fit those two thoughts in your head at the same time. So I am going to wait for the fact-checkers, because if one of them, Obama or Romney, can lie with such ease directly to the American public, then to me not only did they lose the debate, it was a landslide.