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Unanimous decision
Obama vs. Romney: And the winner is

Date published: 10/5/2012

THOUGH political debates are invariably likened to boxing matches, the highest level of the "sport" has seen just two knockouts--or at least knockdowns--since Kennedy and Nixon squared off in 1960. One was Ronald Reagan's debilitating "There you go again" to Jimmy Carter in 1980; the other occurred when Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle in 1988, "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy"--leaving the Hoosier VP candidate looking like Bambi caught in the high beams of a Mack truck.

Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney ate a Carter-Quayle haymaker during the first presidential debate Wednesday in Denver. But the contest wasn't a draw, either. Mr. Romney, after a run of bad news, confident and well-prepped, came out swinging. He largely had his way with the president, who left the arena in need of an ice bag. (Obama advocate Chris Matthews of MSNBC: "What was he doing?")

Television is a medium of image, and the incumbent projected a surprisingly weak one, seldom taking the fight to Mr. Romney. The Republican's criticisms of the president's domestic policies regarding, say, chronic unemployment and national indebtedness were sharp; Mr. Obama's counterpunching, flaccid. The challenger was a happy warrior; the champion looked ill at ease. And he lacked one advantage of a real pug: He couldn't go to his stool every three minutes and get remedial instructions from his corner. The result? Essentially a 90-minute leather shampoo.

Because no one really gets disqualified in a political debate, Mr. Romney also got away with some unpunished fouls of a factual nature. For example, he alleged that Obamacare "puts in place an unelected board"--nee: "death panel"--"that's going to tell people, ultimately, what kind of treatments they can have." In reality, that board is barred from making such decisions. Also, Mr. Romney's assertion that he will give especially high-income Americans a $5 trillion tax cut without increasing the deficit or taking it out of the hide of the middle class also befuddles economists, and even gives witch doctors pause.

But Mr. Romney had the energy, and he landed clean and sometimes clever punches, as when he used an Obama anecdote about cost-cutting at the Cleveland Clinic as evidence that a properly motivated private sector could do better than "trickle-down government" to manage health costs.

RING RUST


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