David Gergen on the President’s Debate Performance

“The analyst David Gergen said, “I didn’t think he was rusty so much as I don’t think anybody’s ever spoken to him like that over the last four years. I think he found that not only surprising, but offensive in some ways.”  source

Given Gergen’s extensive experience in the Clinton White House, that’s a scary quote.  What happened to John Lennon’s “Just Give Me Some Truth”?       Was Larry Summers a “yes man” who due to his own career concerns didn’t challenge the President to his face?  How respectful of the Office should leading staff be?     Are there aggressive policy debates in the White House where people directly challenge the President or would that hinder career advancement?    The President was once a Professor.  Academia features endless bloody debate.

Last night was strange.  I wondered if a national security emergency had taken place last night so the President was distracted.  His opponent was able to convince many potential voters that Romney = Reagan.   The NY Times is very worried. Take a look at their editorials today.

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

52 thoughts on “David Gergen on the President’s Debate Performance”

  1. Well, I find it offensive when a person lies repeatedly, right to my face. Obama is used to being around people who are contentious (he’s a Democrat…), but has managed to avoid the used-car salesmen of the world pretty well. Circumstances forced him to engage in a 90 minute debate with one of them last night and he could hardly contain his disgust. A better politician (say, Bill Clinton) would have enjoyed the spectacle, turned to the cameras, and said “get a load of this guy.” That’s just not Obama.

  2. I think it’s a good thing if the President’s people aren’t spending substantial percentages of their time with the president saying things that are demonstrably untrue.

    1. Give me a break. You may think that every word Romney uttered last night, including “and” and “the” were bald faced lies, you may be in deep, deep denial about the administration’s own lies, but the idea that somebody can reach the White house without experience in dealing with liars is ludicris.

      What happened last night is that a guy who’s coccooned himself for four years, spent his administration in a hothouse, had to leave the shelter. *Maybe* Obama just surrounds himself with people who genuinely agree with him about everything, instead of syncophants. (Maybe…) But he’s not used to dealing with people who disagree with him, and it shows.

      Dealing with a media head wind, a journalistic community whose members are 90% plus Democrats, may be hard on Republicans, but it hardens them, too. Obama probably should have got out of his coccoon more, maybe let some people who didn’t worship him get past the guards.

      I’ll be shocked if he can rebuild his atrophied coping skills in the time he has left.

      1. Excuse me but all the reports indicate Obama had many people telling him not to go after Osama bin Ladin and also to do nothing in Lybia. He did those despite their disagreement. Your position is totally bogus.

        1. No, his position is not only not bogus, but I think it’s pretty accurate. The one thing I’d disagree with is the idea that he surrounds himself with people who always agree with him. I’m sure there are disagreements. But that was not Brett’s main point. His main point was about the cocoon in which, in the White House, President O’Bama is “Mr. President.” When one of his advisors disagrees with him, it is done in words and tones of respect, beginning, I’m sure, with something like “Mr. President, I respect your position but I respectfully disagree. Here’s my reasoning.”

          In the White House, there are probably none of his advisors who call him a liar, or who basically tell him he’s full of shit. Four years ago, having dealt with John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Hillary (as well as many others) in the primaries, he was used to it. Now it’s a memory of the distant past. Seeing a Republican TV ad in the comfort of your home, in your easy chair, is a very different experience than facing it in person on live TV, where your reaction is about to be parsed by 1,000 talking heads and 100,000,000 voters.

          O’Bama seriously needs a massive transfusion from Bill Clinton.

          1. Still listening to your self-chosen neighbors, Ken? I love this sort of troll.

      2. hey brett, i thought you weren’t coming back until after the election. how are you doing these days? and how about your family? your child must be approaching four years old now. even though i may bitterly disagree with you most of the time i still prefer your tendentious tenacity to the abject asininity of some of the other “conservative” commenters. take care!

        1. Eh, the whole internet is going mad at this point, which kind of obviates the reason I had for ceasing to comment here.

          Yes, Victor will be 4 on the 17th, he’s really getting big. Here’s he and mommy during a recent outing: Mommy and son.

      3. Mr. Bellmore,
        Great to see you back in the comments! I wonder if you finally have time to pop back to this thread, review your statement that “As for Obama not being an addict, isn’t it conventional to refer to people who illegally use illegal drug as “addicts”?”, and reply to the cogent criticism that your statement received? I know you must have overlooked taking care of that during your self-imposed hiatus. Thanks!


          1. allow me to say two things at this point–

            first, victor is truly a sweet looking youngster. i have no doubt you are justifiably proud to have him.

            second, adequate?!? HAH!!!

          2. The adequacy of my response is not contingent on your liking it, which was never in the cards.

          3. And, yes, I’m quite proud, though I have to give a lot of the credit to my brilliant and beautiful wife, Merriam. He really takes after her more than me, except perhaps for his technical inclinations. Thankfully her social skills have moderated more unfortunate aspects of “the Knack”. 😉

          4. = = = Brett Bellmore @ October 4, 2012 at 6:55 pm: “The adequacy of my response is not contingent on your liking it, which was never in the cards.A” = = =

            You simply didn’t answer criticisms of your statement at all, which leaves the issue of adequacy in the realm of the null set.


            Brett Bellmore: crickets.wav

          5. Brett certainly has a beautiful family.

            Now down to business. Brett never ever responds to substance. But he very often posts something to a thread after it’s been paginated back to the archives. He just did this on Don Taylor’s post, and I replied, but only because I was looking for this tactic. I suggest that threads be closed once they’re off the main page.

          6. Russell, I’d second that suggestion; When to stop commenting on an old thread is indeed a sticky judgement call, isn’t it?

            Cranky, no, I did respond. You just didn’t like the response.

          7. @ brett bellmore–
            since cranky has provided the link, i’ve read back through that discussion and i must say i think cranky gets it right unless your meaning is that silence was an adequate response. if that is the case then your silence truly speaks louder than words.

  3. I’m not as worried as the NY Times, nor as avid/eager as the general punditry to declare A Smashing Victory for Romney over the forces of East Asia (or is Obama Eurasia? I can never remember).

    IMHO Obama “won” by not losing, not that I really like the whole need to declare a winner or loser. The electorate has mostly made up their mind(s), neither candidate said anything profoundly stupid (except perhaps Mitt wanting to turn Big Bird into fried chicken…Team Obama might be able to work with that). The instant poll that showed Romney “winning” with, what, 46 percent? That looks like the Republican base to me. Romney could babble like a lunatic at a bus stop (and sometimes he did) and draw that level of support.

    No, Obama didn’t soar to rapturous oratorical heights, or call Mitt out for being a liar…but I don’t think he needed to. He “wins” by playing it safe and not giving Team Romney anything they can turn, in or out of context, into something to further infuriate their base.

  4. As I’ve said in other places, I think some pretty good ads can be made showing Mitt as an aggressive in-your-face liar. Pre-existing conditions, the extent of his tax rate reduction, etc.

  5. 1. Yes, Obama could have been more forceful about what Romney was saying in the debate (especially about the Romney health care plan and tax plan) and what Romney had said before the debate.
    2. I would point out that Obama did not make any serious errors, which serves as evidence that he is not in fact incompetent without the assistance of teleprompters. I know that there was evidence of this before, but it is good for there to be more evidence.

    1. I basically agree with your points. The one exception is that Obama kept saying “and”. Maybe he was trying to hold off the moderator but it started driving me nuts. I kept wanting to whisper in his ear, “Start a new sentence.”

  6. The talk about energy and forcefulness may be a surrogate for who wanted to be there last night, where Romney had a clear advantage over Obama. What is potentially alarming is whether it was a surrogate for who wants the damn job. I had to wonder if somehow Obama has come to feel that the job is not worth fighting for; maybe he has heard “Hail To The Chief” enough times and feels that riding around on Air Force One does not compensate for the sheer pain in the ass of dealing with a bunch of damn fools and charlatans every day. Maybe Bill Clinton had a greater capacity for suffering fools gladly, and maybe Obama’s capacity is limited. If being a one term president is fine with him, that could explain much of what we observed on stage in Denver.

    Both candidates fell into policy jargon with repeated references, unexplained in plain language, to Dodd-Frank and Simpson-Bowles. The target audience of undecided voters is sparsely populated by policy wonks who know the referents of those terms; others are just going to wonder if Dodd-Frank is kosher and whether Simpson-Bowles isn’t that maker of postage meters and other office supplies. Neither candidate was harmed or benefited from this ambiguity, however.

    1. “… who wanted to be there last night …”

      That was my take-away as well. A better deadline poet than I might flesh out a short fragment from Bizarro-world-Yeats’ poem “The Second Term”:

      The ceremony of [hope ‘n change] is drowned;
      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

      Surely some revelation is at hand;
      Surely the Second Term is at hand.
      The Second Term! Hardly are those words out
      When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
      Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
      A shape with [vulture capitalist] body and the head of a man,
      A [smirk] blank and pitiless as the sun,
      Is [spouting] its [facile] [lies], while all about it
      Wind shadows of the indignant desert [wingbats].

      etc. etc.

  7. It’s best of three, and Obama is now on notice that this election is no longer a done deal.

    The narrative out in the bleachers is all about how Romney is gallantly fighting to turn things around. A dangerous narrative, as MR is clearly tacking to the centre.

    It puts it up to the Champ and the Favourite next time out, to come with a plan, master the details, and have a few zingers of his own. A sharp rattle to the “Gallant Romney fighting back” narrative is what is needed.

  8. I also want to point out that there is an asymmetrical risk-reward structure for Obama. The reward of being aggressive is that he could make Romney the loser in the debate. But as a lot of people pointed out, a modest win for Romney is no game-changer. The risk of being aggressive is that Obama becomes an Angry Black Man. That could be a game-changer. With this kind of asymmetry and some risk of overshooting, better to wimp out.

    Matthew’s general point is more troublesome, even if Obama wins the election. Are there any smart people around who can tell Obama that he just emitted a brain fart? If not, the second term will not go well.

    1. I don’t buy the whole “Angry Black Man” idea.

      FIrst of all, there’s a lot of room between where Obama is and that.

      Second, if you buy into stereotypes, what’s wrong with having an Angry Black Man on your side?

      I think this is one of those things that somebody said once, somehow became conventional wisdom, and really needs to be challenged.

      1. And, “the angry black male” didn’t seem to hurt Clarence Thomas in his confirmation effort.

  9. No doubt Mitt Romney did win the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans who are given to shiny objects, but within his rhetorical responses was very little substance and a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing! I still know no more about Mitt than I did at the beginning of the evening.

    Is he a tax cheat who took advantage of the 2009 amnesty?
    How can he deny Romneycare is the basis of Obamacare lest he has no problem equivocating even to a national audience?
    How does he square Mitch McConnell’s salvo four years ago in which he boasted he would work all out to make Barack Obama a one term president and his own charge last night that President Obama never reached out for a bi-partisan effort?
    Why did his established campaign trail priorities and policy proposals morph into opposite ideas without nary a blink of an eye?
    Can Mitt Romney do math correctly enough to produce a beneficial budget for our nation’s economy?
    Is his Ryan Plan good for all Americans?

    These are still questions on my mind that were not addressed last night, and ones I would like answered by Willard no matter his forceful presentation on stage in Denver!

  10. “I don’t think anybody’s ever spoken to him like that over the last four years.”

    Baloney. Gergen conveniently ignores the elephantine presence of … NATIONAL TV!
    Obama obviously decided he was better off conceding a few fast-paced exchanges on boring specifics than to risk being provoked into breaking his cool.

  11. Romney wasn’t lying last night so much as bullshitting, and for me the key moment was when he said “Make up a number.” After running for President for year after year, and promising that he will bring the budget into balance, when specifically asked how he can possibly pay for his tax cuts by eliminating “deductions and loopholes,” he says, it will just work if I “make up a number”!

  12. I wondered about the national security issue, also. Still wondering if there won’t be an announcement of a breakthrough with Iran or Syria in the next day or so. There was the Turkey / Syria exchange of artillery which might have developed into a big issue if the exchange had gotten out of control. Was Obama busy keeping the lid on that all day leaving him too low on energy to deal with Romney’s falsehoods?

    1. Turkish parliament approved the use of Turkish forces inside Syria for a period of a year today. Erdogan insists it’s gestural, and a only warning — but who knows?

    2. I see the Turkish assembly is meeting to discuss further actions against Syria. The possibility of an ally getting into a dustup in Syria who is an ally of Iran has to be distracting Obama.

      1. The Turkish parliament approved cross-border actions and the military has fired more artillery into Syria.

  13. I don’t buy the cocoon argument, any more for this president than any other, and probably less. I think he was either tired or distracted, or trying to stay detached. What can you really do with someone who **lies** that much? It’s like trying to fight a shadow. And my hope and belief is that the prez is like a boxer, and now he’s seen Romney’s moves.

    I found Romney painful to watch, because he seemed so desperate and flailing, and so lacking in any apparent center, or “thereness,” and it made me feel sorry for him. It is like the end of Oliver Twist, where they’re going to kill the Artful Dodger and you hate him but you feel sorry for him too.

    I admit though, the man is clever. I just don’t understand how he ended up this way. What happened to him in his life? It is bizarre. And I just hope voters aren’t dumb enough to fall for it.

    1. “What can you really do with someone who **lies** that much?”

      There’s a simple answer to that. It’s an expression that’s well known to the “modern generation,” and the first time I heard my son say it I added it to my repertoire, where it is frequently called into action. To some old people it may sound undignified, but to a large percentage of the population it sound like a person is well connected to the modern real world:

      After an egregious b.s. statement, you interject “I call bullshit on that!” And then you back it up with a SIMPLE statement (no long meandering paragraphs) of fact and logic.

      I guarantee you, no matter who has the last rebuttal, that one statement is the single thing 100,000,000 Americans will remember about the whole evening.

      1. Upon reflection, I’m glad O’Bama didn’t use this line in yesterday’s debate. It might have been wasted there, since the one thing many of those 100,000,000 Americans would remember would still be Romney firing Big Bird.

        Gotta save the bullshit call for next time.

        1. I agree, that’s a powerful call. But it has to be done right, and that’s not easy. I am not a boxing person, but Romney weaves and dances around so much. It’s like trying to pin soup to a wall, or something. I’m sure the president will figure it out though.

  14. “I don’t think anybody’s ever spoken to him like that over the last four years.”

    “You lie!”
    – Rep. Joe Wilson, during the SOTU, Sept. 9, 2009.

    Name a president who has been vilified in the media and to his face the way Obama has been. This is a stupid comment with about the same degree of truth as “teleprompter” and “birth certificate.”

    PS- what is this O’Bama shit? Are you calling Obama a Bama? Is there any African-American who have ever lived who’s less a Bama than Obama?

    1. Remember that Obama has an Irish ancestor (grandfather or great-grandfather). The O’Bama shirts were popular at the time of his visit to Ireland.


  15. Larry Summers is capable of being very polite while giving advice. I know this as he was my PhD advisor (yeah Obama and I share an advisor this is just one of the only thing we have in common). He sure wasn’t afraid that my anger would limit his career. He was worried that loss of confidence would limit my career.

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