Last Debate

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I haven't checked any reaction to the debate on Twitter, email, TV commentary, or other things of the sort. Watched this just now with my wife, while more or less off the plane from China, and this is the raw first-impression dump.

As a matter of performance, this was as one-sided a win for Obama as the first debate was a one-sided embarrassment for him. Romney's ill-at-easeness on nearly every subject that came up was palpable, as was Obama's barely-contained certainty on all these issues (which burbled out mainly with the "we have these ships that go under the sea, called submarines" line).

As a matter of substance, it was depressing in principle that this was the level of presidential-campaign discussion on China, India (nothing, or close to it), climate change and the environment (nothing I heard), energy (next to nothing), Europe (ditto).

But it was more striking as a matter of substance that on virtually no issue did Romney make an actual criticism, of any sort, of Obama's policy or record. Including topics where he used to disagree, like the timeline for withdrawal for Afghanistan! Instead it was, "I agree, but you should have done it better."

I have no idea whether anyone was still watching at this point. I have no idea how much these last-of-three debates matter. I have less idea why Obama let himself do what he did the first time around, or why Romney was not better primed for this one. But I know that Obama did very well this evening, and Romney put up his worst showing.

The debates are now behind us. Two weeks to go.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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