The Line I Was Sure President Obama Was Going to Use

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Your post-debate list of talking points, complete with historic videos:

  • During the debate and immediately afterwards, I felt, along with most people, that Mitt Romney had performed very well, and Barack Obama quite poorly. The wisdom that comes from a full 16+ hours of perspective does not change that view.
  • Everyone is offering explanations for what happened to Obama. Among many others, two worth checking on our site are from Garance Franke-Ruta and Derek Thompson.
  • The award for most disgraceful debate interpretation goes to a perennial favorite in this category, John Sununu, who told Andrea Mitchell that Obama had done poorly because he was "lazy."
  • The iron law of political coverage is "the story has to change." For several weeks the story had been: Romney gaffes, widening Obama lead. It was going to change one way or another last night. A bad Romney night might have led to a "time for a landslide!" tone. Now it's "Obama shocked, new spring in Romney's step."
  • The story will change again. Already we're getting the "hey, don't go overboard on the Romney Knockout" theme. If the Obama team is lucky or successful, the next story will be: Pyrrhic victory for Romney, as many of his claims last night get picked apart. If Romney is lucky, the story will remain: Obama on the slippery slope toward defeat. And of course tomorrow's job numbers will be worked into either theme. 
  • A lot of what Romney said cried out for real-time challenge, follow-up, or "wait a minute!" rebuttal. I am not at all in the "it was Jim Lehrer's fault" camp, because I respect Lehrer's decision not to assign himself follow-up interrogator duties. He was there to let the principals interact, and that is what he did. An incumbent president should have been fully prepared to handle the follow-up chores.
  • Learning from the past, 1980 edition: The first time I heard Mitt Romney make the "he's going to cut $716 billion out of Medicare" claim last night, I mouthed the response I assumed the President was going to give: "There you go again." Surely they had this one ready. Right? Right? Lest we forget:


  • Learning from the past, last month edition: Here is another way to handle that $716 billion claim. Every single line of this was available to the Obama prep team. Lest we forget this one too:


Here endeth my debate analysis for a while.

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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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