The Picture That Encapsulates the Debate

As a bonus two-point update (from inside a car! in China! an unfortunate first -- but at least I'm not driving) of the two earlier debate points:

1) The Obama team had clearly thought about one long-term tic in Mitt Romney's debate demeanor: His apparently uncontrollable vulnerability to being flustered if he thinks the "rules" are not being enforced. "I'm speaking ... it's my turn." Thus pictures like this, with Romney in a "teacher! teacher!" mode. This is the counterpart to the iconic picture of the first debate, which was Obama looking downcast and downward with a scowl. If I had more time I'd dig up one of those pics.

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Getty Images

2) To spell it out, I agree with my Atlantic colleagues Ta-Nehisi Coates and also Robert Wright on the general flow of this one, and I disagree with our National Journal colleague Ron Fournier, who considered it a no-winner squabble that left everyone worse off. Certainly there were pitched disagreements -- but to me they did not amount to squabbling but rather to the expression of actual differences in outlook, on issues from Libya to taxes. Unfortunately not on the automatic-weapons question, but that's for another day.

Update On reflection I think that the most important words in the debate, a kind of turning point, were "Please proceed, Governor." Explanation later; if you saw it, you'll know what I'm talking about. Clip is in previous post, and the crucial part starts about one minute in.
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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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