David Horsey watched the event with friends (as did many people) and his take is somewhat instructive.
Over the 90 minutes of the debate, Romney submerged the right-wing image he had adopted in the Republican primary race and came off as a reasonable, moderate technocrat who differs with President Obama only about the means to get to the ends they both seek.Obama made no mention of Bain, of off-shore tax havens, of the "47%". There was certainly an opportunity for each of those. There was no mention of yet more Romney's trademarked flip-flops, although that might have required a little finesse and a willingness to throw-down, something Mr. Obama clearly hates to do on his own.
For his part, Obama was pleasant and professorial, as if he were merely engaged in a ponderous academic discussion, rather than a political grudge match with enormous consequences. Faced with the chance to deliver the coup de grace to Romney’s flailing campaign, Obama appeared to have left his rhetorical weapons at the door.
Without the president calling him on it, Romney expressed a newfound concern for the poor that differed dramatically from the disdainful tone of his private remarks about the 47% of Americans he describes as dependent, indolent victims. He rolled over debate moderator Jim Lehrer and took the fight to Obama on everything from green-energy funding to Obamacare. [Emphasis added]
And that's a shame, because on the issue of Medicare/Medicaid and Romney's assertion that the president "cut" $716 million from Medicare, Obama had available to him some news that would have bolstered his assertion that the cuts were to fraudulent and unethical providers and not to beneficiaries.
A federal healthcare strike force has charged 91 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals in a nationwide sweep in connection with fraudulently billing the government nearly $430 million. Those charged included a group in Los Angeles that ferried patients for ambulance rides that were never medically necessary.
According to federal law enforcement officials on Thursday, 16 people were charged in Los Angeles, including three doctors and a licensed physical therapist, in schemes that cost $53.8 million. The phony ambulance trips cost the government $49.2 million, and the four people arrested in that operation represent the largest takedown of alleged ambulance fraud since the special Medical Care Strike Force was activated five years ago. ...
Since May 2007, strike force officials working under the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services have charged more than 1,480 defendants for more than $4.8 billion in healthcare fraud. [Emphasis added]
As disappointed as I have been with President Obama, his work on rooting out the rogues in healthcare has been magnificent and long-overdue. That is how the savings to Medicare/Medicaid will be worked out, and that is a good thing as far as containing rising healthcare costs. Emphasizing that in response to Romney's smarmy allusion to the "unelected" panels (a nice dog-whistle for death panels), would have been appropriate, yet Obama pretty much let that go.
Will this first debate make a difference as far as the election goes? Who the hell knows. It does give the pundits and mainstream press what they wanted: a way to keep touting a close race which may or may not exist. It also keeps the tv stations happy because it means the political ads will keep adding to their coffers for the next month.
Will I pay attention to the next debates? Probably, but my expectations will be even lower. In other words, I'm not buying any more popcorn.