The first Obama-Romney debate is over, and has been followed by predictable torrents of over-dissection and over-analysis. So, why add more?

Because reactions in Israel may be surprisingly instructive in projecting the likely impact of this debate on the coming election. Americans in Israel, as well as native-Israelis, make for an interesting group with which to measure the effect of the debate, especially on the impression made by Governor Romney.

That is, paradoxically, precisely because Israel-based viewers are lessengaged in details of this campaign than voters in America. They are, therefore, arguably a better reflection of the less-engaged and still-undecided voters in America than the hardened political junkies whose impressions of the candidates were formed long ago. As a result, the reactions of viewers here likely reflect the impressions formed primarily by the debate performances, as opposed to pre-existing impressions.

This is not to suggest that Israel-based viewers are disengaged; on the contrary, Israelis are famously omnivorous consumers of news. But viewers and voters in Israel are not as widely exposed to the presidential campaign as those in America, where the campaign is omnipresent. In fact, in spite of his visit to Israel this summer, Mitt Romney is still not well-known to the Israeli public: coverage of the man and his campaign has been doubly-filtered–first, by American media editing, and then by Israeli media largely reporting second-hand on what they see from American news. In addition, the Israeli public is, thankfully, not inundated with commercials and billboards from the respective campaigns and independent political action committees. (It seems we in Israel will have that pleasure this coming February.)

Last night, viewers finally got to see a lot of Romney for themselves, unfiltered by any other media. My highly unscientific survey of reactions from Israeli viewers indicates that the vast majority of those viewers were pleasantly surprised.

So much political spin had previously caricatured Romney as a stiff, uncaring, plastic, gaffe-prone, extremist, out-of-touch, scary, patrician robber-baron–and the Israeli press uncritically endorsed that spin for the most part. But last night, viewers saw the man spin-free, and saw with their own eyes a man of confidence, intelligence, substance, moderation, precision, enthusiasm, grace, understanding, and a command of issues that outshone that of President Obama. He came across as a good executive. He seemed…well, presidential.

And if Romney seemed presidential to so many in Israel who were not previously immersed in this campaign, there’s a good chance that he made the same kind of impression on less-immersed, undecided voters in America.

I know enough not to make too much of one debate out of a series of three. This is hardly the first time that a challenger has surprised or outshone the incumbent President in a first debate. And President Obama is certainly a skilled performer who is unlikely to appear as deflated or unprepared as he seemed last night, when it looked like he was just mailing it in. After all, even Walter Mondale outperformed President Reagan in their first 1984 debate, only to have Reagan return to form and go on to win 49 states.

But this feels different. This was a remarkably substantive, freewheeling debate, not just 60-second sound-bites and talking points. Romney was in command from start to finish. Even if Obama had an off night, Romney, with this one performance, erased the image that had been cultivated by the media. All the king’s newscasters and all the king’s late-night comedians cannot easily put that caricature together again–at least not one that will have the much credibility with voters.

It has been said of the undecided American voters that “they want to fire Obama, but aren’t sure they want to hire Romney.” And while American voters in Israel really want to fire Obama, many had not yet gotten used to the idea of hiring Romney–keep in mind, about half the Americans in Israel are (well, were) Democrats. Last night went a long away toward changing that. Romney’s performance should make those on the fence–in Israel and America–quite comfortable with the thought of hiring him as President.

Abe Katsman is an American attorney and political commentator living in Jerusalem. He serves as Counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.


  1. This debate was an exhibition of what happens in the real world when a person who has filled his mind with slogans and cliches confronts a man with deeper knowledge of how the economy works and how to govern. Obama has been following a redistribution-of-wealth policy which has NEVER worked in all of history and can’t EVER work in the future. That is because redistribution-economics violates the basic laws of economics and human nature. Redistribution is like pouring sand into the gears of an economy.
    Obama’s campaign has been using the unpleasant strategy of distorting and demonizing the opponent. In the debate, Obama tried repeatedly to tag Romney with a tax policy that he never promoted and clearly said he will not pursue. Romney deflated Obama’s balloon when he said that he will not cut taxes for the rich at all, no matter how many times you repeat that falsehood. Obama, who has grown accustomed to the left-wing media propaganda blitz supporting his distortions, had no good answers.

  2. The Obama campaign’s practice of distorting and demonizing Romney’s policies is straight out of the Soviet Union propaganda playbook. In other words, the Obama campaign is lying about Romney’s alleged ‘4-5 trillion dollar’ tax cut for the rich. I did something which apparently Obama neglected to do before his debate with Romney – I actually read his economic plan. In it, there is a marginal tax rate cut for everyone, but he wants to broaden the tax base by reducing special interest deductions. The biggest beneficiaries of the reduced rates will be those making less than $200,000, not THE RICH. What makes Romney’s plan far better than Obama’s is that Romney will cut government spending right away. Guess what? Spending cuts save money and reduce the deficit. Obama said Romney COULD NOT reduce marginal tax rates AND reduce the deficit. Wrong. Spending under Obama has risen from the historical 20% of GDP to an unsustainable 25% of GDP. When Romney immediately reduces spending and eliminates unnecessary government programs, deficits will come down. As money is shifted back to the private sector through the lower tax rates, away from wasteful government, hiring will improve; more citizens will pay taxes, and government tax receipts will go up. Problem solved. America is back.

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