Neuroself Live Blogs the Second Presidential Debate


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Neuroself Live Blogs the 2nd Presidential Debate
Tuesday October 16, 2012
8:41
So here we go, Presidential Debate #2

8:42
Just learned that Fox News is providing the cameras and cameramen for the debate tonight. The networks pool, and tonight it’s Fox. Let’s see which candidate’s suit looks better.

8:43
Also no tweeting allowed form the room. Doesn’t that violate the Constitutional Right to Freedom of Tweet?

8:54
They just introduced Candy Crowley as “Canny” Crowley. Let’s hope!

8:57
The room is hushed! Let’s see how Obama and Romney look when they come out. In the last two live blogs I was able to predict the winner within the first 20 minutes based on the status of the candidates’ autonomic nervous systems (win to Romney, tie between Biden and Ryan). Will give it a shot again tonight.

9:01
A few ideas to think about. The first is that the rumor, in psychoanalytic circles, is that Obama likes to be the underdog. Now that he is, we may see a release of his fighting instinct. A technical way of saying this is that he may switch from a “dyad” in which he is a tolerant superior holding back from attacking a weaker opponent (last debate) to one in which he is a righteous outsider justifiably going after a superior opponent (this debate). One can hope.

9:02
And Candy is warmly introducing herself. She looks like a traffic court judge.

9:02
She explains the format. Nobody knows the questions. No cheering. No interrupting. Let’s have a fair fight!

9:03
Obama shakes hands first, puts his hand on Romney’s shoulder first. A good sign.

9:03
Romney won the coin toss will take first question. Let’s go Jeremy Epstein.

9:04
Wants Romney to reassure him and his parents that he’ll get a job when he graduates. Best answer I can think of: you can come intern for me in the White House.

9:05
Romney doesn’t go for my suggestion. An attempt at empathy that restates the question in long winded form.

9:05
Obama making eye contact, looking sober, locked in. Good sign.

9:06
Romney does not answer question about Jeremy’s parents.

9:06
Obama saying lots of bland things. Then says he’s created 5 million jobs. Goes into a set piece. Nobody is answering Jeremy’s question. Is this what they teach at Hofstra?

9:07
Obama is talking about oil and natural gas. What? Jeremy looks confused.

9:09
Obama’s answer is stereotyped, hackneyed, doesn’t go after the actual question. Failure to adjust a stump speech to the specific person a sign of anxiety – Obama is worried about improvising. If Jeremy were in his office, he’d be far more personal and nuanced. So far I say Obama is anxious – just like I thought last time.

9:10
BTW Romney almost said what I suggested at end of his first answer – “when you graduate I’ll be in White House – I guarantee you’ll have a job.” He should have added “call me.”

9:11
And we have our first attack of the night. Obama calls Romney a liar about Romney’s car history. “Romney doesn’t have a 5 point plan, a 1 point plan. That the folks at the top play by a different set of rules.” Question: will presenting a memorized attack line release Obama to improvise attacks? This is surely what he’s been coached to do for past 2 weeks.

9:12
Romney tries to interrupt Candy – approaches her aggressively – she blocks him successfully. A weird moment.

9:12
Candy Crowley to Romney: “I know Jim Lehrer. Jim Lehrer is a friend of mine. Mr. Romney, I’m no Jim Lehrer.”

9:14
An exquisitely sympathetic nervous system asks Obama a question about energy. Obama appears to calm down in the face of this – as nervous systems will; you either join or polarize thanks to the reciprocal action of cortisol and testosterone. Another attack on Romney’s bad energy plan as short sighted.

9:16
Romney attacking Obama for reducing permits for drilling for oil on government land and criminally prosecuting oil companies for killing 25 endangered birds while drilling. Derisively pointing to Obama “this is not Mr. Coal.” Is this seriously considered a winning strategy?

9:16
Romney: “Drill baby drill.”

9:16
Crowley reframes the question for no reason.

9:18
Obama continues aggressive “very little of what Governor Romney just said is true.” “Natural gas isn’t just appearing magically – we’re producing it” Nails Romney for shutting down coal plant when governor. I believe this is a spare if not a strike for Obama.

9:18
Romney: “Drill baby drill.”

9:18
No longer worried about Obama’s sympathetic tone. Very aggressive. High testosterone, high serotonin, low cortisol should equal at least a tie for him. Now let’s see Romney.

9:19
And now they are moving towards each other and almost coming to blows. Romney seems hyper, itching for a fight. Prediction: liberal pundits are going to go nuts over what Romney what did with his body language.

9:20
Obama gets up and Romney holds hand out to him and says derisively “you’ll get your chance in just a moment.” I believe he is crossing the line into rudeness. Perhaps just crossed it. This should be catnip for Rachel Maddow.

9:22
Obama gets in a great economic dig: gas prices are low when economic policy is bad. Maybe that’s how he’s going to lower gas prices. Audience – against rules – laughs.

9:22
Overall both men seem high testosterone. There will be no Obama collapse tonight. Very, very aggressive.

9:23
Romney lectures Crowley on how to run the debate, she corrects him. He seems hyped up on Red Bull. I think he’s going to take huge heat for his behavior.

9:25
Some new topic has been introduced but I’m still in shock over the bar fight I just witnessed. Romney was acting like a bro pissed that some hipster took his drink.

9:27
Romney’s voice sounds strained. He’s either tense or has laryngitis.

9:27
Romney claiming to reduce taxes on middle income families.

9:27
Obama says same thing more or less.

9:28
Obama flaunting his middle income tax cut cred. Lookoing calm, good eye contact with crowd, does not seem hyped up, continues to look calm and confident. What happened last time?

9:30
Obama: Next term, those who make over $250,000 a year in income will go back to Clinton era tax rates. Will Obama go after Romney’s Cayman Islands? Will someone in audience go rogue and ask about it?

9:30
Obama reminds audience Romney promised tax cuts for top 1%. Let’s see what Romney says.

9:30
Romney doesn’t deny it.

9:32
Well, half-hour review: So far the prediction that being the underdog will release Obama to attack is being borne out. He’s far, far, far more aggressive than last time, far, far, far less anxious than last time. And Romney has lost his – what would Joe Biden call it? – stuff.

9:34
Obama: starts listing off all of Romney’s promises and implying Romney has no specific plan. Directly speaks to Romney: you wouldn’t have taken your own sketchy deal when you were an investor. Then trails off into more rambling. I would have stopped there.

9:36
Romney: “of course my numbers add up.” I ran a government, I ran the Olympics, I have balanced budgets. Obama – your trillion dollar deficits don’t add up. A spirited defense.

9:37
Chaotic end to that question – everyone being interrrupted. Now a question about why women make 72% of what men do.

9:39
Obama: my mom hit a glass ceiling. She trained people who were promoted over her. I signed the Lily Ledbetter bill on pay equality. Women are primary breadwinners. This is a family issue. He’s hitting this one out of the park. Let’s see what Romney does.

9:40
The fact that I am focused now on the content of the candidates’ answers is a general sign that, as with the Romney-Ryan debate last week, their nervous systems are well controlled, limbic systems are well regulated, and prefrontal cortices are free to sequence and prioritize responses. The winner of this debate should – with exception of Romney’s crazy aggression 10 minutes ago – be based on the merits.

9:41
Romney giving an inadvertently incriminating answer – that he had to go out of his way to find and recruit qualified women for his companies; they weren’t applying on their own. Sounds like blame the victim.

9:46
Romney and Obama are both concerned that the timekeepers are not doing their job. Weird moment.

9:50
Obama slamming Romney for investing in amoral or immoral companies in China. Again, continues very aggressive.

9:53
Obama asked a very personal question by an African American man about why he should vote for him again. Obama responds with a pat answer, clearly memorized, that does not express any empathy for the man. Why? He’s calm enough to consider it. Did nobody coach him on empathy in a town hall meeting? You’d think it would be the first rule.

9:54
Obama attacking Romney and warning that if he becomes president he’ll be nice to the rich, repeal Obamacare, be a social conservative. I give him a B+.

9:55
Romney’s best answer of night. Empathic, personal. “I think you know better… the last 4 years have not been as good as he just described.” Why didn’t Obama get personal and empathic too?

9:58
Romney continuing with a good, sustained slam on Obama’s failed economic performance. Best answer of night. He’s much less hyper. I would be surprised if we had another near-fistfight out of him.

10:04
Romney asks the new questioner to repeat her name 5 times. She then refers to him as “President Romney.” He then clarifies her name again. He finishes his answer, Obama gets up and…. clarifies her name.Her name? Lorraine.

10:06
Romney continues, I think, to adopt a condescending, arrogant, incredulous attitude towards Obama. I am interested to see whether he takes a hit for this.

10:08
And here we go with Mitt again saying over and over to Obama “have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension.” Obama “I have, but it’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.”

10:09
Overall Crowley is either doing a terrible job or her timekeepers are. I don’t know why this has to seem so chaotic.

10:11
So again I’m struck that Romney has been remarkably aggressive and disrespectful to the President. It is impossible to imagine any previous President acting that way towards a rival. Based on that, I suspect Romney is going to be seen as overstepping the bounds of propriety and will be seen as losing the nonverbals on this debate. Like Obama in the last debate – who was said to have come offstage thinking he did a good job – Romney seems clueless that he’s out of bounds.

10:15
Obama nice commanding answer: Senator Clinton does a great job, but she works for me. Appears assertive, authoritative. Huge change from last time. “The suggestion that anybody on my team…. would play politics or mislead is offensive. That’s not what we do.” Very angry.

10:19
Romney thinks he’s busting Obama by saying he didn’t call it an act of terror the day after the attack. Candy Crowley corrects him. Now there’s real anger between the two of them as they stand next to one another. Obama doesn’t seem to follow through on his impulse to forcefully critique Romney. Now Obama giving a somewhat incoherent anecdote about gun control. Is his overriding of his anger interfering in his ability to think?

10:21
I still think the story of this debate is that Romney has a huge wellspring of arrogant aggression at his disposal, and seems unable to modulate it sufficiently to appear Presidential. Obama comes close to naming it and challenging it, but pulls up short each time. Candy Crowley fails to discuss or contain it. And none of the audience members pulls an audible and ask Romney why he’s so angry. Totally fascinating. What will the pundits and flash polls say?

10:22
Romney seems to imply that to qualify as a two parent family the parents must be married. Angie and Brad – care to comment?

10:23
So far Martha Raddatz did a far, far better job the Crowley, who is doing a moderately better job than Lehrer, who was horrendous.

10:26
Somehow this round of questions and answers seems like a rehash of issues we’ve covered. Crowley tries to interrupt, Obama overrides her. His first display of rudeness – but seems clueless rather than aggressive.

10:28
Romney “on day 1 I will label China as a currency manipulator.” Well, that should seal the election for him.

10:30
Romney does best when geeking out (for him) on economic questions. He does worst when he feels that something is unfair and he is being cheated out of his fair share of credit. I’d hate to play Scrabble with this guy.

10:30
It’s 10:30. Why is this not over?

10:32
Obama geeking out. Boring, but like running the ball at the end of a football game.

10:34
Candy “the iPhone is built in China” Obama “those are never coming back. Low wage low skill jobs. I want high wage high skill jobs” Nice answer.

10:35
Romney “Government does not create jobs! Government does not create jobs!” Hey Mitt – check out www.army.mil

10:37
Romney diverts a question about his failings into a rah-rah stump speech on the wonders of Mitt.

10:37
Obama last answer ducks the question he was asked to give his own rah-rah stump speech on the wonders of Barack. So much for empathy!

10:38
Obama slams the 47% comment of Romney. Ending with a direct attack. Well done.

10:41
And it’s over. Before I see the pundits my prediction: should be scored as a clear win for Obama on ability to appear appropriately aggressive while maintaining politeness and decorum, a loss for Crowley for failing to control things, and a serious concern for Romney about his ability to control his temper. As for content, people will probably not change their positions much. I predict a small Obama bounce, as people temporarily leaning towards Romney come back.

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About Peter Freed, M.D.

I am a psychiatrist (psychopharmacology and psychotherapy) specializing in the so-called "personality disorders," particularly narcissistic and borderline personality disorders. I was a Fellow and then an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia from 2004- 2011. I am currently in private practice in NYC.