I'll be live-blogging it here tonight.
As always, any quotes I write down will be done without a transcript or pause/rewind button. So they might not be verbatim, but I'll try to be accurate.
For more live-blogging, check out Althouse (my mom), TalkingPointsMemo, and Democracy in America.
[Added later: Here's the transcript, and here's video of the whole debate:]
9:06 - President Obama criticizes the "top-down policies that got us into this mess." Is Obama trying to pitch himself as the candidate of bottom-up policies? That's hard to believe.
9:07 - Mitt Romney brushes off Obama's charges that he's going to take a top-down approach or "cut taxes for the rich."
9:08 - Romney says that Obama believes in something that doesn't work: "trickle-down government."
9:09 - Moderator Jim Lehrer asks Obama to expand on the idea of trickle-down government, and Obama responds by explaining his education policy of "race to the top." The debate has been very vertical so far.
9:10 - Obama makes the unpopular admission that the government needs to both reduce spending and increase revenues in order to control the deficit.
9:11 - Romney to Obama: "I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. High-income people are doing just fine."
9:12 - Romney describes the economic slump as an "economy tax" on the middle class.
9:14 - Romney makes the implausible promise to make "no tax cut that adds to the deficit."
9:16 - Obama says that even if you cut all deductions that benefit the wealthy, it wouldn't make up for the shortfall in revenue that would result from Romney's tax cuts for them. Is Obama assuming that all these enormous changes in the tax code would have no effect on behavior?
9:22 - Romney's explanation for how his math adds up is that he would cut taxes for small businesses, which would create jobs.
9:23 - Obama says that Romney is making "the same sales pitch [on taxes] that was made in 2001 and 2003." Obama equates his own approach with Bill Clinton's. So, "we've got some data on which approach is likely to create jobs for middle-class Americans."
9:24 - Romney goes on at unnecessary length about the debating rules: "He got the first answer, so I have the last word on this topic," etc.
9:26 - Romney: "The amount of debt we're adding, at a trillion dollars a year, is simply not moral."
9:27 - Romney promises that he'd go through all government programs, figure out which ones don't work, and stop funding them. This sounds uncannily similar to a promise Obama made in one of the 2008 general-election debates. (See my live-blog from October 7, 2008 — coincidentally, it's in the update from the exact same time, 9:27.)
9:31 - Obama attacks Romney for raising his hand in a primary debate when the Republican candidates were asked if they'd turn down an offer of a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts and tax increases.
(I stopped live-blogging here for about 20 minutes because the ABC News and YouTube feeds were too choppy. The C-SPAN feed works much better.)
9:52 - Romney says that Dodd-Frank is "the biggest kiss given to New York banks I've ever seen." He criticizes the "unintended consequences" of financial regulation, but says that some financial regulation is essential.
9:53 - Obama seems at a loss for words for an uncomfortably long time before he goes into his explanation of the causes of the financial crash.
9:54 - Obama: If you think the problem is that we had too much regulation of Wall Street, then Romney is your candidate. Romney rejects this: "It's not that Dodd-Frank was always wrong with too much regulation. Sometimes it doesn't give clear regulation."
9:56 - Romney is asked why he wants to repeal Obama's health-care law. He cites the Congressional Budget Office saying that Obamacare will make health insurance cost $2,500 more per person. Also, "it puts in place an unelected board that will tell people, ultimately, what kinds of treatments they can have." He wants you to think "death panels" without him having to say it.
9:59 - Obama says that Obamacare will definitely let you keep your health insurance. (This calls for a fact-check!) It will just mean that health-insurance companies "can't jerk you around." He admits that "Governor Romney did a good thing" by enacting Romneycare.
10:02 - Romney says that Romneycare is different from Obamacare because the latter will cause people to lose their health insurance. He also reels off a dizzying array of other distinctions, which I doubt many viewers will be following.
10:03 - Obama mocks Romney's references to the "unelected board." Obama characterizes this as making "smart choices" and using "best practices"; the alternative is "to let businesses decide how long they can afford to keep paying premiums until they just give up."
10:05 - Obama says Romney is right that health-care premiums have been going up for the past 2 years — but they've been going up more slowly than in the past 50 years.
10:06 - What would Romney enact in place of Obamacare? He won't describe the whole thing, because the description would be too long. But his plan would include a rule against barring people with pre-existing conditions. And he'd let young people stay on their parents' plans, though he adds that this could happen purely through the free market.
10:10 - Obama says that Romney "says he's going to replace Obamacare" (yes, he did call it "Obamacare"), but he won't say what he's going to replace it with. "Is the reason he's keeping his policies secret, because they're too good?"
10:11 - Romney responds that he's holding back from giving more specifics because he's doing what Ronald Reagan did: laying out "principles" such as creating incentives for economic growth, broadening the tax base, and cutting taxes. Oddly, he adds a compliment to Obama for sharing some of Reagan's economic principles.
10:14 - Obama: "The genius of America is free enterprise." However, there are "things we do better together." He then segues back to his education policy: "Government can help. It can't do it all."
10:16 - Romney responds to Obama: "I reject the idea that I don't believe in great teachers or more teachers. Every state can make that decision on its own."
10:16 - Romney quotes various phrases from the Declaration of Independence, including "the pursuit of happiness." He seems to say that this means that the government has a responsibility to provide for those who are unable to provide for themselves.
10:18 - Romney says that federal funding should "follow the child" — that is, let the child and their parents decide where to go to school.
10:20 - Obama says that Romney hasn't been clear about his education proposals, but he would cut the education budget by 20%.
10:22 - Romney to Obama: "As president, you're entitled to your own house and your own airplane, but not your own facts. I'm not going to cut education funding."
10:24 - Lehrer says they're short on time for the remaining issues, but he's not going to claim he's done a good job of moderating. Obama: "Jim, you've done a great job!" Lehrer: "Oh, well, no . . ."
10:26 - Romney lists various things he's going to do on "day 1" as president. Obama points out that Romney is going to have "a busy first day," since he's also promised to repeal Obamacare on day 1.
10:30 - Obama: "Four years ago, I said I wasn't a perfect man and I wouldn't be a perfect president, and that's a promise Governor Romney probably thinks I've kept."
That's all. Check in here again for the vice-presidential debate next week.
UPDATE: About an hour into the debate, Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo, who of course is favorable to Obama, said:
My read so far is that if you go by energy and tossing out lots of data points, then Romney is running circles around the president. Obama has only on a few occasions really pressed a point hard. Whether that means he’s ‘winning’ I don’t know. But energy level, Romney all the way. But I think there are a lot of traps that Obama’s put out there for Romney. Romney really pressed his insistence that he just isn’t going to do what he says his plan is going to do. I think those statements – and the statement about vouchers – might be unpacked badly for him over the next few days.The 7 bloggers at the Economist's blog Democracy in America seem to be unanimous in saying that Romney won. "W.W." (Will Wilkinson) says:
Romney won decisively. Obama clearly approached the debate with a mainly defensive strategy, hoping to come away without having done anything to rock his very comfortable boat. But the boat did rock. Obama was flummoxed by Romney's superior preparation, intensity, and execution, and tonight's truly dismal performance from the president has put the sustainability of his lead in question, if not actually in peril.Another blogger at the Economist, "T.N.," says:
Obama seemed to sleepwalk through much of the debate - and the fact that so many potential attack lines were not exploited suggests that . . . this might be a deliberate tactic - to bore his way to victory over the next month.Andrew Sullivan says:
Look: you know how much I love the guy, and you know how much of a high information viewer I am, and I can see the logic of some of Obama's meandering, weak, professorial arguments. But this was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look.
Obama looked tired, even bored; he kept looking down; he had no crisp statements of passion or argument; he wasn't there. He was entirely defensive, which may have been the strategy. But it was the wrong strategy. At the wrong moment.
The person with authority on that stage was Romney - offered it by one of the lamest moderators ever, and seized with relish. This was Romney the salesman. And my gut tells me he sold a few voters on a change tonight. It's beyond depressing. But it's true.
There are two more debates left. I have experienced many times the feeling that Obama just isn't in it, that he's on the ropes and not fighting back, and then he pulls it out. He got a little better over time tonight. But he pulled every punch. Maybe the next two will undo some of the damage. But I have to say I think it was extensive.