In what might be the closest thing voters will get to a preview of the coming presidential debates, CBS' 60 Minutes aired dueling interviews Sunday in which President Obama and Mitt Romney offered often sharply contrasting answers on everything from health care to the Middle East. The rival candidates didn't address each other directly, but the juxtaposition of their answers to similar questions offered some hints of the tone and tactics viewers can expect from Obama and Romney on Oct. 3, when they meet for the first of three scheduled debates. What did viewers learn? Here, six revelations from 60 Minutes' "shadow debate":
1. Romney is going on offense over the Middle East
The GOP nominee going after Obama aggressively over his foreign policy, says John M. Broder in The New York Times. He hammered Obama for refusing to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during this week's United Nations General Assembly, saying the White House is "distancing itself from an important Middle East ally." Meanwhile, Obama's handling of the Middle East questions was a total "wipeout," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. He called the deadly anti-U.S. riots in the Arab world a mere "bump in the road" for our policies in the region, a "preposterous and grossly insensitive thing to say." Then he called Netanyahu's concerns about Iran's nuclear program "noise," continuing his "long string of insults, snubs, and gaffes about Israel."
2. But Obama has an opening on health care
Democrats got some mileage out of the broadcast, too, say Amanda Turkel and Sam Stein at The Huffington Post. "Downplaying the need for the government to ensure that every person has health insurance," Romney suggested that "emergency room care suffices as a substitute for the uninsured." That, of course, is a "dramatic reversal" of everything he has said in the past about how wasteful it is to give people expensive emergency care for free instead of trying to make sure they have coverage before they get sick. What Romney said, essentially, is that "if someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die," they get taken to the emergency room," says Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing. Not only is this "let them eat emergency rooms" the most out-of-touch "response ever, it's untrue." Without a functional health-care safety net, "many uninsured and under-insured cancer patients in America do, in fact, 'sit in their apartment and die.'"
3. Obama regrets failing to change D.C.
The president called his inability to change the tone in Washington the "biggest disappointment" of his presidency. Obama said he was "the first one to confess" that he went to Washington hoping to end the "political slugfest," but it didn't happen. "I haven't fully accomplished that," he said. "Haven't even come close in some cases."
4. And he also may regret his negative ads
In "one of the most talked-about quotes" in the interview, Obama conceded that his campaign had gone "overboard" with some of its anti-Romney ads, says Dylan Byers at Politico. One reason the quote sparked controversy was that, even though it was quite a confession from a president who says he wants to restore civility in Washington, 60 Minutes cut it from the broadcast. It was bad enough that CBS didn't dig deeper into Obama's admission, says Conn Carroll at the Washington Examiner. But declining to even air it was disgraceful. "And then the liberal media wonders why conservatives and independents don't trust them."
5. Romney thinks his campaign staff is just fine
Romney "tried to undo some of the damage" from his disparaging remarks about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay taxes, says John M. Broder at The New York Times, but not by promising to shake up his campaign staff. Instead, Romney praised his staff for a job well done, and for keeping him essentially locked in a tie with Obama in polls. The gaffe didn't come from the campaign, Romney said. "That was me, right?"
6. Maybe the debates won't be worth watching...
"Judging by the results" of 60 Minutes' "proxy debate," says Jean MacKenzie at Global Post, the real ones "could be a bit of a snooze." The electorate is "deeply polarized," and both sides have "unprecedented amounts of money" to spend on "negative campaign advertising that raises the blood pressure while lowering the overall tone" of the discourse. But Romney and Obama appear to have "said everything they have to say." On the economy, Romney wants "less spending, lower taxes," and Obama wants to look "forward, not back." Overseas, Romney wants to "show strength" while Obama wants to make a "clear-eyed, sober assessment" rather than crashing into another war. That's about it. Make your choice.