Noted Lincoln expert believes Obama won the first presidential debate.

Noted Lincoln expert believes Obama won the first presidential debate.  

Most pundits, left and right, say Romney won the first presidential debate.  But not Gene Griessman, author of Lincoln and Obama, a new book that examines similarities between the 16th and 44th presidents.

Griessman sees a parallel between the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858 and the 2012 debate between Obama and Romney.

Here are Griessman’s comments:

The debate formats and issues were different, but there are striking similarities.  

For one, a  lot of people thought Douglas won those debates.  We revere Lincoln today, and want to believe that Lincoln demolished Douglas. But that was not the perception at the time.  

Stephen Douglas was a feared and formidable debater—confident and powerful. Even when Douglas misstated facts, or when an opponent landed a blow on him, Douglas didn’t show it.  

But Douglas made some statements about slavery in those debates that upset many voters, and hurt him badly in his presidential race. And we know who won that race, don’t we!

History has repeated itself.

Romney, during the debate, was concise and self-confident. Obama was almost deferential.  Incidentally, people said the same thing about the way Lincoln spoke to Douglas.

But Obama said nothing that will cost him votes, and Romney did.

For example, Romney attacked PBS and Big Bird.  Romney promised he would end government subsidies of a few hundred million dollars to public television—a fraction of less than one percent of the federal budget—while defending government subsidies of billions to Big Oil.  

That will certainly cost him some votes, maybe quite a few votes.

Extremists in the Republican Party don’t understand that millions of Americans love—cherish—public television and public radio, so they don’t see it as a problem.

But it is a problem for Romney, who already is in a world of trouble with Latinos, blacks, and women.  Now PBS is another issue for Romney to deal with.

Already there are bumper stickers saying Save Big Bird.  

Here’s the bottom line.

Virtually all Americans have already made up their minds.  No Obama haters have decided to vote for Obama because of the debate, and no Obama supporters have decided to vote for Romney because Romney had a good night.  

Obama may not have gained any votes, but he said nothing that will cost him votes.

So, the only change will be among those who have not yet made up their minds—moderates and independents, many of whom love public television and public radio.  Those are votes that Romney needs, and a new issue that he does not need.

Gene Griessman is a sociologist and creator of a one-man play “Lincoln Live.” An excerpt from the book and additional similarities are at

  • Great book

    How random is it that I just finished Lincoln and Obama and then I see this post?

    I don’t know if I agree with everything.  In my opinion, Obama could have done much better.  However, I just want to point out that Gene Griessman’s book was still really interested.  I was amazed at the similarities between Obama and Lincoln.  I mean, they both beat out New York state senators during the primaries!  Griessman writes really well and I strongly encourage the book “Lincoln and Obama” to everyone.

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