Aside from being a United States Marine, I'm also a pretty saavy chess player. So I tend to look at things in life like I would at a chess board, focusing on the opportunities that a position can offer, instead of just the material gains available.
Looking at the debate last night, I saw the opening of a chess game. Obama had the white pieces, and Romney the black. (If you're wondering why I say Obama had the white, and Romney the black, it's not anything to do with race - it's simple as the incubment, Obama has the initiative entering the debate. He also started off with the opening remarks.)
Obama's first move was concise and predictable. He made a push to the center. Romney however immediately changed the game by using an agressive and unexpected opening, attacking Obama immediately but without any actual development of his own. Obama ignored the attack for the most part, focusing on the development of his pieces. Romney again attacked, this time forcing the President to respond. We call this 'gaining tempo' and the black pieces, being they start a move behind have to get this tempo back.
Romney then just kept attacking. Attack attack attack. But the attacks weren't coordinated, and they weren't working cohesively. A good attack is not about immediate force, it's about pressure. Giving your opponent no moves other than the ones you want him to have. Romney instead grabbed his queen and launched her from one side of the board to the other, but there wasn't a lot of support. Amateur players attack mindlessly. Skilled players apply pressure, forcing you to make moves that you don't want to make.
Obama just kept developing. Slowly, methodically. He ignored the attack. He gave away space, and Romney to his credit camped his pieces in Obama's position.
Romney then actually brought another piece into support over the medicare argument. Obama could've exchanged off pieces by pointing out that it wasn't true, but instead - he used a gambit. A gambit in chess is when you give up material now for a theoretical positional advantage down the road. He stayed silent, instead just developing.
Obama elected not to call out Romney on those positions. Why? Well, for one - it suits the narrative he wanted to give Romney as him having no convictions. In one night Romney undermined his entire party platform, and did so on the largest stage possible. Everyone HEARD Romney's tax plan (which is suddenly NOT to cut taxes - hear that TEA party?) and now - Romney owns that. He can't walk it back. Same with pre-existing conditions not being excluded (which means Obamacare WON'T be repealed because the insurance lobbyists will NEVER let them be on the hook for pre-existing conditions without guaranteed coverage) He owns that too. Same with hiring more public teachers. Check. Check. Check. Check.
But there was no mating threat. Just a bunch of attacks that by defending actually improved Obama's position. (I played like this myself when I was a youth. I mistook being aggressive for playing good chess. As a result, I was a firm class D player. I finally started playing in bigger tournaments and LOSING. I had to reevaluate my game and I started learning to value positional strength as well as material strength. I went from a class D player to a Class A player in a matter of a couple of years as a result, and ended up using my winnings playing chess to help pay for my college education.) Romney has actually STRENGTHENED Obama's intended narrative through his attacks. We can expect the Obama surrogates to flood the airwaves with side by side videos contrasting Romeny's pre debate positions and his debate positions.
So Obama by not calling him on those obvious policy reversals sacrificed some material early on. But now Romney is committed to that line of attack. And Obama has a ready-made counterattack at his disposal when Romney starts walking some of those things back. He can simply point out to that same 60 Million people that what Romney is saying now is not what Romney is saying then. Also keep in mind, that the economy was Romney's strongest area for debate. The rest of the debate is on foreign and domestic policy, and Romney lacks a lot of experience in those areas while Obama benefits from 4 years of experience. So while Romney gets weaker as the game progresses, Obama gets stronger.
A historical reference to exemplify my point.
Robert Fischer was one of the most brilliant attacking chess players in the history of the world. His games were positionally sound, but his gambits were so aggressive that even other top-level players mistook them for blunders. In fact, during his face-off with Borris Spassky for the World Championship (during the Cold War, this was a big deal), 'Bobby' played a gambit on the 6th move that everyone in the room, including his own team, thought was a terrible blunder that would cost him the game. However 33 moves after that, when the game was adjourned for the night, Borris' team realized that they had played right into Fischer's hand. As they studied the game in their hotel room, they came across the understated yet devastating point of Fischer's 6th move 'blunder'. Spassky actually wrote that he considered resigning that game as soon as they reconvened, but instead resigned 2 moves later. Fisher went on to win the World title for the US.
But gambits don't always work. In the next game, Fischer attempted another dubious gamble. Spassky accepted it, got into trouble early on as a result. But he was able to shore up his position, exchange off Fischer's attacking pieces, and convert that material advantage into a positional win.
So through the opening, we have Romney a couple of pawns up material-wise, but his position is flawed and open to counterattack. Obama consequently is down material, but his position is pretty solid with good development and he has a lot of counterplay in the midgame and endgame. The question is - can Obama convert this positional opportunity? Or did he give up too much material?