Thursday, October 04, 2012

The 2012 Presidential Debate: "Its The Lying, Stupid."

First things first.

If you were expecting a combative, in-your-face debate? Obama did not do well. 

There were too many opportunities missed, too much of an attempt to be reserved and polite, too many words and too much explaining when he could have been hitting ample soft targets. I thought the president was a bit taken aback at first; not so much by Romney's volume of lies, I'm sure he expected that. I would actually say President Obama might have been more stunned by Jim Lehrer's sudden morphing into a replacement-ref style moderator than the great debate moderator he's been in the past. Lehrer was definitely intimidated into ineffectiveness by Romney's filibustering, non-stop lying and refusal to respect the format. In my view, if a guy walks into your workplace and says he's gonna fire you as soon as he's elected - not only that, you can take Big Bird wit cha, let the door knob hit cha where the Good Lord split cha - the last thing you do is let that guy have all the time he wants while constantly trying to stop the guy who wants to help you keep your job. My summary of Obama's performance would be this: tried to take the fight to Romney early on with the $5 trillion tax cuts Romney promises in his stump speeches, Romney denies it. Revisited same $5 trillion promises again, Romney denies a second time. Expected some type of moderation from Lehrer, who began to evaporate early on and never regained control of the debate. Once it was decided Romney had no intention of taking any of the stances he had before the debate I suspect President Obama decided it was best to pull back, speak to inform the undecided viewers and look for opportunities to draw out more policy contradictions from Romney later.  It was not the aggressive style I had hoped for, but in my view the president managed to get plenty of Romney position reversals on record by the end of the 90 minutes. President Obama also did a pretty good job of getting Romney to admit he supports big oil subsidies, turning Medicare into Vouchercare, and - contradictory to what the GOP has been claiming since the day Obama took office - admitted the president inherited a bad economy from his predecessor. 

Visually, the whole thing sucked if you were an Obama supporter. The president didn't earn any style points, but I feel he offered plenty of substance to the independent and undecided voters. There were plenty of heads a-splodin' on MSNBC, but the Rev Al Sharpton's comments immediately after the debate ended brings me to my view of the performance of President Obama's opponent.

What we also saw in the first debate was a Romney campaign more determined to win a 24 hour news cycle than a 33 day presidential marathon. The pre-debate conventional wisdom stated Mitt Romney needed to do two things: 1) come off as more likeable than he has in the past and 2) provide more specifics. The GOP shills promised he'd do both of these things, but he didn't. Instead, he validated every perception held about him as the bullying lying shape-shifter who feels he doesn't have to play by the same rules as everyone else. His analogy comparing the president to one of his 5 sons combined with his belligerent lecturing of the president was dog whistling to the worst in American society. He promised to fire the moderator and Big Bird of Sesame Street if elected, reminding everyone of the soulless businessman who made employees feel like they'd erected their own gallows when they were ordered to build a stage that Romney used to announce their termination because their jobs were about to be shipped overseas. Worse yet, the sheer volume of video footage generated in 90 minutes will be replayed endlessly over the last 30 days of the campaign.

Mitt Romney bet his $10,000 on performance art that would remake his campaign in the eyes of the chattering class of the Washington, D.C. beltway and its clear he won that bet quite easily. Unfortunately for Team Romney, the discussion of the candidate's glaring lack of specifics, his absence of empathy and inability to stick with one policy position will last long after the initial spin about his great win subsides.