It was just a fortnight or so ago (as the good folks at Time used to say, idiomatically) that the pundits among us were proclaiming that the presidential election of 2012 was all over with, that President Obama's overall lead and his growing margin in the swing states had put the unlamented Mitt Romney out of the running altogether. Poor Romney (aka "Mr. 47 Percent"), he of the non-stop gaffes, the incurably awkward persona, and the vague and contradictory platform, would be finally put out of his misery in the first of three televised debates.
Except that it didn't turn out that way last Wednesday, and that vaunted margin has begun to dissolve as fast as an iceberg in the Gulf of Mexico. Romney was somehow both assertive and relaxed, in command of facts that may, as the fact-checkers on the other side insisted for the rest of last week, have been jimmied beyond recognition, and both easygoing and unrelenting in his taking the fight to Obama. The president, meanwhile, looked like somebody waiting on a bus. Whether preoccupied by some unnamed crisis of state that could not be publicly shared (in either main sense of the word) or just fecklessly and overconfidently committed to a "prevent defense," Obama was ineffectual — unable or unwilling to point out his opponent's prevarications (including one alleging that the president planned to loot Medicare to the tune of $700 billion) and seemingly forgetful of his own triumphs, like his resolute action in bolstering the American automobile industry.
Romney, who not so long ago had publicly signed on to running mate Paul Ryan's plans to dismantle Medicare (and much of FDR's New Deal, for that matter), was allowed to pose as the moderate he was once assumed to be as a one-term governor of Massachusetts, while Obama, who bizarrely seemed to assent to the thesis that no difference of opinion separated him from his Republican opponent on Social Security, came off as some kind of fuzzy middle-of-the-roader himself. Two peas in a pod, except that one of them glowed last Wednesday night and the other looked under the weather.
An even scarier thought for Democrats (though conceivably reassuring to voters at large): Romney really is a moderate and a commanding executive, while Obama's actual persona is indistinct and undetermined, and he doesn't have the knack for leadership. We don't think so, but we do wonder how many of the estimated 67 million who were tuned in last Wednesday night saw it that way.
All of which is to say, that, with less than a month to go now, it's a brand-new ball game, and any further absences of mind on the president's part could be preludes to his looming absence from office. It's time for him to bring it.
And it's important, because the fact is, if Governor Romney indeed was a moderate in Massachusetts, it was because he accommodated himself to a legislature that was Democratic, centrist, and progressive, meaning an accommodating President Romney would probably play get-along-to-go-along with the Tea Party wing that wields so much congressional power these days.
As, surely, few of us need to be reminded, the title of this editorial was the actual election-night headline of a 1948 newspaper that leaned too much on its own complacence.