Friday, October 5, 2012

Five Thoughts on The Debate

Posted By on Fri, Oct 5, 2012 at 11:53 AM


(1) There’s very little doubt as to who won it. Literally. No one of prominence and anything resembling objectivity credits the President with a win. In fact, most of those biased in Obama’s favor concede a Romney victory.

(2) The chief Democratic response, emerging in a veritable landslide of day-after tweets, blog posts, and press releases, is to call the Republican nominee a dissembler and to itemize x, y, and z of his statements as outright lies. Stephen Colbert had the best response to this gambit, noting that it might go over big in Factchechoslovakia (which he probably spelled differently and has, in any case, Zero electoral votes) but nowhere else in the real world

It is an unpleasant reality, but a reality all the same, that successful politicians spin tall tales all the time and get away with it. Think Reagan, FDR, a host of others. The point is that Romney gave his various exaggerations and misstatements an internal plausibility (on his tax cuts being “revenue neutral,” for example) that Obama was not able to duplicate with what the President’s defenders say was the Whole Truth but was itself actually a somewhat muddled and contradictory account of things. (That business of himself and Romney “agreeing” on Social Security, for example. What was that supposed to mean? Is it possible that Obama has been dissembling?)

But the real problem with this line of defense is that presidential “debates” are not like the college tournament variety, to be graded by academic supervisors on truth content, factual accuracy, or suchlike. They are much closer to being beauty pageants or stages in the much-maligned “horse race.” And dismiss both those concepts as cosmetic as you will, the fact is, voters are judging the person more than they are a set of position papers or talking points. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. Think the difference between JFK and Ted Sorenson, Kennedy’s idea man, speechwriter, and researcher. And on the personal level, Romney was assertive, organized, and even somewhat likable. Obama seemed to be waiting on a bus.

(3) Romney revived a former image of himself as a moderate conciliator, noting that as governor of Massachusetts he was able to deal successfully with his Democratic legislature on health care and other issues. Yes, and no doubt he would, as President, take on the coloration of Congress in the same chameleon-like manner — except that the House is a Tea Partier’s paradise and the Senate, even with its narrow Democratic majority, is no progressive wonderland. It is barely, and somewhat conservatively, Democratic — nothing at all like the erstwhile 87 per cent Democratic majority in the Massachusetts blue-state legislature.

Taking Romney at his word, any “reasoning together” of his with the Congress he would face is more likely to take him further to the right than otherwise. Consider only how far he’s already traveled in that direction since his aforesaid governorship.

(4) The reality is that, with two more debates to go (three, counting the one between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, which itself could be problematic), things could get worse for the Democrats rather than better. In a true sense, Obama can now be regarded as the underdog on the debate circuit, and, while that is good for him if he can rise to the occasion and defeat expectations (which is what Romney did on Wednesday night) it is hard to imagine that the President can maintain his purported sigle-digit percentage-point lead in swing states if he takes two more shellackings as thorough as this week’s in Denver.

And, speaking of Denver, Al Gore is wrong. Wednesday night’s result was more a matter of attitude or, arguably and more seriously, aptitude than altitude.

(5) Ah well, what was it that Scarlett O'Hara said? Something about tomorrow being another day? Well, from the President's point of view, it better be.

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