Damn. That was definitely not the illustration I had in mind for the morning after the first presidential debate. I was thinking more along the lines of an image of Romney submerged in a pond of lies and crap, his eyes barely visible above the floating scum. But, truth be told, last night was definitely not Barack Obama’s finest hour. So, what happened? Well, a number of things.
- Obama did not bring his ‘A’ game to the debate.
- In front of 50 million viewers, Romney decided to cast aside the hard right element of his party after 18 months of bending over backwards for them and suddenly move to the center. The over-the-top lies and shift in policy positions appeared to throw Obama off.
- Jim Lehrer sucked. That was the worst moderated debated I’ve ever witnessed and Romney, to his credit, took full advantage of the chaos and steamrolled right over Lehrer.
So is it over? Has Mitt turned around months of missteps and what can only be described as a disastrous campaign to now surge away and win this thing in November? Nope, not by a long shot. Lies, spin and little detail on policy might have sounded good for ninety minutes but Romney is now going to have to explain how it is, for example, that after 18 months of claiming he’d cut taxes on the rich, that it is no longer his policy to do so. Let him have fun with that.
All in all, it was a boring debate. I can’t imagine how a viewer not well versed on the minutiae of either candidate’s platform walked away from that debate being any better informed than they were ninety minutes prior. Even I, political junkie and all, found myself struggling to follow the candidate’s statements to their conclusions. In Obama’s case, his responses lacked crispness and clarity. In Romney’s case, there’s just so much bullshit one can take in an hour and a half before one’s eyes roll over and nausea sets in. My bowl of popcorn remained uneaten.
Romney won the debate but he also made two serious errors which can and probably will come back to bite him on the ass.
a) In front of millions of Americans, he admitted that he would turn Medicare into a voucher program for anyone under the age of 55. Oops. Last time I checked, the majority of Americans are under the age of 55. Look for Democrats to come out strong in the next few days with attack ads on that point.
b) In front of millions of Americans, Romney promised to kill funding for Big Bird, Sesame Street and the rest of the great programming on PBS. That’s not going to go well with millions of parents and people who enjoy high quality programming like Nova.
Bottom line: Romney won the debate by lying (surprise!), and for 90 minutes disregarding much of what he’s said over the last many months. But there’s no reason for anyone to panic. There are five more weeks of campaigning and two more debates as well as 18 months of Romneyisms for everyone to look at and explore. One debate is not going to change any of that.
One last point. Have you ever tried debating issues with a lying jackass who can make a statement one second and then deny he said it in the next? It’s pretty much an exercise in futility. There’s too much material to refute in a short time and one can easily get muddled in guck. Obama simply wasn’t prepared for an opponent who lacked the moral conviction to stand by his words of the last 18 months. I suspect he will in the next debate.
Breathe. Obama is still Obama this morning and Romney is still the soulless, lying dick that no one likes.
This is true.
Romney is nothing if not good at remaking his persona. To be ideologically plastic enough to win a general election in Massachusetts in 2002 and a GOP presidential primary in 2012 is tough. Romney was helped in this by the fact that there was a three-way conspiracy to define “domestic issues” as very narrowly equivalent to tax and budget issues. There was no real talk of the environment, of LGBT equality, of labor unions, of monetary policy, of the regulatory state outside of Dodd-Frank, of immigration, of family life or women’s role in the workforce or any of a host of other issues where it’s difficult to paper over ideological voids. But on the issues they did talk about, Romney succeeded in portraying himself as someone who’s considerably less conservative than John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, or the Mitt Romney who we’ve seen a lot of over the past 18 months. Whether you believe that’s the Mitt Romney who’d show up in the White House in 2013 if he wins in November is a separate question, but the guy we saw tonight is a much more appealing figure than the guy who was on the trail all summer.