So what the hell happened last night?
I watched nearly the entirety of the US Presidential Debate last night, missing out on the closing remarks because I had to tuck the kids into bed. I am neither Democrat nor Republican, but I am not undecided either. I didn’t expect Mr. Obama to wipe the floor with Mr. Romney, but I did half expect to see Mr. Romney complete what I would call the final “burp” of an implosive campaign.
Instead, somehow, Mr. Obama assumed the look of a deer in the headlights, and Romney rolled over him (and Jim Lehrer) like a Mack truck. I don’t say this out of admiration. I think what we saw out of Mr. Romney last night is exactly what we would see out of a Romney Presidency, and what we saw out of Mr. Obama last night is exactly what we’ve seen out of the Obama Presidency thus far.
In Mr. Romney, we saw a man so determined to win the presidency that he will say or do absolutely anything to get there, even if it means throwing himself (and all his previous beliefs and statements) under the bus. We had a President just as willing to play fast-and-loose with facts no so long ago. He started two wars and divided the country so severely that it will take decades to recover. Please, sir. May I have another?
In President Obama, we saw a man so determined not to lose the Presidency that he is unwilling to call bullshit when he hears it for fear of providing a sound bite that will be used against him. Obama seemed shocked and surprised that Romney would be so blatant in his lies on a national stage. Romney’s “Rove-ish” plan of attack stunned Obama from the very beginning, and he never regained his feet.
During the Republican Primaries, the entire GOP field recognized Romney a flip-flopper, so it should have come as no surprise to Obama that Romney would stray from both the truth and his beliefs during the debate. They should have come prepared for this possibility, and nailed him on it. There were a few occasions Obama could have called Romney on his BS to immediately put him in his place. Here are just a couple:
1. Every time Obama said “middle class”, Romney countered with “middle income”. While ‘class’ is a very subjective term, ‘income’ is not. Obama should have asked Romney to define, there and then, what income levels he defines as “middle”. I suspect it would be significantly higher than what most people in the US think it is.
2. On health care, Obama could have come right out and asked Romney how much he thinks affordable health care should cost a family of four, and countered with the exact costs. This is a set-him-up-and-knock-him-down question. Romney clearly has never had to worry about providing health care for his family while out of work, or getting new coverage while struggling with a pre-existing condition. Romney has never had to worry about losing one of his five houses because he couldn’t pay the doctor bills from a simple accident or the birth of a premature baby. Obama had to put examples to demonstrate this disconnect from reality out there, and he didn’t.
What we also saw, with Romney’s early treatment of Mr. Lehrer, is a clear indication of Mr. Romney’s character. The rules of debate—the rules in general—just don’t apply to him. Lehrer was just there to announce his arrival—as servants do. Sure Obama blew through the time limits on answers as well. Lehrer didn’t have very good control of either side of the debate. But it was Romney’s complete lack of respect for both the moderator and the audience that speaks volumes about the man. And that should frighten the crap out of all of us. We are not his constituents. He is not fighting to represent us. We are his subjects. He is fighting to rule us.
After the euphoria of a “Romney win” wears off for the right and the pain from self-flagellation wounds begins to dull for the left, I expect we’ll see the results of the debates in a different light. The reality will be that Obama was unprepared for Romney’s scorched earth approach to the truth, and that Romney has few principles, and those change as needed.
To win at the next debate, Obama needs to call Romney out on his lies and his flip-flopping. But he also can’t just stand on what he did to “turn things around”. Obama needs to remind people of the obstructionist congress. Obama needs to show that he has a plan to reduce the deficit. Obama, can no longer be passive and wait for Romney to self-destruct. He need to talk in substance about what America needs to do next, and what he will do to lead us there.
But he needs to tell the truth. And part of that truth has to be that Romney doesn’t tell it, and never will.