Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Professor and the Pugilist

He came prepared to fight. He was smart, aggressive, engaged, charming and funny. He reassuringly spoke of his concern for the poor, the middle class, seniors, affordable healthcare, Social Security, education and teachers. He was substantive, forthcoming and seemed genuinely wanting to be there, demonstrating a clear passion for the job. If you said this was President Obama you'd be wrong. Mitt Romney delivered what pundits Thursday morning are calling the best Republican debate performance since Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The key question is, what the hell happened to Obama? Where was he? Where was his passion, his engagement, his desire to be in that room? The man who showed up instead was aloof, disengaged, ill-prepared (how is that even possible given all the sequestered pre-debate prep?) and passive. He hung his head down more than a guilty 6-year-old who didn't do her chores and hardly made eye contact with Romney. He appeared nervous, fearful and shocked by his opponent's clear domination and control of the narrative.  As MSNBC's Chris Matthews lamented, "He was ignoring the debate rather than fight it."

Romney's Alpha was evident from the get-go. He was energized and understood his mission, which was to paint Obama as a weak, big-government liberal who wants to raise taxes on the middle class as the nation's debt, gas prices and health care costs increase while personal incomes decrease (by $4300, Romney claimed). He succeeded. A CNN poll following the debate showed that 75% saw Romney as the victor.

And why would just 25% say that Obama won? Because Obama was as AWOL from the debate as George W. Bush was during the Vietnam War. There was no mention of Romney's infamous 47% statement. No mention of Romney's comments about sending poor, uninsured people to emergency rooms. No mention of Romney's desire to defund Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade. No mention of Romney's statements about not needing more teachers. No mention of Bain and the layoffs of tens of thousands. No mention of Romney's "corporations are people" statement. No mention of Romney's personal taxes and his offshore investments. No mention of his running-mate Paul Ryan's plan to dismantle Medicare and privatize Social Security. 

How on Earth could Romney win on the subject of healthcare when (a) his Romneycare was the model for Obamacare and (b) he and Ryan would end Medicare as we know it, sending old folks into the streets shopping for insurance? Same as Bush and Dick Cheney, the guys who never served in the military, won the "tough guy" contest against decorated war hero John Kerry in 2004. The answer is simple: both Kerry and Obama allowed their opponents to define them without forcefully and effectively countering the rhetoric. 

In the end, Obama's performance was stunning in its ineffectiveness. What should've been a slam-dunk became a wild air ball from half court. Should he lose a month from now, historians will mark his defeat as having been snatched from the jaws of victory in Denver on October 4th.  


Anonymous said...

Okay, but I also saw a bully, wired, forget the rules, forget the facts I stomping the stage. It reminded me of the screaming & yelling repubs we saw down in Florida in 2000.

One thing, women and those who were holding their breath about Obamacare will not vote for Romney.

At the end of the day, Romney/Ryan will destroy all I have worked my adult life for. There is no way in hell I will vote for Romney.

Anonymous said...

Very odd performance by the Pres. He seemed disinterested as though it was a chore for him to be there. Romney was aggressive, but almost manic at times, seemed desperate too. Maybe that's what he needed because he came across far more passionate about these issues than the Pres. Pres seemed to be on the defensive and not comfortable in that role. I think some of the attack points you mention in your post are better left to the 30 second spots that will inevitably run in the swing states pointing out the contradictions and inconsistencies in Romney's positions. Regardless, Romney really helped himself last night. The race just got a lot tighter. CB

Matt said...

The big fight analogy seems useful to understanding Obama's debate approach. Fans and supporters of Obama are disappointed by his rope a dope strategy in the same way Ali fans were confused and disappointed by his performance in the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle. As a supporter of Obama I wanted to see the brilliant speaker shred his challenger with wit and charm. I tuned in to see the coup de grace. I figured the match would be a long night of 8 counts ending in the towel being thrown in from Mitt's corner. Mercy we would cry out - end the fight!
Instead we got rope a dope. Obama never used any of his special weapons. Any mention of the 47%, or bin Laden? He tried to let the doofus punch himself out. His strategy was "if I give him enough rope Mitt will hang himself".
Smart, very smart. Mitt came into the debate with the underdog advantage. Beat him up too much and he gets the sympathy vote. "That poor (white!) man got beat down and all he wants to do is lower my taxes by 20%"
On an intellectual level the Obama strategy worked but this is America... Next time he should look at the camera and wink.

ceero said...

If President Obama loses in November, no doubt it will be because of this debate. I can only hope it was a plan. Lay low. Let Romney stake out his positions. And expose them as lies over the next two weeks. Clearly everything the guy says is a half truth. If Mitt Romney tells you its sunny outside, you'd better bring an umbrella.