Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mitt of Amnesia (October 17, 2012)

Steve checks in with his take on the second Presidential Debate.  I just learned that 65 million people watched the debate, only a very modest falloff from the astonishing 70 million who watched the first debate.  These totals are well above those of 2008, and it makes me wonder whether this implies a stronger-than-expected turnout in two weeks, which would generally favor Obama.  As I noted earlier today, the insta-polls had the second debate as an Obama win:  CBS 37% to 30%, CNN 46% to 39%.

One of the strange truths of politics is that the measure of performance relative to expectation is often considered as newsworthy – and even as important – as the actual performance.
Throughout the primary season, the flavored news channels – who had self-interest in prolonging the relevance of each successive primary – would crow about a candidate who lost, but managed to do “far better than expectations.”
So when President Obama emerged from his bizarre self-imposed debate exile last night, he not only beat Romney in the debate, he vaulted magnificently over the low bar of expectations. It was, ironically, a bigger win than it would have been if he hadn’t mailed in the first one.
Romney, in turn, was far less compelling last night than in Denver, simply because his opponent showed up. The free pass that Romney got last time enabled him to glide unscathed at a cruising altitude of presidential demeanor, uplifting themes, and unchecked assertions. Last night he looked worse – at times petulant, frustrated, angry, and disingenuous. The Foxists who were angry at his performance last night should face the reality that Romney simply is not as good as he appeared to be last time. Romney, too, lost ground in the contest against high expectations.
So the expectations games exacerbated the reality, and, as result, last night was a major win for Obama… and I believe it will result in a pendulum swing back toward wider Obama leads in the key swing states.
Four particular issues stood out tonight.
1.       Aye, Candy:  Deus ex Moderator
Not since “Back to the Future” have Libyans played so dominant a role in a narrative in which timing was the essential issue. Libya should have been an easy pitch for Mitt to catch, as the White House’s repeated real time revisionist history created a significant vulnerability.
Instead, Mitt tried to make big theatre of accusing Obama of lying (“let’s get this on the record!”) when Obama said that he had referred to the attack as an act of terror the day after it happened. Obama immediately called for the transcript, and Romney’s attempt at a “gotcha” reared up and bit him in the ass when Candy Crowley actively intervened and stamped the Obama version as fact.
With a bemused smile, the President asked the moderator, “Could you say that a little louder, Candy?” Mitt, standing at center stage, went from alpha-man-in-full to fully deployed air bag faster than Lloyd Bentzen hunting Quayle.
2.       Sparring over pay equality for women.
Like an expert volleyball player tees up the ball so a teammate can nail an unhittable spike, one questioner handed Obama a “gimme” by asking what the candidates would do to realize the goal of pay equality for women.  It was too easy for Obama to simply pull out the first piece of legislation he signed – Lilly Ledbetter – to make his point.  Quite cleverly, he went on to link broader issues of women’s rights – healthcare specifically – to the core point to pay equality.
But Romney really seemed startlingly unprepared for this seemingly obvious debate topic.  Incongruously, he began his answer by saying that when he was governor, his own people had come up with no qualified women to serve in his administration in Massachusetts until Mitt himself delivered the “binders of women” to fill senior jobs. If Mitt the CEO hires people who are unable to find any qualified women in the entire state of Massachusetts, it would seem that Mitt is the problem, not the solution. It is surprising that this one did not get more buzz in the post-debate media circus.
3.       The Seven Trillion Dollar Man.
I could practically hear the Fox Populi screaming bloody murder when a pleasant looking Garden City housewife seemed to be reading off notes scrawled on an MSNBC business card when she asked Romney to break down the specific entitlement programs and tax loopholes that he would target to close up that nagging $7 trillion hole in his balanced budget. It was a great question, to be sure; it’s just not one that you’d expect to hear couples chat up in the HOV lane on the LIE.
But who know? Maybe, with much, much perseverance, Obama is finally getting some traction on this issue. It was particularly effective when Obama slammed it right back into Romney’s wheelhouse, noting that Romney, as a businessman, would have never funded a business plan with so little by way of detail.
While Obama once again ticked through the components of the flawed math, Romney relied far, far too heavily on mere assertion. “The math does add up!” he exhorted, with the same full-on blather and gusto that he uses for the “I know how to create jobs!” mantra, which comes equally unfettered by factual support.
4.       Mitt of Amnesia
The strongest aspect of Obama’s game last night was to finally go after the etch-a-sketch candidate, effectively pivoting the debate from “Obama v. Romney” to “old Romney” vs. “new Romney.” Repeatedly – on coal, on woman’s issues, on healthcare, on immigration, on Detroit – Obama pinned specific flip-flops on Romney. Channeling Biden without the eye-rolling goofiness, Obama didn’t wait for Candy’s permission to pepper-spray Romney with real time “not true, Governor” interruptions.
But the climax (and I suspect that it may have actually been experienced as such by Lawrence O’Donnell staffers) was in Obama’s closing, when he finally pulled out Romney’s 47%, brilliantly holding this ace of spades until a point where Romney would not have an opportunity to respond.
At the end of this particular day, the pundits who were praising Romney’s performance last night all seemed to agree that he had been very effective at prosecuting the point that Obama had not delivered on the many promises he made for his first term.
What we learned is that criticizing the “man in the arena” is not enough. Romney failed last night to say what he would do and how he would do it… other than to be cavalierly certain that the results would be a whole lot better if Mitt were running the show.
The polls confirmed an Obama victory… nowhere near as lopsided as Romney’s win in the first, but more than enough to stop the bleeding, and I expect to see the pendulum start to swing back.
After Biden’s strong performance and Obama’s win, the dems have a chance to run the table next Monday. And if they do, expect that electoral college math to once again prove daunting for Mitt of Amnesia.


  1. Well stated. Let's hope the momentum carries us forward. Question: any idea who the remaining undecided voters are? By this time, I would hope folks had seen enough of Romney to know if they like him or not.

  2. Steve,

    Trenchant, as usual. This afternoon, I was in the elevator with Chris Matthews, Will McAvoy and this really, really old guy, Teddy White? "Who is Gardner? The Obameter?" White asked. The other two shook their heads. "I wish we knew," said McAvoy. He's eating our lunch.


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