Waiting for last night's first debate between President Barack
Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt I knew these things: 1. Precedent
favors the challenger; 2. Romney was a better debater than most recognized --
or wanted to credit; 3. History suggests no meaningful correlation between
debate performance and electoral victory; 4. No modern-day incumbent in a
two-way race has lost.
Then why was I disturbed when Romney clearly won by consistently
and convincingly misrepresenting the facts of his shady programs? Romney
practiced the big lie -- really a series of significant falsehoods that are
more toxic when bundled together than considered separately -- from the opening
bell (my tax plan works) to his closing statement (the US can not afford to cut
defense spending, but rather must increase it).
COVER STORY: How much damage could a President Romney do? Let us count the ways.
Never mind that moderator Jim Lehrer had less snap than a bingo
caller at a pensioners' retreat. Romney ran rings around Lehrer. Where was
Obama's rope-a-dope? Obama tanked the minute he opened his mouth, ignoring Lehrer's
predictable but relevant question about job creation by instead recognizing the
occasion as the 30th anniversary of his marriage to Michelle. Get over
Romney, in response, was vacuous and vague, but was sufficiently
focused to sound at least like a third-rate Milton Freedman.
Yes, Obama had his moments. Yes, Romney's malarkey will come back
to haunt him. Yes, as a black man with a
white-guy problem Obama probably worked not to appear strident. Yes, as
president, Obama was likely aware of being the embodiment of national dignity.
But come on! What was with the lack of engagement? My former Phoenix colleague,
Camille Dodero, now at Gawker, wrote on Twitter that Obama looked like a guy
getting yelled at by his girl friend. Well, Obama deserved it.
We will know by November 6 whether the 2012 election will
conform to past practice. These are not, however, days in which to bank of some
iron law of history favoring Obama. After a tepid Republican convention and
Romney's Olympic gaffs, the 47 percent outrage, and his sniveling performance
regarding Libya, Obama should enjoy a
commanding lead in the polls.
That Obama is not more clearly ahead is attributable to many
factors, including the novel and vexing nature of the economic crisis and the
anxiety and pain it spawns; the unpredictable and fast-moving rate of
world-wide change; and the recalcitrance and bloody-mindedness of Republicans,
who sometimes threaten to move beyond an unhelpful, tight-assed
authoritarianism and into a troubling pre-fascistic frenzy.
Dire times. Obama helps neither his candidacy nor the nation by
sticking his head up his grey-flannelled butt.