President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney faced off in the first of three Presidential debates of the 2012 election season. Fans of the President were disappointed and even shocked that their candidate, who presumably spends his days steeped in the issues of state, arrived unprepared. If one did not know better, one would have thought that the President has spent his entire first term on the golf course, on the campaign trail, and on vacation. But the press assures us that the President is always working, always on the job. Yet encyclopedias could be filled with all the things of which the President is completely oblivious. On the issues, Obama had apparently drilled no deeper than his campaign’s own brain-dead talking points. How is it that a sitting American President can be so unaware of the issues facing our country?
In contrast, it would appear that the “out-of-touch” Mitt Romney obsesses about these things. All his points were made respectfully, but made well. The media had promised a barrage of well rehearsed Mitt Romney delivered zingers. I admit, I like these zingers and have been known to craft a few of my own. But Mitt delivered only one zinger and he did it so skillfully that I have yet to hear anyone refer to it as a zinger. To begin with, he delivered the line with a genuine smile and shared it with the President as if it was so good he truly thought the President would enjoy it too. Secondly, he took no personal credit for the line, but instead credited it to a friend. What Romney said to Obama, who was also smiling at the time because of the skillful set-up was, “According to my friend, you don’t pick winners and losers; you just pick losers.”
As the debate opened, the moderator, Jim Lehrer, told us, “The audience is split evenly between, (you should be able to anticipate this) Democrats, Republicans and university students.” It was as if he had never considered the latter was just a subset of the former. The left just cannot help saying things like this. If leftist ideas were not so lethal, this would be entertaining. Jim Lehrer was a contrast set-piece intended to make the President look smart by comparison. Good thing too because Romney would have been no help in this. Lehrer tried his best, stepping in too often to help the President make a point. But the effort was futile and Jim was just not up to the task. At one point, when the President was clearly against the ropes, he asked Lehrer if they could just change the subject. Lehrer, of course, obliged. But for the most part the debate was out of Lehrer’s control. He could not control the clock or even get to all the points on the agenda. Only Obama’s abysmal performance saved Lehrer from being the focus of derision.
The President talked of all the things he wanted to do in his second term to improve the economy and get the country going again. No one asked the obvious question, “Why in four years he had not yet done this?” I, for one, question the President’s sincerity. He did mention a desire to develop wind and solar energy. I think he has already tried this. The results should embarrass him. The President dominated the clock talking four minutes longer than Romney (Lehrer’s fault), but he would have been better served by an attack of laryngitis. The more he spoke, the worse things got for him. He spoke of his grandmother who worked herself up to Vice-President of a bank and how she depended on Social Security in her retirement. It brought a tear to my eye thinking how lucky I was not to have had any money in that bank.
Mitt started out slowly, which concerned me. I sat watching and jotting down responses I wished I had heard. Even when speaking directly to the President, he used the third person. I thought he was being overly respectful. But sometimes what you get is better than what you wanted. This approach put the President to sleep early in the debate. Romney skillfully ramped up his performance throughout the debate so that the President never quite caught up. The President was the frog boiled slowly. By the time the pot started to boil it was too late for this frog. When the President insisted, for the umpteenth time, that Romney’s plan would have to increase taxes because the President could conceive of no other way to balance the budget, Romney spelled out the three approaches to balancing the budget:
1) Increase taxes.
2) Decrease spending.
3) Grow the economy.
He then explained why the last approach was the best, aided by the second and why the first was the worst. Obama had no effective response.
It has been said by both sides, “Romney won on substance and style,” implying that the President won the rest. But I cannot for the life of me think of what “the rest” might be. Obama’s crew was slow to come out and comment after the debate. Their message was so out of balance they just couldn’t get the spin cycle going. Obama is spending today out on the stump delivering the lines he thinks he should have delivered last night, but they are little improvement over last night’s performance. It is hard to make up for a failed message.
Listening to pundits after the debate was instructive. Some were saying, “You have to give the night to Romney.” I think you would have to give him both rooks and the queen too. And we know with whom the bishops are standing. The Obama cheese stands alone. One commentator mentioned, “The President spent the whole debate looking down, like a terrorist reading a map.” Now that’s a zinger. A much heard quote was, “Romney was much better than his campaign and the President was much worse.” Even Bill Maher (I can’t believe I am quoting this guy) said, “Apparently Obama DOES need a teleprompter.” Maher is so quick. Dana Perino said, “At some point you have to implement Little League rules and call the game when someone gets too far ahead.”
For many, this was their first time to see Romney. How could anyone fail to notice the contrast? Many tuned in to see their guy, Obama, reveal Romney for the out-of-touch, uncaring, right wing radical, that Obama and the media have been presenting daily. We can hope it was enlightening for them to see an out-of-touch, stammering, shallow-thinker standing there in an Obama suit. Clint Eastwood’s empty chair turned in a better performance.
Mitt Romney upped his game; now, Mr. President, up yours.