Master Debators

On October 4, 2012, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

If you watched the first of three Presidential debates last night like I did you likely came to the same conclusion that many have, including all sides of the mainstream media – Mitt Romney won.

Let me repeat that: Romney won the debate. I won’t say fair and square because it wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t square, but he kicked President Obama’s ass up and down that stage last night in Denver and it’s as much Obama’s responsibility that it got away from him as it is to Romney’s credit that he won in just about every category you can a debate in. Except for a couple of very important ones.

Last night’s debate was the equivalent of a baseball team losing Game 1 of the World Series 10-2. We better not be looking at a sweep because we can’t afford to have a Mitt Romney presidency, a fact even more apparent after last night. But first, let’s take a look at what the President did wrong and needs to improve upon if he’s going to turn around the massive turn-around that happened last night.

First, he needs more and better energy. The President seemed at turns tired, frustrated, annoyed, flustered, ineffectively long-winded, searching to organize his thoughts while he spoke, and generally not in good fighting form. If we lived in a more advanced society with a more informed and engaged electorate, some of these things might not matter so much. Though many of them would. But the President’s energy and demeanor were almost as much a cause for him losing the debate last night as the two more substantial reasons, and has got to change in debates two and three.

What are the two more substantial reasons, you might ask? First, Obama had no meaningful, concise takeaways from the night. Call them zingers, call them talking points, call them Madison Avenue-style taglines, the President has got to be able to sum up his policies, his record, and his vision in a way that can be spoon-fed to the American public or he will fail in his bid to gain re-election.

One of many things Mitt Romney did well last night was speak directly to the people who can help him win the election. He lied his ass off from start to finish, both about his “plan” (or lack thereof), the President’s record, and a ton of statistics about the American economy, but it only matters inasmuch as having real facts in play will effect our real lives should this incredibly dishonest and irresponsibly unqualified socio-political aristocrat ascend to the Presidency.

However, getting elected President right now is as much (or more) about selling the idea of your Presidency as it is selling yourself as a good candidate to do a tremendously difficult job. How else can you explain how America elects and re-elects a George W. Bush President? Other than the fact that he stole the first election in Florida.

George W. Bush is the worst President this country has ever seen, by several country miles, in its illustrious history, and Barack Obama may be one of if not the best. But if Mitt Romney can sell the American people the idea Barack Obama is the worst President ever, he will win in November. That’s the sales job he’s trying to do, and he was the winning salesman Wednesday night.

If President Obama believes that because he’s President, because he’s done a tremendous job under difficult circumstances, because he ultimately has truth and competence on his side, and because what Mitt Romney is selling is bullshit about the past and blatant fantasies about the future, he is wrong. Dead wrong. There is a sales job to be done here, and even a sitting President can’t be above that.

Selling sucks. It’s hard work, requires lots of lying and BS, and can often be a truly thankless job, especially when you don’t get the sale. It’s OK, even great, to be the salesman who doesn’t lie, BS and oversell. But it makes the job even harder, and thus you have to be willing to work even harder to make that “good” sale. After four years of carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders every day, does President Obama have the energy to execute on the sales part of this election? I certainly hope so.

Issues and ideas Obama left almost completely untouched last night: the 47% fiasco, government shouldn’t tell people what medical services they can have and yet the Republicans emphatically oppose a women’s right to choose, Romney hasn’t mentioned one loophole he would close. Not 1!! The President should have outright dared Mitt to name a specific in his plan. He should have asked for three, and said he’d be encouraged to hear one. Slam-dunk not even attempted.

The second substantial place where the President failed to get the debate job done last night is arguably more important than the first, especially in this election. Sure the absence of a clearly articulated vision is an issue, along with his meandering prose, the lack of concise take-aways, and the maddening penchant for waxing on and on about his beloved Great Aunt who, along with 47-90% of the American people) Mitt Romney and his elitist conservative billionaire friends could care less about.

Romney’s Job One last night was articulating a vision, as well as climbing out from under the well-deserved impression that he was an incompetent asshole with utter disdain for the majority of the electorate. Obama is a sitting President who has done an extraordinary job under near-impossible circumstances, and the truth is on his side, and the side of the work he’s doing.

Which is why President Obama should be armed mentally and literally with tons of information and real, verifiable statistics that he can refer to supporting both the factual achievements of his first four years in office, and refuting the unprecedented avalanche of lies that Romney uttered all night long. The truth is on Obama’s side, but if he can’t summon up the information to back up his achievements he’s going to lose the election. Right or wrong.

Points last night where Obama needed a long and verifiable list of facts to refute Romney’s lies and tremendous twists of factoids included: the dollars worth of closed loopholes it would take to offset a $5 trillion tax break (could take $20 trillion in closed loopholes to make up for that revenue…), Romney’s $760 billion healthcare claim (a hugely deceptive comment left completely unrefuted), the $100 billion in green tax breaks versus $2 billion a year for the oil companies (how about a $10 trillion war in Iraq fought for the oil?), and the 42% of GDP comment from Romney comparing us to Spain when the real number is that we spend 24% of our GDP

Romney dropped his un-facts, by the way, with an affable-enough grin on his face which, though forced, also reinforced that not only was this candidate capable of articulating an idea or two (vague or mathematically impossible though they may be), he’s also not the socially inept ideological horse’s ass he’s betrayed himself to be for the last month of this campaign. Had Sarah Palin pulled off an act like this in her debate, who knows who would have been debating on that stage last night, both as incumbent, and as challenger. Shudder to think that.

And yet, shudder to think that the President can’t come up with efforts in the next two debates that will leave last night’s lackluster performance in history’s dustbin. One concern is that the President may be insulated by Yes-Persons and staffers who will convince him that he needs to remain “above the fray” and thus more Presidential. Or even worse, that last night’s debate was not a fiasco. It was. Last night’s debate was one of the low-lights in the history of this country, while at the same time one of the highlights of Mitt Romney’s life. Much in the same way that 9/11 was a low-light for New York while simultaneously being the greatest gift America’s Radical Right ever received.

Did Obama seem more Presidential to you last night? In the real world, he’s the guy who’s doing a great job leading this country. In the imaginary world of faeries and unicorns, where a disturbingly high percentage of the American public both lives and votes (47% is too high; 5% is too high), the President’s challenger clearly has the ability to lie like Nixon, seem not fully responsible like Reagan and W., and act like he’s got a plan like Palin and at the same time win the first Presidential Debate.

Let’s hope, for all of our sakes, President Obama brings a more vital offense in the form of easy-to-understand statements of his achievements and vision, along with a much stronger defense, namely, facts to refute Mitt’s cavalcade of lies, to the next of these Dog-and-Ponies. Because while winning a debate doesn’t make Romney qualified to actually be President, not winning a debate makes Obama vulnerable to lose the election. And America simply can’t let Romney finish the job George W. Bush and Company started.


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