I left my home in Redmond at 6:00 pm yesterday for a trip to a destination a little outside of the little town of Carbonado, WA. The timing was pretty good for debate listening, as the traffic on I-405 meant I would hear most of the debate without a whole lot of interference from 60 MPH road noises. I caught just over an hour of the debate, as my aural sense was required for other tasks shortly after 7:00 pm.
Listening to the debate didn’t give me opportunity to see Obama’s “big crash”. Aurally, things simply did not come off all that negative for Obama. What stuck out for me was Mitt Romney doing two things:
- Back-peddling, flip-flopping, and pivoting away from the “severe conservative” positions he held during the G.O.P. debates. For the six or so years Romney has been running for President, he has given Americans a portrait of his positions that, oddly, differ greatly from his positions while running for Senate and while running for and being Governor of Massachusetts. Last night, the Etch-A-Sketch moment happened—Romney shook up the slate. He erased that mix of conservative, ALEC, and teabag-inspired positions that got him through the primary. Obama was dumbfounded—he probably was thinking what I was saying: “What the fuck, Mitt?!?”
- Lying. Romney repeatedly said things that are factually false—and did so with conviction and, well…swagger! Although Obama sometimes pointed out Romney’s “erroneous” statements, I think he was caught off guard by it a bit. He was probably thinking what I was saying, “What a FUCK, Mitt!”
When I turned off the radio shortly after 7:00 pm, my impression was that Obama came off as too timid, and should have been nailing Romney MUCH harder on his Etch-A-Sketching and untruthful statements. Timidity in a debate isn’t good unless your opponent is self destructing. And Romney wasn’t acutely self destructing.
But he was undergoing a chronic self-destruction. I mean, the media isn’t going to let him get away with lying and wholesale abandonment of the positions and policies he used to get through the primary, are they? In other words, after hearing the words each candidate was saying, I was pretty convinced that Romney had created some self-inflicted damage.
I didn’t get home until about Midnight, when I did a quick scan of the news feeds, only to learn that Obama got clobbered. Devastated. Destroyed.
Alas, I had a busy morning, so I didn’t look into it too much. Later, an Obama-supporting friend of mine on the East Coast emailed me a scathing critique of Obama, starting with an, apparently, disingenuous tribute to his and Michelle’s anniversary.
Huh! That opening bit sounded warm and genuine from the right lane of SR-520.
While eating lunch today, I spent a few minutes exploring the media reaction. I think David Frum helps me understand things:
Romney, the multimillionaire, arrived in a suit, shirt and tie that looked like they’d been purchased at Macy’s. I doubt he’ll ever wear them again, but for one night, he looked the way most non-zillionaires look when they dress for business. His manner was warm, engaged, and respectful. He looked at the president when the president spoke, and his expression revealed no asperity or disdain.
Oh shit! No wonder I couldn’t clearly see Mitt’s victory…I just couldn’t see his cheap suit, and where his eyes and Obama’s eyes were pointing. (I’ve mentioned during the G.O.P. debates about Mitt’s habit of staring attentively—almost artificially so—at his speaking opponent, so I can picture that.) Apparently, if I had watched the debate with the sound turned down, Mitt would be the hands-down winner.
The only problem: there were words spoken, as well. And while I agree that Obama didn’t attack Mitt nearly as effectively as he could have, that hardly compares to lying at Americans, right in their own living rooms—or cars. Or “disappearing” his long-held controversial positions, as if they’d never “happened.”
The problem for Romney is that a victory on style is ephemeral. The debate has left behind a record in the form of words. Going forward, he can lose the cheap suit, but will still be left with all those words…and they cheapen the whole package.