In The News
Debate proved you would buy a used car from Romney
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted October 4, 2012
Based on his advantage in the polls, his superiority in intelligent policies – and also based on his opponent’s unflinching embrace of the extreme right and constant blunders such as attacking the 47% to cater to his country club donors --- Obama supporters truly expected the president to wipe the floor with Mitt Romney even just by simply standing there.
So they were unprepared in the first debate October 3 as was Obama. Suddenly the great American huckster, the turnaround specialist, emerged with complete focus on sell, sell, duck, pivot and sell. The nation finally saw the shrewdie that conservative ideologues couldn’t touch in those endless GOP debates, the Bain pitchman who made a fortune convincing thousands to put their money behind every claim. They even saw the shape-shifter who perfectly fits Grover Norquist’s definition of what the GOP most wants in a president – someone with enough digits on his hand to sign any Republican bill put in front of him.
Now that may not be an intellectually convincing contrast to the professorial president, but it seemed to blow away the media and the uncommitted voters.
Obviously, the media has a ratings motivation to make the contest sound close whatever happened. But Obama surely allowed the race to tighten in those pundits’ eyes and disappointed the majority of liberals who counted on a slam-dunk. None anticipated that the Americana of P.T. Barnum would be resurrected in the nick of time.
The Romney who could make a fortune selling refrigerators to Eskimos came out talking at double speed, shrugging off without rancor every effort to slow his pace, hoping that this electorate would be so dazzled that they will never take the time to subject his extreme statements and evasions to fact-check playback – and he may be right.
His show-off sugar-high chutzpah left the two guys on the stage who specialize is being nice and reasonable somewhat flabbergasted.
One was Obama who, when you look back on the debate, actually made studious economic sense but was not prepared to stand up to a whirlwind. Obama never stooped to mention the 47% remarks, he probably is kicking himself for not introducing the issues of women or immigration. It may not matter in the long term, but he was not braced for the Romney windmill.
The other was moderator Jim Lehrer, who has long prided himself on a “come let us reason together” approach to handling debates. Romney bull-rushed him into ineffectuality.
If Obama thought this would be a discussion of two ideologies, if he thought he could treat his opponent as a man to reason with on issues, he was dumfounded as Romney abandoned virtually every platform and piece of rhetoric he had run on for 18 months.
The lack of details in Romney’s $7 trillion plan -- to cut $5 trillion through lowering tax rates, but keep Bush tax cuts for the richest and increase defense spending the Pentagon doesn’t want by $2 trillion -- had long led neutral economists to point out that he would have to raise taxes on the middle class to accomplish this. Romney had long ducked refuting such analysis.
But on Oct. 3 he suddenly denied the trillion figures he had long promoted! (“Let me repeat what I said: I’m not in favor of a $5 trillion tax cut.”) He said he wouldn’t raise taxes on anyone! He ran away from the reality of previous stands with “trust me” verbal sincerity, rolling over any debate format or request for details with the confidence of a riverboat gambler. No one asked to see his cards.
That was not the only unanticipated reversal. While campaigning for months on repealing Dodd-Frank, Romney suddenly said he not only appreciates regulations on Wall Street but saw good things in Dodd and even Frank, then attacked the bill for protecting banks that were too big, a hysterical sideshow for those who examine how the bill requires more resources for those banks to prevent future collapse.
While he chose running mate Paul Ryan largely for his economic plan to change Medicare with vouchers, Romney now dodges vouchers, insists he would never cut Medicare, sneaking in that “for current or near retirees” disclaimer (look out if you’re under 55!), and then endlessly attacked Obama for cutting $716 billion, completely plowing over that those are not cuts to benefits but mainly to excess profits to private health companies operating Medicare Advantage at 117%.
Perhaps out of bad preparation or complete surprise, Obama didn’t point out that Ryan has the same $716 billion cut in his plan, that Romney’s pledge that he would return all that money to Medicare (from the excess profits from whence it came?) was smoke and mirrors and that Romney’s state by state approach to health care is hardly something any federal president can promise.
Obama got some digs back in – when the Republican said government can’t run any program well, the president quickly pointed out how Medicare is administered far more cheaply than private health care. There were tons of other plans the government does well but neither he nor the buffaloed Lehrer got around to mentioning that. Lehrer was also sidetracked from pointing out how small PBS funding is when Romney said he liked Lehrer and Big Bird but wouldn’t subsidize them with money from China. (That begs the question -- if Obama can reduce the debt as he plans would Romney fund Big Bird with American money?)
Viewers we still left totally in the dark about Romney’s deductions approach, but my, wasn’t he glib!
While I don’t think the president was caught flat-footed, I do think he didn’t want to jeopardize his likability by calling Romney out as a serial liar or economic simpleton, or coming across as “that angry black guy.” His unflappability and conciliatory nature are attractions of his presidency and surely work in international dealings, but sometimes are limitations under the heat of TV lights and media expectations. So he allowed Romney to appear on equal footing though factually Romney was never close – but quite convincing to viewers married to reality television.
Obama may have his own broad insight into American exceptionalism. But he ran into a buzzsaw of a peculiar sort of American exceptionalism he had seldom encountered – the American salesman, the Yankee clipper under full sale. Romney was willing to say anything at top speed, willing to throw the right-wing of his party under the bus as he drifted to the center (and they so hate Obama that they won’t care), embracing positions he never before had articulated, dancing around details in a way that made it sound like he was finally revealing details.
After months of Romney flailing and contradicting himself in personal appearances, we saw the reason why it’s been so hard for anyone to lay a glove on him in debates. He’s the ultimate incarnation of the American salesman of legend. If he has to sell sand in the Sahara Desert, he can. And strangely, there may be enough voters in the country who can be blinded by the dust kicked up.