Republicans canceled orders for mass quantities of hemlock by about 9:06 p.m. October 3, 2012, and they might trade their inventory with Democratic operatives who wonder what might play out over the next few weeks. Political bipolar disorder is a dangerous syndrome. Like in ice skating, a sparkling costume with lyrical music will get the crowd’s attention, but then those pesky other judges wave around those paddles, judging on much more than optics. This isn’t over. The map is still a huge challenge for Mitt Romney, who must win at least Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire … or an equivalent from the Democratic column to get to 270 electoral votes. The debate was a horror for President Obama, but scores of his fans were already headed to the polls, in person or by mail, in almost 30 states before the first words were uttered. On mechanics alone, the ground game looks tilted toward the Chicago number mavens, who have far more volunteers and office sites from which to deploy their get out the vote network.
Plenty of zingers the morning after. America is a very creative country, and the innovators among us took to every form of social media to express themselves in ways even the effervescent Mitt Romney didn’t capture. Big Bird has his advocates, who knew! Let’s get to the point. Jim Lehrer behaved more like Clint Eastwood’s empty chair than the man we knew from previous debates. Maybe the modern, talk-over-each-other and dodge-the-rules style doesn’t suit a professional of his sobriety. Let’s also admit this. President Obama looked like he had just been briefed on some horrible international or economic catastrophe to come. Distracted and disengaged, polite ways of saying he was more than off his game. But, let’s not take Romney off the hook. I’m wondering how we’ll still feel about his aggressiveness in a few days. If the undecideds are disproportionately women, perhaps that bossy style isn’t so attractive.
If you can tolerate a second sitting of this, listen to the audio as I did today, or read the transcripts as I did last night. The flat word and sound version of the debate didn’t seem so lopsided. When Obama’s off-putting disdainful looks are eliminated and one parses the words, he didn’t read as out of it as he looked, once the stylistic pauses are eliminated. Whatever, there are two more presidential debates, with different moderators and different styles. Some of us are just better presenters when we get to play off an audience. The town hall setting on October 22 in Boca Raton, Florida should favor the president, or at least even the odds. The foreign policy focus of the October 16 New York debate should also level the field.
Nobody needs another interpretation of the 90-minute endurance test. But, here’s my take. In the parlance of the day, there were plenty of so-called “dog whistles” injected into Romney’s comments, especially at the end. If the goal is to aim at swing voters, Romney did a better job of appealing to Catholics with his close that incorporated the principle of religious liberty as an American value. Obama made a brief reference to don’t ask don’t tell, but only in regard to his bipartisan achievements, likely not enough to create his distinction with his challenger on overall social issues. Each of them apparently meets a lot of troubled women on the campaign trail, but what about every day women? This is supposed to be the president’s solid advantage, yet other than elaborating on the independence of his aged grandmother, there wasn’t enough recognition of women, either in the context of Obamacare or educational equity. Neither mentioned veterans or immigrants, at least not enough to recall what it was each said.
Bonehead moves of the night: Obama brought up the $716 billion early, not as a gaffe but as part of a prepared answer to one of the questions posed by the moderator. Hello … you should have been warned about this. Big trap, huge as a cave, and Romney shoved him all the way down to the bottom. Romney said he had a tax plan that would not do this or that, but then had a bizarre throwaway line where he said “pick a number” when it came to deduction limits. The suddenly new sounding Romney tax policy leaves him vulnerable. The president didn’t nail him on this, but Vice President Joe Biden won’t be so docile.
Big omissions of the night: If anyone brought up the fiscal cliff or a lame duck, I missed it. Don’t recall anything about environment or global warming, which could have lead to a discussion of drought, forest fires, and things faced by a few of the voters in battleground states. Barely a word on transportation, other than the enigmatic reference to Lincoln and the railroads. Trade was blurred into a bungled line about export of products. By the way, the president blew the line at his morning after rally in Denver as well. Time to rephrase or drop it.
If we’re using football terms, Romney has the ball and will need a miraculous two-minute drill to come out of this with something more than bragging rights. For every scrambling quarterback tossing the Hail Mary, there is one who will get tackled in his end zone. Let’s see which Mitt and which Barack shows up in a couple weeks.