Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Demolition in Denver

Before we look at WHY President Obama got roughed up so badly in tonight's presidential debate, let's lay to rest any doubts that he DID lose worse than the Washington Generals do against the Globetrotters:

CNN Poll - 67% Romney won, 24% Obama won
CBS Poll of undecided voters - Romney 46%, Obama 22%
Democracy Corps (Democrat group) - Romney 42%, Obama 20%
Obama supporter and MSNBC's Chris Matthews: "I don't know what he (Obama) was doing out there."
Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan: "You know how much I love the guy...but this was a disaster for the president."
Washington Times: "Not since Jimmy Carter faced Ronald Reagan has the U.S. presidency been so embarrassingly represented in public."
Star Tribune: "Our editorial board feels like a bunch of crack-addled chimps for ever supporting this president."

Okay, I made that last one up, but still, we can set aside any notion that the president performed adequately tonight. The question is why, and I have a few observations.

1) Thinking on his feet really isn't in his skill set. There have been plenty of jokes over the past few years about his reliance on teleprompters, but as with many jokes, there is a core of truth. Obama's reputation as a brilliant orator was based almost entirely on his ability to READ a speech. He's had fewer press conferences than virtually any president, because his handlers know that he can't think well on his feet. ("You didn't build that," being a great example of an unscripted Obama trying to talk off the top of his head.) The debate format exposes and magnifies the weakness.

2) He's been living in a media-built cocoon. Former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani was on one of the cable networks, and he alluded to the above-mentioned lack of press conferences while noting that he had one almost daily when he was mayor. He mentioned that the give-and-take toughens you up and makes you able to articulate your points. The mainstream media has pretty much rolled over and played dead for Obama, never challenging him, never asking him to explain anything. And just like a house cat whose food is left in a bowl for him, the President has become soft. Throwing him out there tonight was like tossing a house pet into the wilderness and telling it to hunt. Stripped of a teleprompter and admiring reporters with their softball questions, he looked lost and alone, and incapable of fighting back against the bright, articulate guy on the other side of the stage.

3) He's trying to defend the indefensible. Forty-two months of unemployment over 8%. Forty-seven million people on food stamps. Four straight years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Record debt and ratings downgrades. American embassies attacked with impunity. Billions thrown away on bogus "green energy" boondoggles operated by his campaign contributors. Even if Obama were a competent debater, there's no way to defend four years of failure, and he seemed to realize tonight that there is no credible case to be made for continuing his presidency.

4) Romney was terrific. While Obama's failure was obvious, credit must be given to Romney, who carefully walked that fine line of being able to demolish the president's arguments without appearing rude or condescending. The best putdown line was when he talked about the billions wasted on green energy projects and he noted that the president "Doesn't pick winners and losers. He just picks losers." It was a devastating putdown, yet all Obama could do was respond with a smile. That was the mark of a quality debater.

I've read that as a businessman, Romney was very big on lists and organization. I've been told that if you wanted to pitch an idea to him, you had better come into the meeting ready to make points 1, 2, 3 and 4 and do it in a no-nonsense narrative. You could see that trait tonight in a variety of moments when he said something along the lines of "First, then second, then third...." It's the hallmark of a well-organized, well-trained mind, and it's a skill that is very handy in debate.

Does tonight guarantee a Romney win? Far from it, but it was a huge step. For millions of Americans, this was their first prolonged exposure to Romney and he obviously made a great first impression. The obstacle for any challenger at any level of politics is destroying the air of inevitability that frequently surrounds incumbents, and that's a particular challenge in this race, with the New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC and all the others doing their best to prop up Obama. 

Tonight Romney demonstrated that Obama's re-election is not only NOT inevitable, but it's not even desirable. That was a big, huge step with which to launch the final 33 days of campaigning.

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