Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 4th, 2012
Though I’m an Obama critic, I say it without joy: I think Romney arrived eager for a fight, Obama didn’t, and it showed.
I also say it without great surprise, and I think even if you’re a died-in-the-wool Obama supporter, you know it’s true you aren’t surprised either. The question for each of us is how we evaluate and explain that an Obama doesn’t come ready to rumble with a Romney.
For some, I suppose the answer is, “Pfft. Not the president I’d want anyway — loaded down with a bunch of populist zingers about 47%, Bain Capital harvesting the weak, whatnot. Nope, I like No Drama Obama, cool and aloof, at most shaking his head mildly about some Romney charge.”
My answer is different: I think the fundamental problem is that Obama doesn’t really disagree with Romney on all that much — from “Race to the Top,” to Dodd-Frank, to Simpson-Bowles, to deficit reduction ueber alles, to — as he pointed out himself — health care reform. And so he magnifies the differences there are. And then he has no terribly persuasive, simple rejoinder when Romney is able to wriggle free of Obama’s judgments by disputing the premise in the case of health care, or to “even” out-populist Obama by relabeling as “too big to fail” the SIFI (systemically important financial institutions) feature of Dodd-Frank.* And instead of persuasively “welcoming their hatred,” as FDR once did, Obama can only stand figuratively slack-jawed when someone like Romney accuses him — him! — of fomenting partisan gridlock.
I’ll check out reactions on the Internet next, so maybe I’ll learn that Romney’s affect was too cocky — a “Gore sighing”/”Bush checking his watch” moment — or that everybody’s embarrassed for him on the $5 trillion dollar dispute. But I doubt it; Obama’s other problem is that even if Romney tells outright whoppers, voters aren’t going to be able to suss out what’s fact and what’s fiction in the next four weeks — and tonight, Obama certainly wasn’t much help on that score either.
I think if you’ve just tuned in and you’re a dissatisfied citizen looking for change and energy, you might decide to give Romney a shot. Maybe that won’t be enough for Romney. But if I were Obama’s campaign team, I’d be worried. Their romp through September is over.
* And he may have a point; Bloomberg reported that in the wake of Dodd-Frank — ostensibly written to prevent “too-big-to-fail” — the 5 largest US banks actually increased their share of the market from 43% in 2006 to 58% in 2011, leading critics to speak of “too bigger to fail.”