a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Post-debate impressions

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.”

4 Responses to “Post-debate impressions”

  1. Roman Berry Says:

    I think the fundamental problem is that Obama doesn’t really disagree with Romney on all that much…

    I think you may be onto something there.

  2. arpi Says:

    Well said, Thomas (unfortunately). Simply stated, Romney opened a can of you know what on Obama. While I’m not the same person who was so enamored of Barak Obama 4 years ago, I don’t want to see another Rethuglican in the White House either. I hope last night was not a game changer, but I feel it might be. As for those who say Romney told lies the Democrats can refute this week, I ask how: with newspaper articles? Talking heads? I think the damage is done unless Biden can make Ryan look like SP. Wouldn’t that be ironic? Biden saving the day for Obama….

  3. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Obama gets two more chances with Romney too. As I recall, he was widely felt to have become a better debater as the 2008 primary season progressed; he learns and adjusts.

    Two similar (well, OK, better) underwhelmed reactions from…
    (1) Charles Pierce, “The Presidential Debate That Wasn’t Very Presidential: How Obama Let the Etch-a-Sketch Take the Controls“: “What you saw, I think, anyway, was the end product of the president’s consuming naivete as regards the American political process, as well as the end product of thirty years of a Democratic Party that has slid so far to the center-right that a Democratic president found himself arguing with a “severely conservative” Republican candidate over the issues of how much the Democratic president had cut out of the budget, how many regulations he’d trimmed, how much more devoted to the middle-class-kick-in-the-balls Simpson-Bowles “plan” he is, and how he would “reform” Social Security and Medicare — and, frankly, a Democratic president losing some of those arguments to his left. A Democratic president got through an entire debate and didn’t mention unions at all, even though the fact that our teachers are unionized here in Massachusetts is a big part of the reason why Romney got to brag on how good our education system is.

    Seriously now, how much would you have bet going in that the president would spend as much time as he did on areas in which “Governor Romney and I agree” and not mention the famous 47-percent video at all?”

    (2) emptywheel, “When You’ve Spent 3 Years Disdaining Criticism” (thanks for the shout-out in comments, Roman!): Obama had the same demeanor we’ve seen for years from him when he gets exasperated that critics don’t pay due attention to the catastrophe he inherited from Bush. Rather than listening to legitimate criticisms–at times, even from the right–Obama just purses his lips to hide his anger about the criticism and sends out an aide to make accusations about the Professional Left.

    An interesting dissenting reaction from David Atkins, “hullabaloo”, “Three Reasons Romney Lost the Debate“:
    1) The “Big Bird” moment. […] Watch for the Obama team to do ads highlighting Romney’s desire to continue subsidies for big oil and other big corporations while killing Big Bird’s job. That will have a much more lasting impression on the race than the 24-hour news cycle generated by the debate itself. […]
    2) Romney just didn’t move the numbers as much as he needs to. […]
    3) Romney’s lies will come back to haunt him. […]

    Finally, just because it made me laugh, Andy Borowitz, “Millions of Americans Lose Consciousness.”

  4. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Doug Henwood: “Join an empty philosophy to an empty personality and you get a very flat and meandering performance in debate. Romney believes in money. Obama believes in nothing.
    Kevin Baker, Harper’s, The Man Who Would Be Ex-President: “The leadership is now filled almost exclusively with careerists, who have no real goals they want to accomplish beyond their own advancement, and who actively don’t want to pursue any of the liberal ideas they pretend to support. They don’t sound like they believe what they’re saying . . . because they don’t believe what they’re saying.”
    Bob Herbert: “Obama’s supporters need to make it clear that the time for excuses is over. The president had no right to show up for a debate unprepared and offer an expectant nation an embarrassingly half-hearted performance. Progressive leaders, who represent Obama’s strongest and most faithful supporters, have an obligation to convey that message in the strongest possible terms. The president let his people down. And if he’s capable of doing that in an election that is clearly so important, it means he’s capable of doing it again if he wins a second term.”

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