by Joe Shea
Ocotber 15, 2012
ADVICE FOR OBAMA
BRADENTON, Fla., Oct. 5, 2012 -- I saw the first 2012 presidential debate at the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall here, at a watch party organized by fellow Democrats. We watched and cheered the President and frequently laughed at Mitt Romney, particularly when his statements were given the lie by his videotaped "47%" remarks. Only when I got home and picked up the ringing telephone did I learn that some people thought Obama had "lost" the event.
The caller was AR Political Correspondent Ted Manna, a very smart guy I've known since high school, and a strong supporter of the President. He told me about the instant polls, and my first response is that the polling company’s telephone database had to have been hacked. The numbers, though, were almost the same on MSNBC, Fox News and CNN, so that looked unlikely. But Ted also had some good news for me, and I’ll share that with you later.
As I watched many excerpts from the debate again and again, I wondered where the President had gone wrong. The most idiotic of the suggestions came from the former Vice President, Al Gore, who thought the mile-high altitude of Denver had addled the President's brain. Ted and I were there when he made that terrific speech to the assembled crowd at a stadium on the night he won the nomination; no addled brains that night, or any other.
But like many viewers, I had at first been troubled when I saw the President's downcast face during the first few minutes of the debate. You couldn't see his eyes or guess what he was thinking. A "hangdog" face like that is usually associated with a kid who's been caught dipping into the cookie jar. What gives? I thought.
There were two things that contributed to the President's loss: First, he can't answer Mitt Romney's lies fast enough in the time allotted, which is just two minutes or so - although neither man paid much attention to time limits or moderator Jim Lehrer.
Second, the President brought up none of the stuff that everyone now knows about Mitt Romney: his contempt for people like me who depend on Social Security checks, Medicare and Medicaid and food stamps; his weird statements, like "I enjoy firing people," or "I'll bet you $10,000;" and the stuff that displays his lack of common sense, like insulting the British preparations for their flawless Olympics, or strapping his dog to the roof of the car on a vacation trip, or his problems parking Cadillacs in his eight-car garage.
One of Romney's most telling attacks was that Obama, instead of a big jobs program, squandered a Democratic majority in both houses to enact Obamacare. There is a response to this we haven't heard, and is hard for Obama to admit, and it is that if you've got such a majority, and may only have it for a short time, why not do something Presidents of both parties have tried to do since the time of Teddy Roosevelt - create affordable and universal health care?
Bravely, he chose to do that, and miraculously - because of Republican Sen. Scott Brown's historic vote - he succeeded. Instead of saying that, though, he talked instead about how Obamacare is modeled on Romney’s own Massachusetts health care law. He can make a damned poor braggart, our President.
I thought Romney even introduced a new gaffe last night, when he said that all five of his sons used to lie to him, one after the other, to get something they wanted. That they may be serial liars makes sense, given the scope of the lies Romney told Wednesday night. Honestly, though, I hate to say that about them, not only because they seem like really nice, good, honest kids, but that since the source is Mitt Romney, it may just be another lie.
There is an antidote to the President's omissions about the 47% and all the rest: everyone - and I mean just about every one of the 60 million viewers - was thinking about what the President left out. Why doesn't he mention the 47%? we wondered.
The answer is that it is far better to let the audience realize the gravity of the omissions, and the value of them to the President's campaign, than to grind them into our brains and stuff them down Mitt Romney's velvet throat. It is far better that all of us, including the President's political enemies, think about that 47% business and the rest of it than that the President be jeered by some and cheered by others when he brings it up.
In fact, the great thing about the President's omissions is that we're all forced to sit and think about all of them here at home, numbering each Romney gaffe on our fingertips until we run out of hands.
But not answering Romney's lies - about his $5 trillion tax cut, his Medicare plan and his ignorance of the loopholes that made Bain Capital so much money when they outsourced companies and jobs to China - has consequences for both men. In a New York Times article in which various Times reporters fact-checked both men, Romney's biggest lies were clearly exposed, and they outnumbered any misstatements attributed to the President.
But the President has an intellectual character that is not prepared for debates with serial liars. A university professor doesn't spend time debating his students when they make stuff up, and isn't prepared to; he's prepared to tell his classes the truth he knows and nothing else. He doesn't make up lies to improve upon it. Romney simply overwhelmed the President with lies, and there was no time and no civilized way to answer him - at least not yet.
Come the second debate, I think some answers will be on hand, and all the talking heads will have read the fact-checking from the first debate - that will help, everywhere but at Fox News, where the lies will just be repeated.
It's funny about intellectuals. They will never say the obvious, and they won't bore us with what we already know. When they are lied to or insulted, they're not like schoolyard bullies or adult children; they don't feel the urge to start a fight - that's why stupid people don't like them. They tend to pity the liar or the fellow throwing insults rather than hate him; hate has no place in the intellectual armamentarium.
Mitt Romney has proved he doesn't need much rope to hang himself; now he's got plenty, and that may be a good thing to come from the first debate.
I mentioned that Ted Manna had also had some good news for me. It was an unsolicited opinion on the debate from his 18-year-old son, Tony, who started taking pictures for us at the age of 13 - he took that great one of President Obama signing the stimulus bill in Denver with Joe Biden looking on.
Anyway, with the wisdom of kids - and this makes me hope he is just one of tens of millions on Election Day - he wrote: "Obama definitely won this debate. I have to say Obama seems to have matured. He is no longer the 'hope and change' gospel speaker for the poor. He is a fair, balanced person. Plus his cabinet is stacked. This race is close but I have a feeling Obama has both the lower and middle class on his side."
When young adults think that way, this race is back on.
Reach Joe Shea at firstname.lastname@example.org.