by Joe Shea
Ocotber 15, 2012
ADVICE FOR OBAMA
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I listened to the first 2012 presidential debate on Oct. 3, and was surprised at how passive President Obama was and how aggressive Mitt Romney was.
Romney did win the debate on style, which is enough to give you a short-term boost with the pundits.
But despite the post-debate polls that show Romney pulling even with Obama, that boost will ultimately be as fleeting as a sugar high. That's because while Romney presented well, just about everything that came out of his mouth was a lie.
Between repeating 10 times in 38 minutes that Obamacare cuts $716 billion from Medicare (false), denying he has proposed a $5 trillion tax cut (also false), claiming President Obama added as much to the national debt as all the previous presidents combined (also false), and claiming that half the green energy companies given stimulus money failed (only if three out of three dozen constitutes one-half), Romney delivered a stunningly fact-free performance.
It was a stark contrast. President Obama saw the debate as a chance to talk to the American people, and give honest, truthful answers to serious questions, while Mitt Romney offered a concentrated dose of the lies and falsehoods that have been the hallmark of his campaign.
We've seen that Romney will say anything if it will improve his chances of getting elected. He has flipped and flopped on the issues, and contradicted and obfuscated his positions to the point where no one is sure who the real Mitt Romney is.
That's leaves President Obama in a difficult spot. Do you spend 90 minutes trying to refute all of Romney's lies at the expense of explaining your own policies and goals, or do you let Romney spew his lies and trust that the majority of Americans recognize that Romney is lying?
Granted, passion is not Obama's stock in trade. He is cool and cerebral and logical, which are good qualities for a president, but are considered handicaps in politics. That is probably why Obama didn't discuss Romney's role in Bain Capital, Romney's offshore tax havens, or Romney's recent claim that 47 percent of Americans are freeloading moochers.
But if President Obama still thinks the truth is enough to prevail against a candidate who is unusually skilled at lying, he hasn't learned anything in three years.
You could claim that Romney won on style, while Obama won on substance. But I believe the real loser in the Oct. 3 debate was the American people.
Romney, Obama and moderator Jim Lehrer spent 90 minutes before a national audience and none of them breathed a word about climate change, the environment, women's rights, immigration, civil rights, or poverty. None of them talked about the sharply rising level of economic and educational inequality in America, nor did they talk about the pressing need to repair and replace much of our nation's public infrastructure.
Even more than Obama or Lehrer's failure to challenge Romney's dishonesty, the failure of any of these three men to bring up these important topics is Exhibit A for how unserious the political process has become.
As many have pointed out this year, we are in a post-truth age where absurd charges are taken seriously, and truthfully answering questions is seen as a political liability. That's why Mitt Romney was hailed as a winner of this year's first presidential debate even though he delivered the most truth-free performance ever seen in these events. They think it is a winning strategy.
The Romney camp isn't worried about fact-checkers, because they know the average voter doesn't read those stories. As far as most Americans are concerned, all politicians lie, so why get worked up over a few falsehoods?
And the media? All they want is a horse race, which they now have. The tv and radio stations can rake in more ad dollars for the next four weeks.
But are the voters served? No one seems to care. Democracy takes a back seat to empty hoopla and contrived drama, and a country that sees more people voting for the next American Idol than for the next American president circles the drain one more time.
There are two more of these debates coming up. What are the chances that we might hear something resembling truth from Romney, or something resembling passion from Obama?
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a prize-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.