Those old Obama debate blues

Harking back to early 2008, the president stays professorial, while Romney gets feisty – and dishonest

Topics: Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, 2012 Debates,

Those old Obama debate blues (Credit: Reuters/Jim Bourg/AP/Eric Gay)

A subdued, deferential, over-prepared President Obama ceded the first debate to Mitt Romney on style and substance. Democrats had to look at historical evidence that debates don’t change election outcomes for comfort Wednesday tonight.

Romney shook his Etch-a-Sketch and lied his way through the entire debate with no challenge from moderator Jim Lehrer. He simply denied he has proposed a $5 trillion tax cut. He insisted he wouldn’t cut the education budget or Pell Grants, when he will. He claimed the Affordable Care Act raised taxes by a trillion dollars. He essentially revived the idea of death panels by saying Obamacare established “a board that will tell people what kind of treatment they’re going to get.”  Yet the president didn’t call him on any of it.

In fact, Obama let Romney off the hook on a range of toxic topics, from Social Security to the tax deductions he’d eliminate to make his tax-cut plan “revenue neutral.” Some omissions seem like political malpractice. The president had many opportunities to ask Romney exactly what loopholes he’d close and which deductions he’d eliminate – child tax credit? Mortgage interest deduction? Charitable deductions? – and help Romney commit political suicide. But he never did; he went straight to the wonky idea that there are not enough loopholes to close or deductions to balance his tax cuts for the rich. He had the chance to ask Romney for his deduction-elimination plans directly, even if only rhetorically, even if Lehrer didn’t follow up. But Obama never did.

He didn’t challenge him on most of his lies. Romney claimed the Affordable Care Act raised taxes by a trillion dollars, and Obama didn’t object; in the camera shot at that moment, he didn’t even shake his head. He didn’t mention Bain Capital, the Ryan budget or Romney’s shameful 47 percent comments. When Romney chided Obama for not fighting for the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission recommendations, Obama didn’t mention that Romney’s running mate, who was on the commission, wouldn’t back them either.



Unbelievably, Obama cited Social Security as an area where he and Romney agree, even though Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan was an architect of Social Security privatization plans in the House, and Romney himself has suggested raising the age of eligibility and cutting benefits. That’s striking fear in the hearts of plenty of Democrats. The president seemed about to score a big win when Romney admitted he wanted to shift Medicare to a voucher program for Americans under 55 — but it was Obama who noted that Romney says he would let “traditional Medicare” exist alongside “vouchercare,” taking some of the political sting out of Romney’s admission. As Romney attacked Dodd-Frank banking regulations, Obama allowed that Wall Street shouldn’t bear all the blame for the entire 2008 banking collapse, and he pointed to loan officers and individuals who borrowed money they really couldn’t afford to, rather than stay on the topic of Wall Street greed and recklessness. As he got deep into the weeds about education and work readiness, he gave Romney credit for agreeing with his popular ideas on community colleges.

Overall Obama was off his game. He stumbled with “ums” and “uhs,” looked down at the podium instead of at the camera, framed his statements as hypotheticals not declarations, even apologized to Lehrer for going long with his remarks when Romney just barreled over the moderator. I found myself wondering if he was preoccupied by either a national security crisis (Turkey and Syria are firing at one another) or family troubles; I hope neither is true, but it would explain his subdued performance.

Romney was smug and arrogant, condescending to Obama and Lehrer. Unbelievably, he compared Obama to one of his sons when accusing him of misrepresenting his tax plan. “Look, I’ve got five boys — I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true but just keep repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. But that is not the case.” Maybe our first black president can’t shoot back “I’m not one of your boys,” but I wish Lehrer had noted the insult.

Let me admit: I wasn’t sure Barack Obama won all of his debates with John McCain in 2008. Some of his answers were too long and convoluted. But what mattered most was McCain wandering around the stage, looking lost, or calling Obama “that one.”

It’s possible some things will matter more than they seem to tonight: Romney’s arrogant smiles and smirks, or his saying to Lehrer that though “I love Big Bird; I actually like you,” he’d fire them both and zero out the PBS budget. Americans love Big Bird. What a loon. He smirked regularly and once even giggled at his fine performance. He made it clear that he was Lehrer’s boss early, and treated him disrespectfully. For a guy Americans don’t find likeable, he wasn’t terribly likeable.

In the days to come, Romney may suffer from the perception of his condescension, his lying and his cruel assault on Big Bird. But for now, it seems the president missed the opportunity to put his opponent away for good.

 

 

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>