Imagine the confrontation of a seasoned diplomat vs. a Marine Corps general, the former accustomed to conversation and negotiation, the latter’s attitude one of “Get out of my way or be prepared to wear my footprint on your face,” and you get the tone and tenor of last night’s first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.
To fully appreciate the event, though, you’d have to imagine a president who had failed to get a good night’s sleep and hadn’t had a cup of coffee since 9 a.m., and a raring-to-go bundle of nervous energy with a few fresh lies in his repertoire.
In short, those of us rooting for Obama came away disappointed, while Romney’s supporters were overjoyed at the first sign of things looking up for them in months.
Pundits, tweeters and those responding to instant polls immediately panned Obama’s performance as flat, weak and even ambivalent. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews went ballistic, his mind blown at how Obama had passed up one chance after another to call Romney out for misstating facts long ago debunked by third parties. Zingers? Forget that. Pop psychoanalysis was easy to find in the post mortems, some tagging Obama with feeling he shouldn’t have to be there to defend his serious and overall good work of governing against a crass wannabe who changes positions on serious matters more often than most people change their socks.
Our take on Obama’s lack of combativeness is that by nature he’s not that way. He is a well-informed, thoughtful, reasonable guy. He’s most comfortable around others who share his preference for honest discussion and bargaining in good faith to lying and street brawls.
Mitt Romney, by contrast, is a competitor and a predator. Getting what he wants is his top priority. Concern about what that might mean to and for others is way down his list. If a company must be gutted, saddled with debt and its workers’ jobs destroyed, it’s nothing personal, just what’s necessary for him to make another million, or ten. If he must risk being caught at lying repeatedly to win office, so be it. Hey, as the successful Bain venture capitalist honcho, he left a trail of trashed and debt-ruined companies behind. But to hear Romney tell it, he created 100,000 jobs in the U.S.
All that was on display last night, delivered with energy and, often, a smile. A well-done New York Times story details Romney’s mendacious tour de force, for those interested in the facts. Here’s a sample we find especially compelling.
Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had doubled the deficit. That is not true. When Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, the Congressional Budget Office had already projected that the deficit for fiscal year 2009, which ended Sept. 30 of that year, would be $1.2 trillion. (It ended up as $1.4 trillion.) For fiscal year 2012, which ended last week, the deficit is expected to be $1.1 trillion — just under the level in the year he was inaugurated. Measured as a share of the economy, as economists prefer, the deficit has declined more significantly — from 10.1 percent of the economy’s total output in 2009 to 7.3 percent for 2012.
Romney also falsely denied his plan would cut taxes by 20 percent and that his plan includes $5 trillion in spending cuts. Ample videos exist of Romney saying the exact opposite. In fact, Romney put up a steady barrage of lies, distortions and insulting innuendo.
Romney then capped his lying-like-a-champ performance by chastising the president for trying to have his own facts and making his own sons out to be young practitioners of the Big Lie Technique.
Gosh, we wonder where Romney’s sons learned The Big Lie Technique.
But never mind, because a thousand shallow media minds, amplified by Romney’s legion of liars and spinners, are made up today: dishonest style trumps honest, if uninspiring, substance. So, they’re naming Romney the clear winner.
The moderator who didn’t: We won’t belabor what a poor job PBS’ Jim Lehrer did as moderator. We will just say that having served as moderator for a number of past presidential debates, Lehrer clearly signed on for one too many. It should be his last.