The first presidential debates took place last night, in case you may have been living in a cave for the past six months. I couldn’t tell you if someone ‘won’ or ‘lost’ but I do know that right after the debates finished, there was a lot of calls made on who had won. I don’t necessarily agree with some of those calls that the president may have lost that debate and it had less to do with what actually happened than it had to do with the climate in which the debate took place.
I also don’t think that the opponent won anything and if he did come away with something, I think he’s going to deeply regret having it, especially by the next debate.
Afterward, there was a great deal of teeth-gnashing about aggression, about who was the more aggressive – Romney – and who wasn’t aggressive enough – Obama. While on a purely volume level, I will concede the point, but it’s a type of aggression, and how that aggression will play out.
If there was anyone that had a real thrashing coming to them, if there was anyone that ever deserved it, it was Romney. And Obama could have been the one to give it to him, easily. But for those that were angry that the president didn’t seem to come out angry enough, I’d like them to consider how it would have looked, in the next day re-watch of the debate. It would have looked weak to have to thrash the opponent, to so obviously humiliate him in public. The president would have looked small, and petty.
What happened was something suited to a far subtler audience. Romney got schooled, not thrashed. Romney came in with great flailing haymakers and stylish, crafted zingers. Obama countered with facts and subtly delivered but strategic jabs that may not have made a lot of sparks during the debate but that are going to hurt Romney later on.
It has to be stated as obvious that the main weapon in Romney’s arsenal was a series of big, whopping lies. I think that most of us that were watching expected to see lies, but perhaps not on this magnitude. Romney simply claimed that everything he had been talking about for the last year and a half simply wasn’t his plan at all, despite having been on the record saying different. Obama countered with truths. Maybe those were dry truths but when the stage is swept up and the news cycle starts tomorrow, those lies are going to be called to account. Romney will have some explaining to do, and his campaign will be rolling back much of what he has said before breakfast is ready.
Those lies are the real critical blow in all of this and it was a move that the president didn’t have to make. All Obama had to do was give Romney enough time to open his mouth and let the lies come out. Now those lies are out there, on the record. Where people that don’t need to be concerned about looking presidential, that don’t need to be concerned about looking like the ‘angry, black man’ that the right wing has pictured can take those lies apart, brutally. I expect they will, and that people will be watching that too.
In addition to the aggression, and the lies, there’s the question of tone. There were moments last night when, watching Romney, I actually cringed and exclaimed, ‘he just lost this’. That ‘rules’ thing didn’t come across as aggressive to me, it came across as petulant and whiny and the first time he did it, I cringed. There was the smirking, something he’s clearly been instructed to watch, but that he can’t seem to stop doing. There was anger and frustration shown that had Romney look not so much presidential as like a small yappy dog that Obama indulged. Indulged is the right word here. Obama didn’t show weakness or passivity, he showed indulgence.
Of the many cringe-worthy utterances from Romney, one was so sharp that it drew a response from what was a very well behaved audience. Romney called the president a liar. To be more specific, he said that the president was like one of Romney’s five sons, trying to get away with saying something that wasn’t true by simply repeating it. Surely one of the crafted zingers we heard about. On the surface of it, having one candidate question the truthfulness of another is nothing new, but referring to the president in terms of ‘son’ or worse, ‘boy’ was not an accident, especially if it was a crafted response, which I believe it was. Calling the African-American president, in essence, ‘boy’, did not go well. If it was a jab, Romney just punched himself in the eye.
There were a great deal of specifics in the debate and I’m sure that over the coming days and next debates, all of them are going to be hashed over but I think that calling out ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ here is a mistake. I deeply respect the views of those at the MSNBC desk who hashed this over afterward, but with all due respect, I don’t agree with their call. Of all those around that table, it’s the Rev. Al Sharpton who ‘won’ that ‘debate’. The president continues to play long ball, and this round with Romney was a political rope-a-dope, with the president nimbly dancing around, letting Romney continue to make wild, flailing haymakers and make a fool of himself, while strategically making clinical jabs that may not have resonated during the debate but that will be felt afterward.
Romney has now spilled out lies and half-baked truths to an audience of millions. He has lined himself up to take those crippling blows later on. The president will do a little dance, a little shuffle, and knock Romney on his ass with his own words, and not come off as unpresidential doing so.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.