Romney Can't Keep His Mitts Off His Own Grubby Dossier
It was a debate like no other. Already commentators are comparing it to the night Bob Dole and Bill Clinton clashed over coal subsidies. The night Reagan and Mondale both gave reasoned, well-primed comments on the state of relations with the Soviet Union. The night Dukakis and HW Bush butted their heads together and we all got our heads around Michael Dukakis' famous catchphrase: “You won't even remember me eight weeks from now, though for some reason Maggie Gyllenhaal will one day vouch for me in an argument with her on-screen father in Donnie Darko.”
Which is to say that last night's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is one that history will likely quickly forget. It will register down the epochs ever-more as the moment neither candidate said anything their robo throat-brains hadn't coughed out a hundred-plus times on the stump already this year. It was the moment that verbs and nouns were placed one after another by the avatars of two socio-industrial interest groups, and a group of carefully selected seat meat, masquerading as the American public, got to pose a load of posed questions to trigger these canned answers. Tickle-Me-Mitt and Tickle-Me-Barry spent much of the night being heroically boring. “If I am elected President, I will be bland enough to appeal to any number of different target groups,” was the subtext that united the two, and really, even the demographic arithmetic bore them out.
President Obama convinced his supporters that he has done enough to be allowed to disappoint them for four more years. Mitt Romney convinced his supporters that they will be better off if they return with him to his home planet of Alpha-Beta Centauri. Both are correct in their own ways.
In the self-contradicting language of football managers everywhere, this was "a must-win situation for both teams". This time, as far as anyone could tell, it was the President who won, Obama coming in at 37 percent to Mitt's 30 percent. The residual 33 percent of Americans, meanwhile, conceded that they frankly didn't have a fucking clue, but it was kinda nice when Mitt remembered that guy's name who asked that question – boy, he must really care deeply about ordinary folk.
This, after all, was a rare example of a President with his back against the wall. Or was it? After the first debate, there was a strong undertow of liberal-conspiracy chatter. Only, this time it wasn't Glenn Beck yakking it up, but the liberals themselves. Far from simply auditioning for a re-make of Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, the theory went that the President was cannily under-selling himself in Colorado, so that he could explode into his big moment like a man hoarding his orgasm for when his partner's at her (or his?) most mind-blowing.
This sort of crackpot speculation is exactly why people have found themselves so disappointed with Obama. The people who voted for him in 2008 and expected him to govern America like Michael J Fox, instead of like what he is: a Harvard-educated, career-obsessed lawyer as prone to the ebb and flow of a hundred different lobbies or political prangs as any Prez before him. These people are, in many ways, his real enemies. The overillusioned disillusioned. The sort of people who think that them recycling is ever going to make a flying fuck of a difference to a future world in which two billion Chinese will have cars. If the first rule of acting is don't work with animals and children, the first rule of politics should be don't court greens and college kids.
But indisputably, Barack was back. They'd lowered his meds, and his pupils were starting to dilate again. He even managed the world's cheapest, slyest Mormon crack. No politician ever praised his opponent except to damn him, and so it was that Barry found himself opening up with “I believe Mitt Romney's a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith.”
This may seem innocuous enough, but semiotically this translates as: “Need I remind you that you are potentially electing a Mormon, and those guys do not share our belief structure, USA. Mr Romney may call what he believes a 'faith', but it is no such thing. If you elect him, you may as well elect David fucking Miscavige. Before you know it, he'll be de-theton-ing the White House and only eating purple things on a Friday. Your call, America.”
Both performances were stagey, neither was flawless. Ladies were absent from the podiums, but they remained firmly on the table throughout, possibly because Romney told the audience that he'd ensured a female presence in his cabinet by flicking through "whole binders full of women". Which might seem innocent enough, but predictably the internet went nuts; tumblrs, Facebookers and tweeters (yuk) picturing in their feverish imaginations Mitt sat in the dark, carefully combing his own grubby dossier by lamplight for the point on the axes where vital measurements and past promiscuity met political competence.
According to Obama though, the Republicans were continuing their "war on women", the President managing to work a folksy anecdote about his grandma into his guide for American ladies who are keen on dismantling the glass ceiling.
What's always admirable about American politics is the way that they actually get their pre-programmed folksy anecdotes to actually sit up and beg. Whereas, in 2010's British debates, by the time Gordon, Nick and whatshisface had wheeled through their stories of the time they met a black man, an Asian and a hard-working family, everyone just wanted to burn the Union Jack in the streets. It's exactly the sort of slipshod professionalism that means we get Spooks while the US has Homeland.
Of course, as both of these great fans of the pregnant pause will know, it's the silence that really speaks volumes. And there was a lot of that, too. For instance, just this last weekend, the only Western prisoner left in Guantanamo got released. A Canadian, who was 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan. Omar Khadr has spent the best years of his life hooded and in chains being interrogated by officially non-existent US security personnel. If the American public wants a reason to can Obama in November, well there it is.
Sadly, two debates in, there still exists a mutually convenient pact of silence between them on the subject of America's ongoing cognitive dissonance re: Camp X-Ray and its relationship to the constitution that was printed in its original script just behind the two men. Either of them may still swear to uphold it in January. Neither will.
Oh, and only at the conclusion of the evening did Obama finally hammer Romney for saying that the President's core voters comprised the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay any income tax. Timing, Barry. Timing.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
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