Obama (and 'The Economist') Won the Second Presidential Debate
Yes, Obama and The Economist (as in the magazine) won the second presidential debate. And it all happened in the last round of question and answer. In fact, I don’t really care about anything but the final question and answer of this debate, and neither should you.
I’m writing this week from Silicon Valley where I’ve been holed up for the past few days way too busy working (my day job) to do anything but watch the debate. That’s it. Nothing else. No time for looking at the papers, or watching television, or checking into Facebook or Twitter. And fuck it, actually. I know what I want to say about this debate anyway. This time I am not anxious about, nor do I need to seek the orientation of, the dreaded echo chamber of opinion. I am comfortable with mine alone.
What a bloody mess in that town hall. Wow.
After the first debate, the conservative consultant Alex Castellanos rightly (and generously) pointed out that the American electorate cares far too much about style over substance; a sad statement on the national political discourse. When it comes to politics we can be a bunch of drama queens.
This second debate wasn’t dramatic. It was just gross. The President and Romney were interchangeably tense, rude, nervous, aggressive, and at times seemed on the verge of physical confrontation. Not cool.
What was cool, however, was the President’s last answer to the last question. Cool, calculated, and honest.
The President’s last answer of this debate was the last salvo, the final parting shot that landed squarely on Romney’s square noggin.
The last question, asked by some nice guy named Barry, was simple and deadly. Deadly because it demanded honesty. From both of the candidates.
Let’s pick up the action at the end of Obama’s penultimate answer, his answer to the question of the outsourcing of American jobs. The back and forth is pretty wild stuff intellectually and ideologically, but not dramatically speaking...
OBAMA: [Blah, blah, blah, blah...] If we're not training engineers to make sure that they are equipped here in this country, then companies won't come here. Those investments are what's going to help to make sure that we continue to lead this world economy, not just next year, but ten years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now.
CROWLEY: Thanks, Mr. President.
CROWLEY: Governor Romney?
ROMNEY: Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs.
That’s Candidate Romney’s mantra for sure, and has been throughout his run for office—“government does not create jobs, government does not create jobs, government does not create jobs”—but it’s so simplistic, and so naive. I’m sure Robamaney, the guy from the last debate, would have steered clear of such silly reductionism.
Robamaney would have agree that government has a real role to play in the education of the engineers who will help create a new generation of economic growth in America. Sometimes government plays a role directly (think Federally funded worker training programs), but most of the time—and more appropriately Robamaney would argue—government plays a role indirectly, and indirectly from all angles imaginable: from taxation policies, to education policies, to student loan policies, hiring policies, housing and transportation policies... the list goes on and on. Only a one-dimensional Libertarian type would chant “government does not create jobs, government does not create jobs, government does not create jobs,” and actually believe that the drone was logically inviolate.
Anyway, back to the action.
CROWLEY: Governor Romney, I want to introduce you to Barry Green, because he's going to have the last question to you first.
ROMNEY: Barry? Where is Barry?
Barry, where are you. Barry? Bar-ry. Hell-loooo Bar-ryyyy [a little “fun with transcripts” humor. I couldn’t resist].
BARRY: Hi, Governor. I think this is a tough question. To each of you. What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate? Using specific examples, can you take this opportunity to debunk that misperception and set us straight?
What an understated zinger. Way to go, Barry. You asked a simple question, and it required a simple, honest answer. I’m sure the pundits on the webnet are mocking your final question (I don’t know, I’m staying away), but you cut through a lot of shit really quickly and I applaud you for that.
ROMNEY: Thank you, and that's an opportunity for me, and I appreciate it.
OK, so he starts off a little weird: “...and that’s an opportunity for me, and I appreciate it.” What does that even mean?
ROMNEY: In the nature of a campaign, it seems that some campaigns are focused on attacking a person rather than prescribing their own future and the things they'd like to do. In the course of that, I think the President's campaign has tried to characterize me as—as someone who's very different than who I am.
He starts by blaming campaigns generally, then this president’s campaign specifically (for lacking a positive message of its own), and then he realizes that, “oh no, fuck, I’m actually doing this aren’t I? I’m going there.” And then he does...
ROMNEY: I care about 100 percent of the American people. I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future.
He went there and he knew he was doomed as soon as he got there. You can see it on his face. And feeling so, so doomed, his brain really started to zizzle. What follows are a series of stream-of-consciousness non sequiturs that would make Andre Breton giddy:
ROMNEY: I care about our kids.
??? Well good. That’s a nice thing. Thank god.
ROMNEY: I understand what it takes to make a bright and prosperous future for America again.
That’s why you’re running for office, it’s the standard stump statement...
ROMNEY: I spent my life in the private sector, not in government. I'm a guy who wants to help with the experience I have, the American people.
OK, so your governorship was not overtly about governing. It was more of a kind of governorship along, maybe, Sarah Palin lines?
Then it/he gets really messed up. This is where he really loses the plot...
ROMNEY: My—my passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God.
Oh gods, yes, God loved 100 percent, not 53 percent, he, or He, loved all 100 percent, just like he, Mitt Romney. Do you hear that Republican Tea Party? God is great.
ROMNEY: And I believe we're all children of the same God.
A plug for the equivalence of the Mormon God with the Judaeo-Christian God. Nice. Classy. Appropriate. Well-timed.
ROMNEY: I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another.
But not through any act of governing.
ROMNEY: I—I served as a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor in my congregation for about 10 years. I've sat across the table from people who were out of work and worked with them to try and find new work or to help them through tough times.
Excuse me, but what the fuck is this all about? Oh, but it gets better...
ROMNEY: I went to the Olympics when they were in trouble to try and get them on track.
This is a man in total free fall. Ugly, ugly stuff...
ROMNEY: And as governor of my state, I was able to get 100 percent of my people insured, all my kids, about 98 percent of the adults.
No wait, governing is OK after all, especially if it’s for Robamaneycare.
ROMNEY: I was able also to get our schools ranked number one in the nation, so 100 percent of our kids would have a bright opportunity for a future.
Then the final flourish is a (Mormon) god-damn free-for all...
ROMNEY: I understand that I can get this country on track again. We don't have to settle for what we're going through. We don't have to settle for gasoline at four bucks. We don't have to settle for unemployment at a chronically high level. We don't have to settle for 47 million people on food stamps. We don't have to settle for 50 percent of kids coming out of college not able to get work. We don't have to settle for 23 million people struggling to find a good job.
If I become president, I'll get America working again. I will get us on track to a balanced budget. The president hasn't. I will. I'll make sure we can reform Medicare and Social Security to preserve them for coming—coming generations. The president said he would. He didn't.
ROMNEY: I'll get our incomes up. And, by the way, I've done these things. I served as governor and showed I could get them done.
CROWLEY: Mr. President, last two minutes belong to you.
OK, Mr. President, it’s there for you if you’ll take the opportunity...
OBAMA: Barry, I think a lot of this campaign, maybe over the last four years, has been devoted to this notion that I think government creates jobs, that that somehow is the answer.
That's not what I believe. I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world's ever known.
Finally, the President tells the world he is not a socialist. Final-fucking-ly. Barack Obama is a free market centrist with a sense of fairness. He reads The Economist diligently. And he has the current issue of The Economist (True Progressivism) dog eared because it articulates, better than he ever has, his ideology of capitalism for all. His is the arm that bends the tree so those at the bottom might pluck the apple of prosperity. And hopefully, if he is to be a great president, the bending of the tree comes without such bloody high deficits...
OBAMA: I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk-takers being rewarded. But I also believe that everybody should have a fair shot and everybody should do their fair share and everybody should play by the same rules, because that's how our economy's grown. That's how we built the world's greatest middle class. And—and that is part of what's at stake in this election.
No, that’s entirely what’s at stake in this election.
OBAMA: There's a fundamentally different vision about how we move our country forward.
This vision he finally nails Romney on—using Romney’s own asinine formulation—is Rooseveltian...
OBAMA: I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith.
I take the President at his word. He’s a good man, this Romney/Robamaney mutant-man. Candidate Romney, on the other hand, has been clearly corrupted by the notion of Power. Here is the evidence of that corruption, and I’m sure Romney/Robamaney is not proud of this moment...
OBAMA: But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.
Folks on Social Security who've worked all their lives. Veterans who've sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country's dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don't make enough income.
And I want to fight for them. That's what I've been doing for the last four years. Because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds. [...]
CROWLEY: President Obama, Governor Romney, thank you for being here tonight.
Yes, thank you both for being here in the last moments of this debate. And thank you so very much Mr. Barry Green. You drew the real men and the real candidates and allowed them the dignity and the indignity of presenting themselves for who they really are.
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