OK, so has the dust settled yet?
Probably not. The chatter around the first presidential debate is understandably frantic, and it'll continue until the two candidates meet again in two weeks.
And I’ll admit it: I didn’t have the confidence to post the day after the debate.
This punditry thing is still all a bit new to me. When the debate ended, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the outcome--a draw in my mind with the President looking confident, polite, adult, and substantive, and Mitt Romney coming off as a bit tweaked out and over-amped in delivery but not overly aggressive, rude, or snide. He just seemed like a guy who was eager to defend himself, expecting the worst, and overjoyed at the safe zone that he was suddenly afforded by the President. Romney “leaned in,” starting by pushing Jim Lehrer around and getting more excitable from there.
But then the debate ended and a commentary tsunami rolled over me the likes of which I have not experienced before. I was lost in a sea of highly emotionalized analysis that seemed overwrought, knee-jerk, and simplistic. The Republicans shrieked that they won a knockout, and the Dems shrieked that they were deflated and disappointed. Of all the post-debate blather, it was John Heilman and Mike Murphy that nailed the real analysis: The real Romney finally emerged that night.
So I tried something: I stopped listening to and reading the analyses and spent the next few days thinking and re-watching the debate over and over in quiet solitude. I suggest everyone watch it again.
On the most superficial level, the truth about the debate is really quite simple. Romney won because the President didn’t throw any punches. Obama lost the first debate Wednesday night, but not for all the silly reasons that are being cited: energy level, confidence, body language, eye contact, blah, blah, blah, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit...
No. Obama lost the debate because Romney survived. He left the ring unscathed, no cuts or bruises. Obama could have nailed Romney. It was all right there for him, and he didn’t. He didn’t take any real shots. And he could have taken so many shots, so, so easily. Obama could have nailed Romney to the wall and done it with aggression.
But beyond this simple truth, I think something more fundamental was revealed in that debate.
For the past five weeks I’ve been devoting this space mostly to an analysis of Mitt Romney. I’ve been trying to figure out who this man really is because a) I didn’t trust the public persona he constructed in the primaries and b) I didn’t trust him (his face, his eyes, his hair). I suspected he was probably just your run-of-the-mill moderate, pragmatic technocrat in magic underwear who was masquerading as an ideological Republican Tea Partier in order to get elected. I supposed–along with many others–that Romney was willing to say or do anything, to shift and massage his rhetoric and his positions in order to win, but that at the end of the day most of his real answers for real problems would probably be a little this and a little that. The real Romney is sensible. The real Romney is moderate. And, finally, in the first presidential debate, the real Romney emerged. And you know what, Romney is a lot like Obama.
Mitt Romney is a political mutant: a political, or an apolitical, monster.
I call him “Robamaney.”
It was Robamaney that won the first presidential debate.
Let’s look at the evidence:
Robamaney, unlike Candidate Romney, is not in favor of $5 trillion in tax cuts. Tax cuts? Where did the President come up with that? Robamaney doesn’t want to cut taxes to that extent at all. No. And Robamaney doesn’t care what the Republican Tea Party thinks of that. He never told them he would cut taxes like that.
Robamaney, unlike Candidate Romney, is also not going to repeal Obamacare. Where did the President get that? No, no. Robamaney is going to modify it. Of course he is, Robamaney created it in a previous mutation as Governor Romney and he, Robamaney argued passionately during the debate, was best friends with Democrats in his state. The Republicans in the House don’t like to work with Democrats? They’ve been standing in front of compromise for the past two years? Well, that’s not Robamaney’s way. No. Fuck those Republicans in the House. Robamaney is going to be the Democrats' best friend.
Robamaney, unlike Candidate Romney, is in favor of many kinds of regulation. Of course he is. That’s a sensible thing to say. Regulation is fundamental. When you ask him a question about regulation, he will answer right away, that we need it because without it the evil banks on Wall Street will screw regular Americans (like Robamaney himself). So he is not going to repeal Dodd-Frank. He’ll keep many of its provisions.
Romney morphed into the centrist he really is (with a deep misunderstanding of the middle class). And the Republican Tea Party will reward him for it, not because they love him, but because they hate Obama so very much. So, so much.