Monday, October 22, 2012

Post-blogging: Thoughts after the third 2012 presidential debate

By Michael J.W. Stickings and Mustang Bobby, with Frank Moraes and tmcbpatriot 

You can look back at our pre-debate predictions/comments here.



I suppose this could down in history as the "horses and bayonet" debate of 2012 -- a great line by the president in response to Romney's stupid assertion that the military is somehow weaker than it was a hundred years ago. It was one of three major "zingers" from Obama -- and all worked really well. The others (and I paraphrase):

-- You haven't had a chance to execute foreign policy; and

-- We've been to the website. The numbers still don't add up.

Oh, and also:

-- Whenever you've expressed an opinion, you've been wrong.

And this great one:

-- You have the foreign policies of the 1980s, the social policies of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s.

Right on point.   


Look, I tend to be a pessimist. And you can read this debate as a "win" for Romney insofar as he didn't do anything to embarrass himself, unlike last time, and so to arrest his recent surge in the polls, which now essentially show a tie not just nationally but in some key swing states. Just by being up there and talking foreing policy, regardless of what he said, is a sort of triumph for him. And if the main story coming out of tonight is that Romney held his own, that could be interpreted by low-information voters as proof that he's just as presidential as the president and so worthy of their vote. In other words, his performance might just have secured his position not just as a viable challenger but as a suitable alternative to Obama at a time when, with the economy still struggling, people are open to alternatives.

But, really, he didn't win. Not even close. Not if you judge the debate by something other than what I discussed in the previous paragraph. And so, if you're counting at home, it's now 2-1 for Obama.

Clearly, Romney didn't want to be there. His discomfort was palpable, except when he was talking about the economy and regurgitating his usual talking points. And his strategy was obvious, given the president's overwhelming advantage on foreign policy (on MSNBC, John Kerry just said this is the most inexperienced presidential ticket (Romney-Ryan) in history in terms of foreign policy, and of course he's right): Agree with the president on pretty much everything, throw out a few of the usual lines (like the lie about Obama's "apology tour" and the accusation that Obama is weakening the military), and pivot wherever possible to the economy.

But Romney seemed not just uncomfortable but unsteady throughout, and his agreement with Obama on pretty much everything just seemed lame. No, he didn't embarrass himself, but he exposed himself as a charlatan, as remarkably inconsistent ("internal contradictions," as Rachael Maddow put it, being sort of against the Arab Spring but then supporting democracy in Egypt, for example), as unprepared, unqualified, and unfit for the presidency.

In stark contrast, President Obama was decisive, firm, and, yes, presidential to a degree even beyond what we usually see from him. This was the steady leader at the helm of American foreign policy, the commander-in-chief who understands the world and knows what he's doing on a wide range of policy areas and challenges facing the U.S. both at home and abroad. He was effective in touting his record, from rescuing the auto industry (which Romney opposed but now says he didn't) to killing Osama bin Laden (which Romney opposed but now says was great), from ending the Iraq War to working with Israel, and he called Romney out for being wrong, reckless, and inconsistent (not just on foreign policy but on the auto bailout and tax policy), for being "all over the map," for projecting weakness in foreign policy statements that suggest profound ignorance.

And in siding with the president and refusing to engage on issue after issue, Romney once again exposed himself as someone who will say and do anything for votes, as a shameless panderer whose entire election strategy is to lie to the American people and hope they don't take notice of your bullshit. It was another "relentless deluge of dishonesty," as I've called it, most notably when he agreed with pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2014 -- throughout the campaign, up until tonight, he has opposed setting a date for withdrawal. It was, in other words, a relentlessly cynical performance -- and, as usual, you could see it in shifty eyes.

And so far, the polls are backing this up, showing a clear and decisive win for the president. (Even CNN, which has leaned Romney-Ryan in its post-debate coverage all along, is saying Obama won: "Forceful Obama bests defensive Romney in foreign policy debate.")

But will it matter? Maybe not. I'm not sure if any of this will move the needle. But let's face it, a loss by the president would have been devastating. Instead, he came out with one of the strongest debate performances I've ever seen from him, simply overwhelming Romney throughout most of the debate and showing why he fully deserves a second term.


It started slowly... to the point that I spent the first fifteen minutes cleaning off my desk and balancing my checkbook. But it built up, and President Obama took charge, turning Mitt Romney's words on him and basically getting him to agree with him on Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to the point that he basically Etch-A-Sketched his way out of the neocon tent.

In the end, you could almost smell the sweat coming off Mr. Romney; has anyone schvitzed that much in a presidential debate since Richard Nixon in 1960? And time and time again, Mr. Obama came back again and again, never letting up, and never letting Mr. Romney forget that he was way out of his depth in a lot of topics once he got past the ten-word answers.

Frank Moraes: 

There was one thing I forgot to mention in the pre-debate: that they would try to talk about domestic issues instead. This is because most people really don't care about foreign policy. But I do. And the debate went as I expected: they talked about bullshit and mostly Romney said, "I agree!" In fact, that seems to be what everyone is focusing on. It will certainly be the way that SNL handles it: "I agree with the president!"

It was interesting that Romney gave up on the Benghazi attack. I think his strategy was to show that he was informed on these issues. He didn't mean to win, just to hold his own in the debate. Obama's strategy was to paint Romney as a flip-flopper. I think they both succeeded. However, I can see how Romney's "big hug" (as Joe Trippi called it, but it probably isn't original to him) may play badly in the coming days. His constant agreement with the president may seem weak.

What I noticed throughout the debate was that Romney seemed nervous. He did get better about halfway through but then ended weakly. Obama was just the opposite: strong at first, weak in the middle (he seemed to lose his concentration a few times), and strong at the end.

I have lots of notes from the debate, but it doesn't much matter. It is the same old stuff, mostly lies and distortions by Romney -- although there were a couple of things Obama said that I took issue with. What is striking about the debates is the reaction. Perhaps in the future I should just watch them. MSNBC seems to think that Obama won but doesn't want to come out and say it. Fox News seems to think that Romney lost but of course won't come out and say it.

I will leave you with this: Steve Hayes (of The Weekly Standard) on Fox News said (in slightly different words), "Obama was an angry black man!"

In other words, Obama TKO. 


So much to unpack. Where to start? Well, Romney was sweating and really thirsty. Neither would go for the water and nobody budged. Obama managed to look cooler and more calm and not thirsty. Romney was shaken at times and sweating like a pig by the end.

As for Libya, Obama handled it well. They are saying on TV that Romney's plan was to diffuse Libya to look more presidential. Actually, it made it look like he was wrong on Libya and decided to avoid it. The spin will be that it was on purpose. Don't you believe it.

Overall, Obama played it correctly. He played offense and got in a few great lines to boot. He really went after Romney and was forceful. He also had Romney basically agreeing with him quite a bit. There were many times when Romney was basically saying, "Look, you can vote for Obama or vote for me, but I like what Obama has done."

Romney, on the other hand, looked like he was losing steam towards the end. He then came back strong when they got to China, as this is a subject he knows very well. I am sure he has had a lot of experience in China and working with the Chinese to help set up companies and making deals for offshoring.

Hilarious, though, that the sh*thead pundits are wondering if Romney passed the "Commander-in-Chief" test. They are all saying this one doesn't really count, even though Obama won it. How do these pundits do this with a straight face? How can they narrate all of this by sticking with the "It's the economy, stupid" meme? Do they really not think it is important to be well-rounded? Not on the channel I am watching they don't.

Overall, a very good show. We did not learn anything new and I am sure Romney will be sufficiently nailed for his many lies. The takeaways?  

Obama: You mention the Navy, and how we have fewer ships than 1916. We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them... it's not a game of Battleship.

Romney: I love teachers!

That about sums it up for me. Pundits are basically saying that Romney can just get away with being weak, so long as he looks presidential. They are essentially saying he can win on the economy alone. The pundits are just going with that. It is so irresponsible. No matter what the right says, we did not vote for Obama on one single issue. Is America dumb enough to do that with Romney, even after still not giving any specifics about his economic policy?

Will it matter? Will the auto bailout be Obama's golden moment and Romney's Achilles' heel? Will Romney's not passing out from thirst give him an edge? Is the bar set so low for Republicans that foreign policy does not matter?

I guess we'll see in less than two weeks.

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  • Michael! Stop being such an insecure liberal! Nate Silver has Obama up to just under 70% chance of winning. The polls are all over the board. I've noticed this difference in political watchers: liberals grab onto the worst polls and despair; conservatives grab onto the best polls and posture.

    When you feel despaired, just go listen to Uncle Nate; he'll talk you down:

    Nate Silver's Quiet Room

    Of course, no one was watching the debate. They were watching the Giant's beat the Cardinals 9-0. Being a bay area boy, if I cared, I'd scream, "Woo!"

    By Anonymous Frankly Curious, at 11:55 PM  

  • Hey, it' ain't over until the last voting machine is hacked and don't forget, the "undecideds" and the dispirited Romney Rats went right to Fox where they had their delusions repaired, had a couple of drinks and declared that ROMNEY WON!

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 10:32 AM  

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