The Statesman Vs. The Schoolyard Bully

October 23, 2012

The verdicts are rolling in from across the blogosphere and media. Obama won last night’s debate, Romney didn’t do himself any harm, the President seemed snarky and condescending, Romney was flat-footed and milquetoast, Obama was aggressive, Romney was passive.

Some of these things are true, but I have to wonder whether those people who thought Obama won the debate were watching the same debate I was watching.

Romney brought style and substance to the debate. He proved that he knew the issues, was familiar with the players, buried forever the impression that he was a neo-con warmonger, presented a steady, statesman-like vision of what United States policy should be, reiterated how crucial it is that America remain the leading force in the world, and tied in the importance of the domestic economy to foreign policy. And he did it without raising his voice, and with a demeanor that can certainly be described as “Presidential”.

Obama retaliated with sarcasm, interruptions, rudeness, and condescension. I’m sure it seemed like a zinger when it was discussed in debate prep, but how does this response to Romney’s assertion that our Navy is too small read?

Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships.

It reads poorly, like the childish taunt it is. You half expect Obama to finish this statement by making a face and saying “Duh!” But as poorly as it reads, the tone of voice in which it was delivered was downright appalling.

This tone was Obama’s hallmark throughout the night. Every question was turned into an attack on Romney, whether it was warranted or not. Every Obama answer devolved into an accusation, whether true or not. Every Romney answer was rebutted with the mantra that it was “not true, not true”, though the truth is easy to check.

Watching the debate last night was like watching an argument between Mitt Romney and Holden Caulfield, a snotty, arrogant, teenager who is convinced that his opponent is a phony, a hypocrite, and a liar.

So why do so many people think Obama won?

Because in this era of 24-hour news cycles and reality TV we have become convinced that the winner of the argument is the person who shouts the loudest and who gets the last word. Last night, Mitt Romney participated in a debate. Barack Obama participated in what passes for debate on any number of news shows. You can see this on every news station, from MSNBC to Fox. It’s there on MSNBC’s “The Cycle” where the liberals shout down and browbeat the lone conservative. It’s there on Fox’s “The Five”, where the conservatives shout down and browbeat the lone liberal. It’s there on almost every news interview with two competing points of view. It’s there on talk radio (and I exempt Rush Limbaugh from this because he rarely has guests or does interviews). It’s the hallmark of “The O’Reilly Factor” where the host constantly interrupts his guests.

We’ve become far too enamored of the soundbite. I know this is an old criticism, but it’s still valid. But on top of that, television has coarsened us to believe that the verbal bullies are in the right. He who shouts loudest and most often is “the winner.”

Barack Obama is perceived by many to be the winner of last night’s debate precisely because he was bellicose and rude. Too many people have become conditioned to believe that strength and aggressiveness are the same thing.

There’s no question Obama was more aggressive last night. But who was stronger? The guy who remained calm and steadfast, or the guy who acted like a schoolyard bully trying to provoke a fight?

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The Rumble At Hofstra

October 17, 2012

I think The Anchoress said it best in a tweet last night: “Seriously, I liked both of these men better before this debate.”

The second Presidential debate at Hofstra University in Long Island was in a town hall format, moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley, and populated by more plants than the New York Botanical Gardens. Barack Obama came out of the gate swinging. His last, somnolent, performance was just a memory. This was Obama in a fighting mood. Both candidates interrupted each other, both accused the other of being dishonest, and both avoided answering questions they’d rather not answer. In other words, it was pretty close to a tie. Obama likely came out on top in the foreign policy questions, and Romney came out on top when discussing the economy.

The single best and worst moments in the debate belonged to Romney. The best moment of the debate, in reply to a question asked of Obama about what he’s done to deserve reelection, was this crystalline gem from Romney that needs to be turned into a TV commercial:

I think you know that these last four years haven’t been so good as the president just described and that you don’t feel like your confident that the next four years are going to be much better either. I can tell you that if you were to elect President Obama, you know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get a repeat of the last four years. We just can’t afford four more years like the last four years.

He said that by now we’d have unemployment at 5.4 percent. The difference between where it is and 5.4 percent is 9 million Americans without work. I wasn’t the one that said 5.4 percent. This was the president’s plan. Didn’t get there.

He said he would have by now put forward a plan to reform Medicare and Social Security, because he pointed out they’re on the road to bankruptcy. He would reform them. He’d get that done. He hasn’t even made a proposal on either one.

He said in his first year he’d put out an immigration plan that would deal with our immigration challenges. Didn’t even file it.

This is a president who has not been able to do what he said he’d do. He said that he’d cut in half the deficit. He hasn’t done that either. In fact, he doubled it. He said that by now middle-income families would have a reduction in their health insurance premiums by $2,500 a year. It’s gone up by $2,500 a year. And if Obamacare is passed, or implemented – it’s already been passed – if it’s implemented fully, it’ll be another $2,500 on top.

The middle class is getting crushed under the policies of a president who has not understood what it takes to get the economy working again. He keeps saying, “Look, I’ve created 5 million jobs.” That’s after losing 5 million jobs. The entire record is such that the unemployment has not been reduced in this country. The unemployment, the number of people who are still looking for work, is still 23 million Americans.

There are more people in poverty, one out of six people in poverty.

How about food stamps? When he took office, 32 million people were on food stamps. Today, 47 million people are on food stamps. How about the growth of the economy? It’s growing more slowly this year than last year, and more slowly last year than the year before.

The president wants to do well. I understand. But the policies he’s put in place from Obamacare to Dodd-Frank to his tax policies to his regulatory policies, these policies combined have not let this economy take off and grow like it could have.

You might say, “Well, you got an example of one that worked better?” Yeah, in the Reagan recession where unemployment hit 10.8 percent, between that period – the end of that recession and the equivalent of time to today, Ronald Reagan’s recovery created twice as many jobs as this president’s recovery. Five million jobs doesn’t even keep up with our population growth. And the only reason the unemployment rate seems a little lower today is because of all the people that have dropped out of the workforce.

The president has tried, but his policies haven’t worked. He’s great as a – as a – as a speaker and describing his plans and his vision. That’s wonderful, except we have a record to look at. And that record shows he just hasn’t been able to cut the deficit, to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social Security to preserve them, to get us the rising incomes we need. Median income is down $4,300 a family and 23 million Americans out of work. That’s what this election is about. It’s about who can get the middle class in this country a bright and prosperous future and assure our kids the kind of hope and optimism they deserve.

This answer simply crushed Obama. It was a perfect summation of the choice in this election when it comes to domestic policy.

The single worst moment also belonged to Romney. Obama had given a ludicrously bad answer to a question about his Administration’s response to the terrorist attack in Benghazi. When asked who was responsible, Obama instead offered puffery about what he would do in the future, and then criticized Romney for his statement about the attack. This was a hanging curveball. This was a slow, straight pitch right down the middle of the plate and Romney should have, and certainly could have, blown Obama’s foreign policy fantasies out of the water as clearly and strongly as he had done for the President’s economic policy. Alas, it didn’t happen. Romney struck out, getting caught up in whether the President had condemned the attacks as an “act of terror” the day after it happened. Obama insisted that he had done so. The fair and impartial Candy Crowley backed him up. They were wrong, and Romney was correct. But Romney seemed so taken aback by Crowley’s blatant assist that he fumbled the rest of the answer. Hey Mitt, here’s what you should have said and hopefully will say in next Monday’s foreign policy debate:

“President Obama says that he referred to the attacks on Benghazi as an “act of terror” the day after they happened. He did not. He made general reference to “acts of terror” but did not specifically tie this phrase to Benghazi. But the President can not have it both ways. If he knew that the attacks were terrorism, why did he send UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Press Secretary Jay Carney out to claim that it was a spontaneous uprising turned violent? Why did the President himself refuse to answer the direct question when posed on hard-hitting news shows like The View and Late Night with David Letterman? Why did the President refer to the internet video six times in a speech before the United Nations? Is it the same reason that the White House still classifies the Fort Hood terrorist shootings as ‘work place violence’? Either the President knew, as he claims, and then attempted to cover it up to protect his reputation, or the President was too busy skipping intelligence briefings and attending fundraisers to pay much attention. There’s a short menu here: coverup, or incompetence.”

At the end of the day, it’s doubtful this debate will move the needle. If it does, it may do so in a surprising fashion. There was an awful lot of sturm und drang last night, but today nobody is talking about who won or lost: they’re talking about Benghazi, and whether or not Obama is covering up a terrorist attack and they’re talking about Obama’s blatant lies when it came to his statement on gas and oil production in America.

Win, lose, or draw the topic of conversation today is not one of Obama’s liking.


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