The much-lauded first debate has come and gone. As most everyone now knows, Romney won the debate. This was in part because President Obama basically didn’t show up with anything close to his “A” game. Progressives and liberals trying to salvage something out of this have been pointing out how many times Romney lied and changed positions to get that win. They point out that President Obama was right on the facts even thought Romney was better on style and soundbites.
That said, as I pointed out previously – debates aren’t about substance, they’re about style, and one liners and theater. And Romney simply showed up prepared to put on a good show and did. Republicans rejoiced that they might be back in this and be able to win the election afterall. Democratic reactions ranged from hand ringing to outright anger that Obama didn’t put it away in a year where the margin of victory is predicted to be so razor small.
The reason Romney had a good debate is because it was impossible for Obama to be completely prepared to debate a candidate who doesn’t himself know his position. Romney made positions and ideas up on the fly, with no specifics, and challenged Obama to retort against plans which are impossible to implement.
You can be sure that Obama’s debate prep team was sitting there in aghast horror as they prepared for a debate over policies which apparently weren’t relevant. It’s like preparing for a football game only to realize that you will be participating in a sepak takraw tournament. (Look it up, I promise it will intrigue you and the rules aren’t half as confounding as Romney’s policy proposals.)
Two days later the Unemployment Rate and Jobs Reports came out showing job growth this month as well as upward revisions for the past two months and, politically more important, the un-employment rate dropped to 7.8% as more people returned to work. Republicans jumped the crazy fence accusing Democrats and “those guys in Chicago” of cooking the numbers. Asides from playing the part in the bizarre right-wing trend to assume any fact that doesn’t agree with their opinion is part of a conspiracy theory, it is telling on two fronts.
First the Tea Party Republicans and Romney know they cannot win on substance and facts but they can win on theatrics. That’s why they brought in all the lies and “I don’t know what you’re talking about” responses to matters ranging from how a 5 trillion dollar tax cut for the rich is revenue neutral to how companies get tax breaks for sending jobs overseas.
I myself was laughing at Romneys “who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes” defenses but the reality is they worked. The second point is that it proves that Obama’s policies which are based on real facts work. Yes, things could be better. But when opposition Republicans at the national level and in the states have made it clear that they are willing to do anything incluidng hamper or even derail the recovery in order to regain power this is in some ways proof that facts do beat theater – at least when it comes to econonics.
Unfortunately an election this close and an electorate this polarized doesn’t lend itself to facts winning over theater. When an entire side of the electorate is inclined to believe anything that doesn’t support their side is a lie and a communist-Nazi-socialist plot of the day there’s not a lot you can do. Remember what they say – don’t argue with a crazy person – people watching might not be able to tell the difference. Because of that it becomes all the more important that Biden and Obama come prepared to play the debate game, NOT give a policy briefing at news conference. And from saving Big Bird to pointing out how Bain Capitol pioneered off shoring because of its tax advantages, both the ad wars and the future debate responses need to make sure that the Etch a Sketch candidate doesn’t become the Etch a Sketch President.
The thing to take away from this debate is that this race isn’t over. This debate probably isn’t going to be looked back upon as the turning point of the election. They rarely are. What this debate did more than anything was galvanize the campaigns. Republicans are encouraged once again, thinking maybe all hope isn’t lost. What we need to do now on the Democratic side is prepare for the ground game in 30 days. You can be sure that President Obama’s campaign is preparing for the next debate and that we need to help out in any way we can on the local level. This is going to be a close one and every vote counts.