nyone who has ever watched an NFL game, a game in which your team is ahead substantially toward the end of the contest, can testify about how frustrating it is when your winning team plays “prevent defense,” which essentially means allowing the opponent to gain yardage, even score points, in exchange for burning precious time off the clock.
That, my friends, is what we saw last night, except at times it was even worse than that. At times, Mr. Romney had the entire field to himself, as the President stepped aside and let him not only bully and control the weak-kneed referee, Jim Lehrer, but who let Romney bullshit the electorate, as Mr. Obama offered only mild and sometimes uninspiring resistance.
As all NFL fans know, playing prevent defense means too often that the winning team becomes the losing team because it alters the game plan that put the winning team ahead in the first place. Thus, as a result of the President’s strategy and in the sense of doing what Romney needed to do, Mittens won the debate last night, decisively, even if he didn’t win it on the merits.
But the winner wasn’t the Mitt Romney we have all come to know.
The Mitt Romney who won last night was a new Mitt Romney, one who attempted to cover up his right-wing stench with a new, reasonable, moderate, bipartisan cologne. And Barack Obama, excruciatingly passive—sometimes even submissive—aided and abetted that new Mitt Romney by failing to both defend himself aggressively and, more important, aggressively attack that new incarnation, a new incarnation who essentially and skillfully slinked away from much of what he has stood for and proposed since he became a candidate this election cycle.
It is beyond belief that we had 90 minutes of debate and Barack Obama did not remind voters even one time of the stench, the utter fetid and falsehood-laden funk, that has been the Romney-Ryan campaign, from its very first TV ad that attributed a McCain quote to Obama to the racially-tainted ad that falsely accused Obama of “gutting welfare reform.”
It’s beyond understanding how Mr. Obama, the latest, if not the last, best hope of protecting the interests of the non-wealthy, could stand there and not breathe a word about Romney’s “47%” comments, which were not only offensive on so many levels, but revelatory in terms of who Mitt Romney really is and what he really thinks. Whoever counseled the President to ignore that critical disclosure, should now be swathed in sackcloth and ashes.
It’s beyond bewildering how Romney could compare the president to his untruthful “five boys” without even a response from Mr. Obama. I suppose the specter of the Angry Negro still fills Obama and the Obama campaign with trepidation, since it remains a difficult task for an African-American to navigate through the racial currents in our politics.
Apparently the Obama team thinks the public admires a long-suffering black man who will quietly endure challenges to his American pedigree and patriotism, as well as Romney’s latest assault on his dignity as a man and not a boy. But that Romney attack was clearly premeditated and deserves post-debate censure.
It taxes the intellect to come up with a reason why, during a debate largely centered on the economy, Mr. Obama did not loudly tout the economic recovery—five million jobs have come back since the worst of the mess he was left—and mention how often he has been thwarted by congressional Republicans, extremists who have put politics ahead of patriotism, time after time, and with the approval of Romney and the votes of his running mate.
Nor did the President flaunt his decisive role in the auto industry revival and the jobs he saved. He did not mention that Romney essentially gave the finger to auto workers and suppliers. He did not tell debate watchers that Romney demanded GM go bankrupt.
It frustrates to the point of pain why Mr. Obama did not marry Romney to the draconian Ryan budget plan—a plan Romney had previously and enthusiastically endorsed—which in its purest form would have killed, utterly murdered, Medicare as it exists today. Or why Obama did not tell folks repeatedly that the plan would hurt the poor, the disabled, and the elderly through its Medicaid cuts.
It makes one sick with frustration why Mr. Obama allowed Romney to repeatedly—I lost count how many times he said it—and falsely use that “716 billion” Medicare “cut” as a bludgeon, with only a mild-mannered response from Obama.
The President should have not only pointed out Paul Ryan’s acceptance and use of that so-called Medicare cut, he should have got bleeping indignant about it, saying, “Are you kidding me, Governor? You want to pretend that you and your party—the party that has tried to kill Medicare—will protect it? Give us a break and be honest with the American people.“
And on ObamaCare, Romney never had to pay a price for his hypocrisy, for his disgusting abandonment of the principles he once heralded in Massachusetts, which apparently are too good or not good enough for the entire country.
Inexplicably, Obama never made clear to low-information voters just how Romney’s tax plan doesn’t add up. Sure, he tried to make that point in a lengthy but non-urgent way, yet all he had to say was, “Tell us what loopholes you will close,” and then force him to answer. And I mean, force him to answer in front of the country, even while Jim Lehrer sat there in a retirement-induced coma.
And why Obama never mentioned Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns or his tax-evading schemes that involve offshore parking of his money is, well, head-scratching.
The whole night essentially consisted of Mitt Romney lecturing his inferior—a man only worthy of his respect because he had to grant it in front of 50 or 60 million folks. And as the President patiently endured Romney’s lie-studded lecture, he often was seen looking down or at the moderator, politely, ever so goddamned politely, waiting his turn to respond.
And when he did respond, when it was his chance to attack—to really attack—Mr. Obama did not do so aggressively. He ceded too much ground to the underdog and trailing aggressor; he allowed him to gain yardage; he allowed him to score, again and again, often with only token resistance.
The President could have used this opportunity, when this new Mitt Romney was making his national debut—when this man with his indefensible right-wing extremism was trying to appear as an earnest and devoted middle-class advocate—to tell the country that the man they were watching on that stage was not the man who had won the nutty GOP primary, a man who appealed in the most debased way to the most reactionary elements of his party.
He should have told the country that the real Romney was that man who said to fat cats in Florida that half the citizenry, including the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the disabled, are freeloaders and parasites and it is not his job to worry about them.
He should have told the country that the real Romney will appoint Supreme Court justices who will help the other reactionaries on the court usher us into the 19th century.
He should have said so many things.
But no. What we saw was an Obama who was trying like hell to be above it all, above the fray, above slinging mud at his opponent. He was trying to be “presidential,” as if being president means being passionless and indifferent while under personal and political attack. The most salient example of this colossally dumb and impotent strategy was when Obama answered the following question from Jim Lehrer:
LEHRER: …Mr. President. Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?
OBAMA: You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position…
Debate over right there.
Chris Matthews, justifiably pissed off about Obama’s performance, said that the President should have spent more time watching MSNBC and the robust debates that happen on cable TV, which would have better prepared him for this kind of warfare.
Well, that might have helped. But what might have helped him more than that was if Mr. Obama would have heeded General George S. Patton, who would never had played prevent defense:
Nobody ever defended anything successfully; there is only attack and attack and attack some more.
Politics, at least at the point where your job is on the line, is a cut-throat business. If you don’t slit the other guy’s political gullet he will slit yours, and he will secretly laugh as your blood puddles on the stage.
On Wednesday night, Mitt Romney’s political throat was on the block. He was ripe for a coup de grâce. But Mr. Obama, obviously no fan of Patton’s practical advice, allowed Romney to not only keep his head, but to grab the rhetorical blade and begin hacking at Obama’s neck. Time will tell, as the polls are conducted and the results come in, whether the public will greatly reward Romney’s performance Wednesday night with increased support, but some real damage was done.
And time will tell whether Obama will come back and fight to not only keep his head—I believe he most certainly will—but fight to keep the heads of a lot of folks who depend on him to be their champion, those who depend on the Democratic Party to protect their interests against the vultures that Mitt Romney, the old and authentic Mitt Romney, represents.