The man who was a CEO, the man whose vulture-money has dual citizenship, the man who has spent his whole life telling people what to do and when to do it, tried once again to bully his way into the White’s House by running over the President of the United States.
And this time, this time, he met resistance, a determined and dignified resistance, and the Big Man on Campus suddenly looked small, his confidence exposed as arrogance, as insolence. At the end, we saw a different Mitt Romney, one who couldn’t wait to get off that stage.
Early on, and perhaps lost in the theatrics to come, President Obama deconstructed Mittens and turned his off-putting swagger into a much-deserved stagger:
Governor Romney’s says he’s got a five-point plan? Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s been his philosophy in the private sector; that’s been his philosophy as governor; that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.
You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less. You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money.
That’s exactly the philosophy that we’ve seen in place for the last decade. That’s what’s been squeezing middle-class families.
And we have fought back for four years to get out of that mess. The last thing we need to do is to go back to the very same policies that got us there.
What was Romney’s reaction? What could he do? His time on the question had been used up. He had already had his say. But true to form he validated Mr. Obama’s claim that “folks at the top play by a different set of rules“:
CROWLEY: Mr. President, the next question is going to be for you here. And, Mr. Romney – Governor Romney – there’ll be plenty of chances here to go on, but I want to…
ROMNEY: That – that Detroit – that Detroit answer…
CROWLEY: We have all these folks.
ROMNEY: … that Detroit answer…
CROWLEY: I will let you absolutely…
ROMNEY: … and the rest of the answer, way off the mark.
No, as it turns out, it was right on the mark, Mittens. A different set of rules, indeed.
You know who I thought of while I was listening to Romney, watching him almost stalk the President? I thought of Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia. I wondered how Putin, a former KGB officer and all-around bad guy, would handle such condescension. How would he handle Romney bossing him around? How would he handle Romney’s dismissive “I’m still speaking” shtick?
He’d dope-slap him back to La Jolla.
But President Obama is not Vladimir Putin. As is his trademark, true to his brand, he calmly, but assertively, pushed back against the Romney lies, against the arrogance. No part of the debate demonstrated that calm but assertive Obama brand better than when the discussion turned to Libya.
The President called out his opponent for his disgraceful exploitation of the turmoil surrounding the death of our ambassador and three other Americans:
While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release, trying to make political points, and that’s not how a commander in chief operates. You don’t turn national security into a political issue. Certainly not right when it’s happening.
Romney’s response included this:
But I find more troubling than this, that on – on the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador, the first time that’s happened since 1979, when – when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn’t know what happened, that the president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fund-raiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, other political event.
I think these – these actions taken by a president and a leader
have symbolic significance and perhaps even material significance in that you’d hope that during that time we could call in the people who were actually eyewitnesses.
Obama would have none of that nonsense. Looking straight at Romney, he said:
The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror, and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime. And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.
And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team, would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as Commander in Chief.
It was all downhill from there for the former CEO and BMOC.
Romney, thinking he had a gotcha moment, persisted in making a fool of himself:
ROMNEY: I – I think it’s interesting the president just said something which – which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.
OBAMA: That’s what I said.
ROMNEY: [looking at the President] You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you’re saying?
OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It – it – it – he did in fact, sir…call it an act of terror…
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
CROWLEY: He – he did call it an act of terror.
Finally, although President Obama could have done a much better job of linking Romney to the most extreme elements of his party, he managed to strike a decisive blow at the end, the opening provided by Romney himself:
I think the president’s campaign has tried to characterize me as – as someone who’s very different than who I am. I care about 100 percent of the American people. I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future.
Uh-oh. That was sort of like Romney saying, “Go ahead, dope-slap me with the truth.” Obama did:
I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about. Folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives. Veterans to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country’s dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don’t make enough income.
And I want to fight for them. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last four years. Because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds.
When my grandfather fought in World War II and he came back and he got a G.I. Bill and that allowed him to go to college, that wasn’t a handout. That was something that advanced the entire country. And I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That’s why I’m asking for your vote and that’s why I’m asking for another four years.
Those were the last words of the debate, words that no doubt are still ringing in Romney’s ears this morning, as hopefully they are ringing in the ears of undecided voters.