Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Post-Debate Thoughts

Last night was a remarkable turnaround for President Obama on the debate stage. Whether that translates into a turnaround on the national stage is anyone's guess, but I'd say his performance during the second face-off with Mitt Romney squelched any notions from his squeamish supporters that he wasn't up to the task of defending his record and what he plans to do going forward. Indeed, both candidates came armed for bear, with facts, stats, and yes, talking points flying fast and furious during the brisk ninety-plus minute confrontation.

But while Mitt Romney likely didn't do anything to embarrass himself with his base, his awkward, tough guy physicality and verbal dismissiveness, both towards moderator Candy Crowley and President Obama himself, sure didn't do much to dispel the notions about him that are already out there and part of the ether. I have a feeling it'll be those moments that are played and re-played in the days ahead, the same way Romney's reference to "binders full of women" went viral pretty much the instant he said it.

Of course, the biggest flashpoint of the night seems to be Romney's perceived "gotcha" over whether Obama did or didn't refer to the Benghazi attack that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens as an act of terror the day after it happened. As a point of fact, he did, but while most of us would respond to this question with a (rightful) "who cares," this has been a meme on the right almost since the day it happened. Romney's singleminded focus on semantics ended up maneuvering him into a masterful (if inadvertent) crossfire.

When Crowley corrected Romney on this specific point -- Obama's phrasing -- the look of abject befuddlement on Romney's face, coupled with the cool on Obama's, was proof enough that the former MA governor had fallen victim to the same rhetorical games Republicans have used to bludgeon rival pols over the head in year's past. Indeed, right wing commentators and blogs are still trying to parse whether Obama meant terror or terror-terror. Whatever. The semantic sword cuts both ways, and if you live by it, you have to be ready to die by it too.

Beyond what will now and forever be known as the "Libya moment," Obama also got in some solid swings about equal pay for women, about health care reform, about the economy, and, in the debate's closing statement, about Romney's infamous 47% comment. This was the Obama that his supporters had no doubt hoped to see last time, and I have a feeling that if he had shown up last time, the narrative of this election would be very different from the neck-and-neck horserace it currently is. Looks like Obama got his Rocky III moment after all.

In all honesty, this was one of the best debates I've ever seen -- and I've watched a fair amount. It was feisty, it was raucous, the candidates' feelings for each were crystal clear, but the differences between them and their respective visions also couldn't have been clearer or more pronounced. After this, I don't see how there can be any so-called "undecideds" left, but nonetheless, I saw a panel of them on one of the news shows shortly after the wrap, and there they sat, wishy-washy as ever. What's it take, folks?


Andrew M said...

A key point to me, as a disinterested party, was Romney's assertion that the president was callous, or deceptive in regards to the Benghazi attacks. And there is some truth that the aftermath was filled with language that was ad odds with one another.

But then Obama did a principled defense of something more powerful than him- the office of the President. When asked about Secretary Clinton taking the blame, he rebuffed that and reminded everyone that "I am the President."

He has to watch the flag-draped caskets arrive at Andrews Air Force Base. The President is the one that has to comfort families and explain that their sacrifice was not in vain. The presidency is about more than just Obama and his policies and whether they have worked or not worked- it's about the enormous responsibility every president has, and the emotional weight they must bear for their actions and their reactions in crisis.

Zaki said...

That was a fine moment for Obama, no doubt. A powerful defense delivered powerfully.