Er, no, Obama didn’t win the debate last night

posted at 8:41 pm on October 17, 2012 by J.E. Dyer

We’ve reached a watershed here, where we either live in our own heads affirming reality, regardless of spurious inputs from demagoguery or sentiment, or we give up on reality and let demagoguery and sentiment take over at the decision table.  Did the president pull off a performance last night, in terms of sounding passionate and full of conviction?  To some extent, yes.  Does that mean he won the debate, or even achieved a draw with Romney?  No.

The mainstream media immediately launched a volley of positive soundbites about the president’s performance, but frankly, they were going to do that anyway.  As long as Obama didn’t collapse on the stage, they were going to say he had his mojo back.

The problem is that in order to sound passionate and full of conviction, Obama had to belt out a remarkable string of untruths.  Besides repeating the same tired lies about Romney’s policies that his campaign has been flogging for the last two months, the president simply lied – there’s nothing else to call it – about the trend of drilling permits under his administration (Romney is right; permits have been slashed).

Obama insisted to Romney that he had called the Benghazi attack terrorism on day one, when in fact, he had not.  He lied about the Arizona immigration-enforcement law, repeating a lie the Democrats have persisted in since the law was being debated in the Arizona statehouse.  The law is carefully and explicitly written to prohibit ethnic profiling stops by law-enforcement officers.  Immigration-status checks can only be done in connection with a stop on another, unrelated basis, such as a traffic stop.

Obama did try to assume the moral high ground on Libya with a riff on Americans’ safety and his responsibility, but it was a cringe-worthy performance from the man who waited until after the Benghazi attack to bring diplomatic-mission security up to a normal standard, and who professes, 36 days after the attack, to still be waiting to find out what happened.  If he really doesn’t know, he’s the only one who doesn’t.  His position that we’re still waiting to assess the attack isn’t judicious; it’s absurd.  Mentally substitute George W. Bush for Obama in this scenario, and try to imagine the MSM giving Bush the benefit of the doubt for 36 days and counting.

I had my concerns about Romney’s performance last night, if only a couple.  Probably the biggest was that he tended to put his most powerful material at the end of each statement, and got cut off just as he was articulating it.  The response to the woman who asked about keeping jobs in the US was a case in point: Romney made a rather convoluted case about China as a currency manipulator, and only after dealing with that arcane topic mentioned that if we want to keep America job-friendly, we have to stop regulating ourselves into an economic coma.  He got cut off saying it; that should have been his opening point.  The American people can do something about that.  And whether or not the point about regulation resonated with that particular questioner, it would resonate far and wide among other Americans.

Romney is typically succinct and direct on the economy, and he should apply that style to everything he says in a debate.  He would have made the point about Obama’s own passive investment in China much better by simply stating it outright, rather than repeating the same question to the president – “Have you looked at your pension lately?” – until it began sounding like a second-grader’s taunt.  Just make the assertion, already.  “Mr. President, your pension is invested in China.”  That simple – and, without the weird build-up, slyly devastating.

But rhetorical glitches aside, Romney had substance last night.  He whaled it out of the park on energy and immigration, and came off as genial and presidential.  Interestingly, the Frank Luntz panel saw the same thing.  The MSM’s assessment this morning that the president staged a comeback in this debate is information about the MSM, not about the candidates or the debate.  It’s like they’re narrating some invisible drama that no one else can see.

I don’t think Romney dominated last night’s debate as he did the first one.  But neither did I see the debate as a draw.  Only if it counts as successful communication to use demagoguery to create itch-scratching images for your own base did Obama’s performance equal Romney’s.  Obama’s statements would have had little appeal outside his own base.  And indeed, so many of them were simply false that, to my mind, it requires assuming that your fellow Americans are fools, to think that his communications were probably more effective with them than they were with you.

The constituency for the real Obama is a minority in America, no bigger than the minority that votes for Democrats in every election cycle, and perhaps not that big.  Much of Obama’s 2008 support has peeled away, precisely because there’s no consistency between his actions, his rhetoric, and blunt reality.  Romney came off last night as he did in the first debate:  as someone with experience who does operate on the basis of reality.  For my part, I think the world in which Obama’s oratorical flourishes carried the day exists only inside the heads of MSM pundits.  Reality is giving the rest of us a big-time check.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

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