First of all, a round of applause for Bob Schieffer. Schieffer is a left-winger who has in the past fallen prey to that poisonous seduction that convinces journalists the virtue of their political opinions trumps the virtue of doing their jobs fairly and well. Last night, Schieffer resisted that temptation. He did an excellent job as moderator, better than Jim Lehrer, who wasn’t half bad, and than Candy “Creepy” Crowley who, in a just world, would now have a job more in keeping with her skills… like, say, selling apples out of a cardboard box in Times Square.
As before, I think all those not totally blinded by partisanship saw pretty much the same debate. Governor Romney brought the strategy, opting not to attack on current issues still in play but to make more general remarks on Obama’s apologetic approach to foreign affairs and on the ways in which our weak economy weakens us abroad. The president was aggressive to the point of seeming snarky and sneering but played the “I AM the commander-in-chief” card effectively. In debate-world, he seemed to win.
But debate-world is a post-modern place where people score points for looking presidential, being aggressive, delivering zippy zingers and throwing one’s opponent off his train of thought. These essentially show-biz considerations are very important to journalists who are essentially in show business. To the voters? I think none of them matters a damn except (and it’s an important exception) when they seem to reveal something true about the candidate or the race. That is to say, I think journalists report on appearances. People vote on the closest thing to the truth they can find.
Which is why I think debates two and three have made and will make very little difference to the ultimate outcome of this race. Here are the three things I think matter – the three things I think will determine the outcome – as we head into the final days:
1) Obama has done a bad job of being president. He inherited a reeling economy and had exactly the wrong ideas about how to fix it. He inherited a dangerous world and had exactly the wrong ideas about how to make it safe. Plus, for whatever reason, he was incapable of learning from his mistakes. This country is worse off than it was four years ago and everyone knows it. Even die-hard Dems who wouldn’t vote GOP for the world can only make lame excuses for their guy this time. He’s failed.
2) The first debate (which, if Romney wins, will have been historic in its effect) torched the demonic straw man the Obama campaign and its compliant media had created to represent their opponent. The more I’ve thought about this, the more it seems to me that it wasn’t Obama’s failure that made the debate what it was, it was the fact that Romney was able to present himself as exactly what he is: a reasonable and successful businessman and former governor with sound ideas about how to fix economic problems. All the talk about Obama looking down, Obama not showing up, blah, blah, blah. Romney is what he appeared to be that night and a lot of people said, “Oh. I get it. I was lied to. This guy could do the job.” The trouble with straw men is it only takes a single match to set them ablaze.
3) People can be bought. It’s part of the premise of free market capitalism that money motivates people. They’ll work for it, build for it, risk for it — they want it. As David Mamet once wonderfully wrote, “That’s why they call it money.” The Obama White House has been run like Tammany Hall: buying votes with Christmas turkeys. Except, so to speak, they’re bigger turkeys! “Free” health care, “free” birth control, “free” citizenship, “free” welfare without work requirements… on and on. Conservatives argue these freebies come at the expense of true freedom, real prosperity, individual self-realization and property rights — to which the left replies, “Watch out! The evil conservatives are trying to steal your free stuff!” Mitt Romney’s 47% remarks were untoward — but not untrue, not in general intent at least. That’s why Obama only mentioned them in the debates once, in final remarks when Romney couldn’t respond. Obama’s been buying votes, and it works and it wouldn’t do for him to talk about it.
So on one side, there’s Obama’s failed presidency and the fact that Romney could be just the right man for the moment. On the other, there’s “free” stuff! Which will win the day? Well, here’s a sentence I found buried in the last graf of Michael Barone’s column today, “The polling data suggests that Romney is now ahead and is likely to be elected.” Hey, if Barone says it, it’s true.
But don’t get cocky! The future is not yet, and even the things that matter, won’t matter at all, if you don’t get out there and vote!
image created courtesy shutterstock / Roman Sigaev