If you thought the Denver debate was bad news for the president, the day after his debate drubbing he seemed to double down on the very problems that made his debate performance so awful.
There was the excuse-mongering. Mitt Romney lied. Jim Lehrer didn’t maintain control. The president was trying to be polite. For once, it would have been nice to hear the president say, “You know I didn’t have a good night, but I’ll come back next time.” Instead, he confirmed the initial image of a surly teenager, too proud to apologize and too self-absorbed to see what a jerk he is being.
Then President Obama perpetuated the impression that he doesn’t know what is in his opponent’s plans or doesn’t care to learn. Thursday he was back accusing Romney of a bait-and-switch on his tax plan, claiming he previously had advocated a $5 trillion “cut.” No, Mr. President, you never bothered to listen or understand the difference between rate cuts and tax cuts. It seems your aides and debate partner never leveled with you. You do have to wonder whether the president doesn’t understand what his opponent is presenting or simply can’t rebut it unless it is distorted and refashioned to be something he can lampoon.
In the Obama mindset, because Romney’s actual plans differ from Obama’s stump speech version of those plans, Romney must be a liar.
He insisted, “When I got on to the stage I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. But it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn’t know anything about that.”
Somehow I don’t think that is going to lure back a lot of voters. (It might assuage his base, which has bought into the Obama version of Romney’s agenda.)
His campaign also frittered away his reputation as no-drama-Obama by holding conference calls to reassure donors, the surest way to convey panic. More excuses followed: “Obama campaign aides said debates aren’t their candidate’s strong suit, and they vowed that he would be more aggressive with Mr. Romney at the next two debates. They argued that Mr. Romney won on style but not substance, and they released an ad seeking to undermine his performance by asserting that he misrepresented the facts of his tax plan.” The most eloquent man of his generation isn’t a good debater?! It was, in their eyes, all a matter of tactics and style.
All of these shenanigans gave Romney fodder to claim that Obama is out of ideas. Romney observed, “What you didn’t hear last night from the president is why it is the next four years are possibly going to be better than the last four years. He doesn’t have a way to explain that because he has the same policies for the next four years as he had for the last four years.”
You wonder if there is anyone inside the Obama camp to tell the president to stand up straight, look his opponent in the eye, quit grimacing and most of all start reading and talking to people who don’t agree with him. He might actually understand how gimmicky is his own budget plan. He might learn that the 1986 tax reform plan is the precise model Romney is looking at — base broadening in exchange for lower rates. Once he understands how his opponent’s plans work, then he can critique them on whatever grounds he prefers (ideological, practical, etc.) Oh and by the way, he should come up with some plans of his own to address the monumental problems we face.
In this regard Obama, the liberal media and the obviously partisan segment of the fact-checking community have mutually reinforced their own worst tendencies. They declare most everything their opponents say to be a “lie,” which seems to absolve the need to understand their opponent’s rationale for why it isn’t a lie (e.g. welfare reform work rules eviscerated). It leaves them unprepared to argue on the merits and vulnerable on the facts. It comes from insularity and condescension, both of which are rampant among liberal elites. In other words, their intellectual laziness has come home to roost.
Rather than lashing out, blaming others and piling up the absurd excuses (Debates don’t matter! Bush lost his first debate too!), the president would be so much better served by some intellectual rigor and healthy internal discussion. He still might not win the next debate, but he could always learn something. That in turn might make him less angry, more interesting and better able to engage his opponents.