This image, in which Mitt Romney is gesturing aggressively, and dismissively, at the President, without even looking at him, while the President regards him stoically and Jim Lehrer sits idly by, pretty much sums up last night's debate for me. Romney's a bully; Obama—hamstrung both by racist narratives ready to frame assertiveness as anger and by trying to debate an opponent who will outright lie without hesitation—is feckless; Lehrer is a non-entity, held in thrall by Romney's bombast.
This debate format is garbage even when both candidates are reasonably truthful and the moderator actually moderates. Suffice it to say, last night's "debate" was a farce.
There are plenty of fact-checking pieces about (here is one! and here's a good video!), so I'm not going to duplicate efforts. My assessment is that President Obama was not completely honest, but more honest than most politicians campaigning for election, and that Mitt Romney was remarkably, extraordinarily dishonest. He was a much more brazen liar than I have ever seen in the same venue—neither John McCain nor George W. Bush were so bold. I expected Romney to evade and dissemble; I did not anticipate that virtually nothing out of his mouth would exist in the same galaxy as the truth.
While acknowledging the aforementioned issues that unjustly limited Obama's range of response, the President did miss some pretty significant opportunities last night:
* In a year where reproductive rights are the biggest wedge issue, he did not even mention reproductive rights. That was a failure to reach out to one of his key demographic supports, and it was a failure to make Mitt Romney stand on the stage and confess that he will be no kind of ally at all to women (and men) who want to control their reproduction.
* The President did not mention Bain Capital. He did not mention the 47% speech. He did not mention Romney's 14% tax rate, or his unwillingness to disclose his tax returns beyond last year.
* The President did not re-affirm his personal support for same-sex marriage, nor highlight any of his administration's policies that have expanded LGBTQI rights.
He did some things right, though, too. There was much cheering at Shakes Manor when the President said he likes the term "Obamacare." It is an imperfect health insurance reform law, as far as I'm concerned, but it's 72 million times better than anything Mitt Romney is proposing, and I'm glad to see the President owning it.
I don't think the President's performance was as terrible as lots of other people seem to think. Overall, I thought the biggest loser of the night were US voters, thanks to the garbage format of the debate.
This was the domestic policy debate, and there was no meaningful discussion of environmental policy, climate change, increasing food prices, infrastructure issues, scientific funding, homelessness, hunger, immigration, bankruptcies, foreclosures, the Violence Against Women Act. The only domestic policy that seems to matter now is taxes. Issues like education and healthcare and Social Security only matter insomuch as how they relate to taxation.
And the biggest takeaways for me, the things that I will remember, were two truly terrible things that Mitt Romney said, both of which were almost certainly among his practiced zingers.
1. Romney at minute 21: "...I know that you and your running mate keep saying that [I will not increase taxes on the wealthy] and I know it's a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it's just not the case. Look, I've got five boys. I'm used to people saying something that's not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I'll believe it."
Wow. "My sons are liars, so I ain't falling for your shenanigans!"—Father of the Year Mitt Romney, conflating the sitting US President, an African American, with his "boys." That is fucked up on so many levels, but, honestly, no one ought to be more contemptuous of that bullshit than Mitt Romney's own sons.
2. Romney at minute 22: "Mr. President— Mr. President, you're entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts."
My tweeted response may be the most retweeted thing in my entire Twitter history. So far, it's been RTed 1,150 times.
Uh, Mitt Romney, the White House and Air Force One belong to The People. YOU'RE the one with the privately owned mansion and jet.— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) October 4, 2012
I don't think it's that my response was super brilliant; it's more just that I responded to it at all. It sort of slid by without much notice, but, for me, that was one of the most illustrative comments of the night. Mitt Romney, son of a governor, corporate raiding multimillionaire, he of the car elevator and boat mansion, who constantly engages in racist "entitlement" rhetoric, turned to President Barack Obama, the African American son of a single mother, on a national stage and condescendingly sneered at him about to what he's "entitled."
And not only that: Mitt Romney, conservative anti-taxer, holder of offshore accounts, he of the 14.1% tax rate, who constantly asserts that taxes need to be lowered so the government doesn't "waste" people's money, wrongly stated that the White House and Air Force One are the property of the US President, not the property of the US People, whose tax dollars bought and maintains that house and that plane.
This is not a man who is fit to hold the office of the presidency of a diverse nation. Send his ass back to a corporate boardroom, where it belongs.
And with that, I am officially debated out. Discuss.