Debate: Romney rocked, Obama got rolled

Romeny 1, Obama, zip. Such was the immediate consensus from those — professional pundit as well as armchair analysts at home — who viewed last week’s debate between President Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.

Once the debate ended, the Spirit of Jefferson asked its readers what they thought and why. Many answered what they thought — Romney rocked, Obama got rolled — but few answered why. Why not?

I’m going to venture the opinion that the reason we don’t wade into the ‘why’ is because we don’t want to have to slog through the quagmire of policy positions we’re fundamentally unfamiliar with and that we’d have to defend at the risk of being seen as wrong.

Take the issue of the federal deficit.

Romney made a point that Obama had vowed to cut it in half, but instead doubled it. If you had read Friday’s top editorial in the Wall Street Journal, “The Obama Matrix,” you’d have found Romney’s assertion confirmed. The editorialist writes: “The evidence of Mr. Obama’s time in power includes his 2008 vow to cut the deficit in half. Instead, he doubled it in 2009 and then presided over three more $1 trillion-plus reprises … These are facts. If they are news to many Americans, it is because Mr. Obama has campaigned as if this were still 2008 and ‘hope and change’ were just an election away.”

That last sentence aside, the Journal can find the facts to field its argument. In July 2008, federal budget estimates projected the deficit to come in at about $500 billion for the 2009 budget year, with the caveat that war costs and a languid economy could well result in that amount swelling.

Well, what do you know, but that’s just what happened. In January 2009, just as Obama was taking office, the Congressional Budget Office had already increased those numbers significantly, to $1.2 trillion. And the deficit ultimately finished a good deal higher, at $1.4 trillion, more than three times higher than the 2008 projection.

The Monitor offered that perhaps Romney was referring instead to the national debt, which indeed has grown more under Obama than under all other president in U.S. history. That’s combined. If that’s the kind of thing that keeps you up nights, that’ll do it. The Monitor doesn’t venture an explanation for the Journal’s editorial page’s claim, thank goodness. No one should try keeping with that sideshow.

What many saw when they called Romney the winner was the triumph of style over substance, which should have left no one surprised. A bouncy, sometimes manic Romney was exactly the candidate Republican hopefuls met ahead of this campaign’s Republican primary debates, with Romney talking over the other candidates, laying bets and otherwise hijacking the debate in order to make points both first and last.

But the Romney of last Wednesday was also substantively different than the “severe conservative” Romney of the last year.

As columnist Matt Miller observed, it was on that night, in front of 5 million viewers, that Romney emerged as the Rockefeller Republican he’s always been suspected of being, disavowing a tax cut to the rich that he’s long trumpeted, championing regulatory reform and upholding a key element of Obama’s health care law, that being pre-existing conditions, to the hang-jawed dismay of Obama, MSNBC and the entire 47 percent. Fact-checkers have eaten like Henry VIII at a renaissance  festival in the days since the debate unwinding all of Romney’s fabrications — there were plenty; a $5 trillion tax cut? what $5 trillion tax cut — but the real guy to do that didn’t when he had the lights and the lectern and the audience to do it in front of. No small surprise then when asked which candidate came out looking like a president, the answer for many of us was that it was the guy trying a little too hard, not the guy trying hardly at all.


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