This is why, apparently, the president was incapable for an hour and a half last week of articulating anything of substance or clarity:
“The president showed up with the intent of answering questions and having a discussion, an honest discussion of where we will go as a country, and Romney showed up to deliver a performance, and he delivered a very good performance,” Axelrod said. “It was completely un-rooted in fact, it was completely un-rooted in the positions he’s taken before and he spent 90 minutes trying to undo two years of campaigning on that stage, but he did it very well.”
Lame. Which helps explain the extraordinary shift in Florida polls (above) after the debate (made to heighten sensitivity). Lamer still:
As for why Obama did not address Romney’s “47 percent” comments at the debate, Axelrod said “the president obviously didn’t see the appropriate opportunity.” “The president was earnestly trying to answer questions that were asked on the topics that were being discussed, and he didn’t find the opportunity to raise it, and it’s obviously well known,” Axelrod said. Obama, Axelrod said, “was a little taken aback by the brazenness with which Gov. Romney walked away” from his past positions and his record.
Where does one start? Lehrer’s decision to allow the candidates free-style answers gave Obama carte blanche. The first question was about their differences on the economy. The obvious first answer from Obama should have been that he’s trying to help all Americans, while Romney is on record saying he doesn’t care about 47 percent of them. Bang. You’re off on the offense. And if Axelrod had not prepped Obama that Romney is capable of lying massively with total sincerity, or that, for Romney, truth is simply a utilitarian construct, then Axelrod failed to do due diligence. If Obama was rattled by Drudge, Carlson and Hannity yelling “Remember he’s a nigger!” the days before, then the Romney campaign has gotten into Obama’s usually impermeable head. To lose a debate is one thing. To default on it is quite another. To default on it in a way that reveals you cannot explain to anyone what your agenda is for the next four years is close to disqualifying. Here’s what the debate did in Ohio, the critical firewall for Obama:
More worryingly, Romney’s core Etch-A-Sketch is his adoption of Bowles-Simpson’s rhetoric for the fiscal future. He now says (checking my watch) he wants to eliminate deductions and lower rates in a way that doesn’t reduce the burden on the wealthy or increase it on the middle class. That’s mathematically impossible, of course, especially when you add in the costs of more military spending and Romney’s pledge to launch a new war on Iran. But Romney, like Reagan, is counting on no-one doing the math and more flim-flam on how growth would provide revenues. Alas, as I noted at the time, Obama did not have the balls to embrace Bowles-Simpson fully against his own party after Paul Ryan prevented it from getting to a Congressional vote. So now Romney has dishonestly stolen it from him – which will give him much more credibility on the debt with independents and undecideds. The problem with the debate is that if you simply default on rebutting those lies, low-information voters who can see a smart president incapable of responding or rebutting draw the obvious conclusion: Romney must be right. And when that is the first impression of the two debating, it’s devastating. And that’s why I think the entire election has been recast on Romney’s centrist terms, terms which Obama allowed to get away from him a while back, and which suddenly makes Romney – once again – the favorite.
Not because the economy sucks – but because Romney provided a much clearer, if utterly dishonest, plan for the next four years, while Obama offered nothing. His closing statement was nothing.
Of course, I’m excitable. This is a bounce for Romney and will presumably subside a bit. Perhaps by the next debate, the president will have a clue what he wants to do for the country and the world – and be able to communicate it. But I’m also angry. If Axelrod couldn’t see the Etch-A-Sketch coming, when Romney’s campaign all but told us they were cynical enough to do and say anything to win, then he truly is incompetent.
The only solace is that Obama is best when up against it. I remember how he just threw away the primary race in New Hampshire, rather than fighting. I recall how he allowed Obamacare to languish in the Congress for months, almost lost it with Scott Brown’s election, and finally brought it home. I remember how he let DADT drift for months, only to pull it from the fire in the nick of time in a lame-duck Congress. He does this. He works your last nerves. But I have never seen him phone it in as weakly as he did last week, and I can see no strategy behind it.