Do you think Barack Obama knows who Ernie Banks is? Count me a skeptic. The purported White Sox fanatic couldn’t name a single player for the home team on the South Side, so I doubt he knows Wrigley Field from his beloved “Cominskey Field.” But even if the president was never gripped by the Cub slugger’s infectious calling card — “Let’s play two today!” — he has now heard the Mitt Romney version: “It’s fun, isn’t it?”
That’s how the GOP nominee bucked up a befuddled Jim Lehrer during Wednesday night’s ground-shifting debate. It was only 20 minutes in, but the moderator was fretting over the clock while the president fretted over Romney. Already, the challenger had the incumbent reminding 70 million viewers of “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” the last Chicago legend in his own mind to emerge from a decisive brawl looking like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone.
Whatever you may think of the former Massachusetts governor’s politics, there should never have been any hesitation about Romney the man. This is a bright, self-made man, one whose public and private philanthropy, which puts most of us to shame, should be legendary. It is not. That’s because his good works weren’t done to burnish his political credentials and his decency discourages their exploitation toward that end. You don’t have to agree with Romney on everything to see that he is a mensch. He obviously loves the America that is — the land of opportunity that has rewarded his work ethic. Like most of us, he wants that America preserved, not “fundamentally transformed.”
Yet, for months, the Obama campaign has relentlessly portrayed Romney as an inveterate scoundrel: a dissolute shylock — maybe even a felonious one — who fleeced mom-and-pop stores, secreted his ill-gotten gains in offshore vaults, and, in his spare time, tortured his own pooch. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it” — it’s the Alinskyites following their dog-eared rule book.
The problem for our community organizer–in–chief is the debate setting. With no slavish Obamedia filter between the candidates and the viewers, the Obama campaign’s ludicrous distortion of Romney collided, one on one and for all to see, with the reality of Romney. The challenger’s upbeat energy simultaneously effused respect for the president’s office and sheer joie de vivre at the prospect of laying bare the president’s miserable record — of forcing Obama’s vision of Euro-America to compete with Romney’s traditionally confident, self-determining America.
Romney pounced from the start: the president’s “trickle-down government”; his “economy tax” that is “crushing” ordinary families, forcing them to make do on $4,300 less income; families that were promised their health-care costs would go down by $2,500 but are finding those costs increased by that amount; a staggering 15 million people added to the food-stamp rolls; millions left unemployed and underemployed; a planned tax hike on small business that will cost another 700,000 jobs; gas prices skyrocketing, along with food prices and electric rates; economic growth slower in each successive Obama year.
On it went, but Romney was not dour and did not rest his case on the Obama torpor. He offered a positive prescription to unshackle the economy: Stop spending money we don’t have, shove the central-planners aside, and put the American people’s unparalleled energy and ingenuity back at the helm. The last part was the best part: a bouncing confidence in what we are, not what we can be engineered into with enough czars and “teachable moments.”