Late and Sour

A handshake at Hofstra, October 16, 2012


Just a few notes on the second presidential debate — most of them sour, I’m sure. Will give them in the order in which I jotted them, while watching. (A few may be out of order.)

Warning: These notes are not for Republicans who wish to feel good about the debate! (Though we Republicans can certainly feel good about the election.)

(Not that that’s a prediction — I don’t do predictions, except under duress. Or at the faintest invitation.)

Anyway . . .

You can see it at the handshake: Both men are tall. What is it about height and the presidency? Essays have been written on it, I know.

These “townhall” debates are often nauseating. There are often questioners who ask about their personal problems. Who ask about issues that are not particularly presidential or federal.

People ask, in a variety of ways, “What are you going to do for me?” A candidate never answers, “Uphold the Constitution, oppose and defeat this country’s enemies, and help keep you free.”

Never. That would never fly in Oprah’s America.

In any event, the format of a debate should not matter much. Neither should the questions, really. The candidates will find occasions to say what they want to say — and probably even what they should say — regardless. If you can’t work around the format or the questions, you’re probably not cut out for politics.

It would be nice if Romney didn’t say “less jobs.” And “the reason is because” — over and over again.

Romney is faulted for not giving specifics in these debates. And the faulters are right. To my recollection, Romney was pretty good about specifics during the Republican primary debates — on housing and all that. And the primaries are not necessarily a time for specifics.

That five-point plan of his is sounding cheesier and cheesier to me.

So, that questioner “Jeremy,” who wants a job? Jeremy the student? Romney says to him, “When you come out in 2014 — I presume I’m going to be president — I’m going to make sure you get a job. Thanks, Jeremy. Yeah, you bet.”

Phony baloney. A phony-baloney politician. You can’t guarantee that guy a job. Nor should you. What are you thinking, Mitt? Is this East Germany? Are you the cheesiest politician in history?

No, you’re a superbly able and clear-thinking man. Try to make sure people know it!

Obama is very, very strong. Firing on all cylinders. He’s saying the same things he said in the first debate — but more crisply, more commandingly, and more creatively.

My guy is stumbling, breathy, shallow, and repetitious.

Obama always says he’s simply “asking the wealthy to pay a little bit more.” He said it throughout the 2008 debates. He says it in a tone that says, “What’s so unreasonable about that? Can’t they be patriotic? Can’t they help the country out, by kicking in a few more tax dollars?”

Romney is capable of giving very strong answers to this (as to almost everything). Tonight, he doesn’t really bring it.

Ever since the primaries, I’ve disliked it when Romney brings up this “12 million” figure. He says his five-point plan will lead to 12 million new jobs. Why the figure isn’t 11 million or 13 million or 11,683,022, I don’t know.

Phony baloney.

In this debate, he uses a phrase I haven’t heard before — “college-level job.” He promises college graduates not just jobs, but “college-level jobs.”

Ay, caramba. Jobs commensurate with our education? How do we measure that?

As we saw in the primary debates, sometimes Romney gets rattled — gets rattled in a hurry. Bit of a glass jaw. He starts talking real fast, stumbling over his words, not able to get them out, too excited, too rattled. He gets snippy and fussy, at opponents and moderators (if there’s a difference).

In the primaries, when he controlled that, he was good or great. When he did not, he looked petulant, schoolyardish, immature. Tinny. Remember his prissy little spats with Rick Perry?

We all got problems. And Romney has fewer than most. He’s virtually superhuman. Still, we all ain’t runnin’ for president.

Romney has a really good answer on the GM charge — the charge that he was willing for GM and the entire auto industry just to up and die. I’ve heard him give it, many times. Why he doesn’t give it tonight — when it’s key to give it — I don’t know.

(One reason I’m so hard on him, of course, is that I’m so pro-him — and pulling so hard for him, and counting on him so heavily.) (Every candidate carries the burden of his fans’ hopes and expectations for him.)

Obama has mastered the art — the kind of dirty art — of making himself sound patriotic, in his answers, while making his opponent sound unpatriotic. He has the national interest at heart. Pity the other guy doesn’t.

Romney brings up the North Dakota oil boom, which is wise. He notes the administration’s hostility to it, which is also wise. But he does all this in a clipped, inarticulate, confusing way. Many viewers must have scratched their heads.

I did some reporting on North Dakota for National Review earlier this year. A snippet, from the resulting piece:

Many North Dakotans were taken aback when the Obama Justice Department brought suit against Continental Resources and other oil companies last year. The charge: A handful of birds — between 25 and 30 — had died in “reserve pits.” The companies were prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A district-court judge threw the suit out with little ado. In the bargain, he listed some of the ways in which birds die: including flying into wind turbines. That kills an estimated 33,000 a year. Why pick on oil? Why should wind be sacred and oil the bad guy?

I wonder: When two candidates are at odds on facts — not opinions but facts — what is the public to think?

As Romney struggles and snips, the audience actually laughs at him. Painful to observe. Obama is the far cooler guy in the room: “cooler” as in more level-headed, and “cooler” as in, you know — hipper.

While Romney is speaking, Obama looks ready to pounce, when it’s his turn. He looks loaded for bear. He looks in control. “I got this.” He looks at Romney almost with pity: “You poor bastard, you’re no match for me tonight. You brought less game than last time. And I brought heaps more.”

I wish Romney would pause, every now and then, to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re $16 trillion in debt. Our budget deficit is over a trillion. We’re going downhill fast. Barack Obama is speaking very well tonight. Sounds great. But, you know, he’s been president for four years. And our problems have gotten worse. He has no new ideas for the next four years. He’s had his chance. He’s blown it. Time for a change.”

Romney does this, of course — to a degree. So, what do I wish? Maybe that he’d do it . . . as well as he is capable of.

Have I understood correctly? Is Romney’s answer on female equality in the workplace something like quotas?

Once more, Obama cites his grandmother: “She was smart as a whip.” And a typical white person, of course. Are white people typically smart as whips?

Obama and other Democrats always say we Republicans care only about the wealthiest — we look out for the wealthy few. Not only is the charge a lie, it also contains this absurdity: How could you run for office by appealing only to the top few? How could one ever win? Republicans, like other politicians, want to get elected, right?

An exasperating subject.

Obama is confusing me, because he talks so much about Planned Parenthood, and the funding of it: Is Planned Parenthood a government agency? Or is it a private organization?

I believe Obama talks more about funding Planned Parenthood than about funding the U.S. military. Which is a government organization, so far as I know.