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.”
It was a Romney who has appeared in flashes over the years, but then frustratingly veered away. Suddenly, he seemed comfortable and commanding — like he’d finally arrived at where he wanted to be, like he planned to be staying for a while. When his moment came, the biggest in his political life, the guy who “couldn’t connect” knew he was connecting like there was no tomorrow. And maybe there isn’t. He was the very picture of the happy warrior — somewhere, at least for this night, Ronald Reagan and Bill Buckley were smiling.
As Romney cruised along, Lehrer, unable to break the momentum, worried aloud that time was flying by. Romney smiled a winner’s smile: “It’s fun, isn’t it?” Let’s play two today. He pounded on jobs and prosperity and growth for another couple of minutes.
When, at last, his time came to respond, the president slumped. “Jim,” he sighed, “you may want to move on to another topic.” But, Obama being Obama, he then mindlessly rehashed the meme of Romney as George Bush 2.0, making “the same sales pitch that was made in 2001 and 2003, and we ended up with the slowest job growth in 50 years.” Um . . . not exactly: Those bad old days — even after a shocking terrorist attack ripped the nation’s financial capital — featured unemployment rates consistently under 6 percent. Actually, the slowest job growth in 50 years is happening now.
Are voters going to buy Obama’s sales pitch? I don’t think so. To the president’s evident chagrin, the 2012 campaign stretch run is not a 2008 rerun. He is actually being vetted this time. Americans are learning that he is not so much prodigy as media creation: the original “birther,” whose memoir turns up more fiction each time it is scrutinized.
Speaking of fiction, an inconvenient videotape resurfaced the day before the debate. It was from 2007 in Virginia: Senator Barack Obama, presidential stars in his eyes, speaking to a largely black audience of religious leaders and inciting racial animus.
To be generous, Obama’s performance is disgusting. Cynically adopting the black dialect of the American South, a dialect utterly alien to him, he demagogues against Washington’s supposedly selective waivers of the Stafford Act — legislation that requires communities hit by disasters to match 10 percent of federal aid. They waived it for 9/11, he tells the crowd, and they waived it when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida: Those communities were allowed to keep their one dollar for every ten federal dollars. But when he comes to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the largely African-American population of New Orleans, Obama implies that Congress refused the waiver: “What’s happenin’ down in New O’leans? Where’s yo’ dollar? Where’s yo’ Stafford Act money? . . . Tells me that somehow the people down in New O’leans they don’t care about as much.”
In fact, ten days before Obama gave that speech, Congress had waived the Stafford Act requirement for Katrina. He was well aware of that fact, too. After all, he was one of only 14 senators to vote against the waiver. It was part of a bill to fund the war effort in Iraq. That is, to pander to his Bush-deranged, anti-war base, Obama decided that squeezing New O’leans was a price worth paying. Then, he lied about what happened in order to foment racial resentment — an atmosphere that he calculated would help his presidential bid.
Just as he’s doing today.
It doesn’t matter to me, though. I was already voting against Obama. Now, though, I’m voting for Romney.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, which was recently published by Encounter Books.