Debate the First

Obama versus not-Romney

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson
October 4th 2012


The first debate is fairly easy to sum up: notRomney painted Obama as ineffectual and wedded to policies that hurt the middle class. Obama painted notRomney as vague and more than a bit scary. In short, both were playing trope-versus-trope for all they were worth, and neither had anything substantive to say. Romney decided he was debating as notRomney, the Unrepublican.

It was fun watching notRomney kind of pretend that he wasn’t sure who this “Paul Ryan” was, or why people should be afraid of him. Three times he said that his plan was not a five trillion dollar tax cut without acknowledging that he had supported the Ryan plan—which would do exactly that—continuously over the past two years. It’s strange to see a Republican repudiate the notion that his plan would cause a large tax cut.

He doubled down on the false claim that Obamacare would cut Medicare by $716 billion. Obama refuted it the first time he claimed it, noting that it saved that amount, but without cutting any benefits for anyone.

It’s remarkable to watch a Republican attack a government plan that makes a program $761 billion more efficient, but that’s exactly what was happening there. In fact, even if it was just a meat-ax cut like notRomney pretends, it would still be strange to see him attack it; Republicans favor meat-ax cuts to government programs, especially the ones that Republicans dismiss as “welfare” such as Medicare.

Obama refuted the lie, but notRomney repeated it at least twice more during the debate, saving it for the last word each time. The strangest one was when he was defending Romneycare, which differs from Obamacare in that it’s not a Democratic plan, and he crowed that he did it without cutting $716 billion from Medicare. Possibly spotting a gleam in Obama’s eye, he added limply, “We didn’t have Medicare.”

As promised, notRomney tried out a few zingers, with mixed luck. One left everyone in the auditorium looking confused, because it seemed apropos of nothing: “Mister President, you may be entitled to your own house and your own plane, but not to your own facts.” It just sort of came out of the blue. Not original, either; in fact it’s something Republicans have heard a variation on with increasing frequency over the past few years: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” As deflection, it was a rather lame sally. He may not be Romney, but he’s not Reagan, either.

Obama noted at one point that the tax code actually rewards companies for sending jobs overseas, and notRomney replied, “I have been in business for 25 years and I have no idea what you are talking about. Maybe I need a new accountant.” Maybe he does. His tax returns might tell us if he needs a good accountant or not. But if there’s no such loophole in the tax laws, then notRomney shouldn’t mind if the Democrats rescind it, right? After all, it’s not like government can help business create jobs, whether here or in China.

One of the strangest notRomney moments came early in the debate, when he accused Big Bird of sending American wealth to China. Apparently it’s horrible beyond belief that China holds something like 8% of American public debt. And it’s all the fault of wasteful government spending like PBS, which measures in the millionths of 1% of the debt. This did not endear notRomney to the moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS News. Of course, the Chinese see buying debt as investment, and it’s strange to watch a Republican attack investors.

Strangest of all is the warm, fuzzy notRomney who cares deeply and profoundly about the middle class. He was chock-full of anecdotes of working-class women who came to him with tales of woe about families bouncing from one inadequate temporary job to another as wages declined sharply. He was careful not to tell us what he said to these people, but declared how much he cared. I kept expecting him to slap a hand over his heart and declaim, “My god, people are HURTING out there!”

In terms of performance, notRomney probably won the debate. He was assertive, and Obama has a very bad habit (bad in debate, anyway) of nodding and muttering “Uh huh” as the other is speaking, which gives the impression that he is ceding points. And of course, notRomney felt free to flat out lie, knowing the right wing noise machine would drown out the fact-checkers over the next few days.

But for voters with real questions, Obama was the winner, since he was willing to get into specifics, whereas notRomney had to pretend that all those nasty things he said about 47% of Americans and his tax returns and his dancing horse and car elevator and claims that $250,000 a year was middle class didn’t really exist, that notRomney was the warm and fuzzy candidate who loves all the poor people and wants to devote his life to offering them lucretive high-paying jobs stuffing envelopes at home.

So: if you’re scoring the debate, my prediction is that notRomney got a bounce of about three points in the polls, but that it would evaporate over the next week as he goes out and reverts to the regular Romney we all mistrust and abhor.


Not dead, in jail or a slave? Thank a liberal!


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