What happens when a senile moderator, a comatose president and one of the most dishonest candidates ever to vie for the White House convene at the University of Denver?
Just over a week ago, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won his first of three debates against the president. Not five minutes after the cameras pulled away, the live-blogging media prophets of doom announced the death of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Romney, who had hitherto been ineffective and inconsistent in his message, allegedly won the night in a blowout, casting the president as a disengaged, professorial lame duck who had run out of ideas. Blogger and Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast termed the debate “a disaster for the president.” The “thrill” of 2008 was gone for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who screamed on air for three minutes and asked his panel, “Where was Obama tonight?”
I am not even going to try to rationalize President Obama’s shockingly flaccid performance last week. Speculations that Obama adopted a feckless, reserved manner in order to trap Romney are only slightly less insane than the opposition’s accusations that a desperate administration fabricated the numbers in last Friday’s serendipitous jobs report. I think, however, that the hysterical media response since that Wednesday night necessitates a closer inspection of what constitutes a ‘win’ in the modern presidential debate.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are spearheading what is easily the most dishonest presidential campaign of our lifetimes. Their rhetoric makes your typical pandering politician look like Honest Abe on Sodium Pentothal. They eschew more modest political traditions like lying by omission and cherry-picking facts, instead ignoring the truth entirely. In the span of no longer than 90 minutes, Romney managed to metamorphose into an entirely different candidate, one whose positions were moderate and whose rhetoric of the last year and a half had vanished from memory. I suppose we should not be surprised; Romney appears to shift his ideology every day depending on which voters he’s courting.
In his responses to the president, Romney forgot his tax plan, regurgitated Paul Ryan’s distortion of President Obama’s “$716 billion cut” to Medicare and even revived Sarah Palin’s infamous scaremongering about “death panels.” Romney only spoke for 38 minutes, but fact-checking sites have identified no fewer than 27 lies in his arguments. I am not exaggerating too greatly when I say that every single one of Romney’s attempts at substance during the debate was either misleading or completely untrue.
Despite Romney’s lies, polls and other measures of the president’s chances since the night of the debate lend some credence to the panicked assertions that Obama’s campaign has essentially imploded. As of this week, his standing in the national polls has cratered from a comfortable five-point lead to, at best, a statistical tie. I thus submit to you the state of the American electorate. Despite the ascent of social media and the proliferation of political websites, there is still a frighteningly large portion of the voting population that has no idea of the significant issues separating the two candidates. Their eyes glaze over when politicians begin to discuss policy, and they form their opinions only after listening to the bloviating pundits on biased news outlets and gleaning the media narrative of the day. I do not disagree that Romney handily won last week’s debate, but the American public exhibits a disturbing suggestibility to convincing lies and cable-news conniptions.
I am not trying to sway students in Claremont entertaining a vote for Mitt Romney—probably a small demographic. Instead, I am urging any Obama supporters reading this to heed Samuel L. Jackson’s advice to “wake up.” Relative to 2008, a dangerous indifference pervades Obama’s younger voting bloc. If you poll the Claremont Colleges, I am certain a vast majority of students will claim support for the president, but they lack the enthusiasm that galvanized the youth vote four years ago. Obama’s presidency lacks the spirited idealism of his 2008 campaign, and even students who acknowledge the election’s importance are not as passionate as they should be. Furthermore, they seem complacent and believe Obama’s reelection is a certainty—a belief I will concede appeared undeniable no more than two weeks ago.
Now, however, the conversation has turned against Obama, and a Romney presidency is no longer a laughable contingency. I hope the debate has sent Obama’s base in a tailspin down to reality.