A few thoughts on the first debate

So, what I do is write. It’s what I do best. It’s the one gift which the Universe has bestowed upon me.

What did I see during the first debate? What I always see when watching Barack Obama. Someone who doesn’t blindly follow his gut like the previous President.

Remember the quote from Newt Gingrich about Romney? “How can you debate someone who lies about everything?”

Obama knew this about Romney. He knew that Romney would get on that podium, lie and filibuster and bully. “I paid for this microphone, Mr. Lehrer,” to paraphrase the Gipper.

And he knew that you can’t really debate someone like that.

Romney is an entitled prince. He again proved that he believes the rules don’t apply to him. And that type of person has the ability to bend those of weaker will to his point of view. I was sorely disappointed in Mr. Lehrer being cowed by the bully.

But, again, in this debate, Mitt Romney showed the country just what kind of person he is. Entitled. Prickly. Without a moral compass. Willing to jettison any “belief” to gain a momentary win.

And if this was a win—which I don’t believe it was, but more on that below—it will be just that, momentary.

As you all know, I’m something of an English football addict. English football has two cup competitions. One, the FA Cup, is an old, honored tradition, the oldest cup competition in world football. The other, the League Cup, is, well, not. When teams play in the League Cup, they often neglect to field their best starting eleven. The ones who do are the ones for whom the competition is their only shot at winning any silverware.

Mitt Romney just “won” the League Cup. It’s a shiny trophy which, in the end, means very little.

But, did he win? From my perusal of websites and Twitter, the fact checking is already beginning.

Back to Newt Gingrich’s observation: “How can you debate someone who lies about everything?”

Well, you don’t. You can’t. At least not at first.

If I’m right, this was a strategic feint by the Obama campaign. Let Mitt talk. Let him talk and talk. They had a very good idea of what he’d do—he was basically broadcasting it. He would be the same bullying, entitled rich man that he was in the GOP debates. And he would lie, about everything.

But Obama has a few things which Mitt’s Republican opponents did not have.

First, he has money. Gobs of it. According to a Chicago Tribune story, he is, in fact, on his way to being a “billion dollar candidate”. And with this gob of money one can make a lot of ads dissecting quotes from the first debate, in which Obama allowed his opponent to basically paint himself into a corner. And one can buy a lot of air time with that money. The ads are already being written and produced.

The other thing that Obama has which Mitt’s GOP opponents did not is, well, intelligence. He knows both strategy and tactics. How do you debate someone who has no compunction about lying? You don’t. That’s why this debate was different than the ones against McCain in 2008. McCain could not even think of reaching the depths of falsehood which Romney plumbs on a regular basis. Those debates were basically what debates should be. Mitt is a different creature. He has a preternatural will to power, and nothing will stand in the way of it—not morality, not decency, not kindness, not human empathy. How do you debate someone like that? You don’t. You let him debate himself. You let him spin out words of desperation, as he contorts himself into the shape he thinks will get him the prize. And then you strike. That requires intelligence and patience, and a propensity not to panic. All of those are traits which Obama has in abundance.

Mitt may have won the night. But the next few days won’t be kind to him, as the euphoria of him not vomiting on stage wears off, and Chicago starts pushing out ads highlighting Mitt’s mendacity in his own words. Tonight Mitt basically threw everything he had campaigned on overboard, in a manic attempt to appeal to the middle. His base may be momentarily pleased that he put the black guy in his place; but in the sober light of morning, they’ll realize that he has cemented his perception as a liar, willing to—at least rhetorically—dismiss their beliefs. And it’s only rhetoric, as the ads will show.

I could be wrong. I’d like to think I haven’t slid into epistemic closure. But I also know not to bet against Obama. Those who do have always lost.

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