“Last night, we saw the clearest possible demonstration of why none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines between now and November 6th.” –Brian Moran, Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia
The first debate is over, the reviews are in, and we can pretty much agree that, in the words of Mark Hemingway, “Mitt Romney just took Obama for a cross country drive strapped to the roof of his car.” So dismal was the president’s performance that he’s already inspiring cringe-worthy comparisons to failed Democrats past, including, gasp, Jimmy Carter. It is a dark day indeed when Michael Moore of all people is dismissing a liberal president by one-line comparison to John Kerry.
The criticisms ran the gambit. Obama’s performance seemed “effete” and “wonkish”, his demeanor was “nervous and petulant”, his responses lacked “EQ as well as IQ”, and he looked like he needed a teleprompter. I could hardly sit through all the nitpicking over healthcare minutiae or the perfunctory appeals to century-old grandeur in muddling through education reform. The President came off as an irascible TA, running on too little sleep with too little to show for it, who would rather be anywhere else than at a podium, lecturing an irksome crowd of strangers fiddling away on social media. Watching him was the memory of that first crippling hangover in college that inspires a passing Mormon view of intoxicants, coupled with a profound, if migraine-addled, reckoning with the trajectory of your next four years.
Romney’s decisive victory in Denver also benefits from conveniently low expectations. Going into the debate, as many as 3 in 5 Americans expected Obama to win. Coming out, the most damning rebuke of Romney came for his stated intention to foreclose Sesame Street and murder its residents outsource Big Bird and Elmo. This is a curious conviction, to be sure, as the Muppets’ pensions aren’t remotely driving the deficit. But there are worse problems one could have with an aspiring U.S. president—like, I don’t know, disastrously incompetent leadership, mismanaging the economy, and a tendency to smirk at criticism.
What’s more, Obama picked the fourth most tweeted telecast of any kind for his epic implosion on stage. Earning overwhelmingly favorable social and mainstream media coverage is the best gift possible for Romney after a rather dreary September. But his team should keep circling the wagons. Championing the governor’s victory in the first debate is perfectly consistent with the media ultimately favoring Obama, albeit with a juicy narrative soap-opera drama. As the genre savvy young conservative Mytheos Holt once noted, “It’s not a good story if the villain doesn’t beat the hero” a few good times.
Conservatives should brace for increasingly hostile media cover as October pressures tighten the polls. Predictably, the Left is already at war with an avalanche of lies and myths, real and imagined, and we should expect Obama to bring a better game for the next two contests. So while this debate performance almost certainly breathes new life into Romney’s campaign, we should remember that Romney entered the fray from behind. The devil is always in the policy details.
And even the worst hangover is gone in a day or two.