Many Obama supporters are trying to deny that the debate was as strong a showing for Romney as it in fact was. That dog won't hunt, I'm afraid. Romney was smooth, seemingly human (did someone install an emotion chip?) and aggressive. He flouted the rules, didn't answer the questions and steam-rollered the moderator. All of which is, of course, wrong. It's also winning television. Obama by contrast looked like he wanted to take a good nap. He may have been startled by Romney's willingness to lie about his own proposals, as well as everything else under the sun. But frankly, that's no excuse. This is Romney we're talking about, after all.
Result: a not insignificant swing in favor of Romney that might not yet have bottomed out. Not panic time for us supporters of the President, but not good news, by any stretch.
But this is not, as the West Wing was often for me in the Bush years, analgesic. Bartlet re-prepping Obama makes for good reading, but points out also how the President can within his own personal style, rebuke the more aggressive Romney. For example:
BARTLET “I want to take that $716 billion you’ve cut and put it back into Medicare.”
OBAMA The $716 billion I’ve cut is from the providers, not the beneficiaries. I think that’s a better idea than cutting the exact same $716 billion and replacing it with a gift certificate, which is what’s contained in the plan that’s named for your running mate.
BARTLET “Pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.”
OBAMA Not unless you’ve come up with a new plan since this afternoon.
BARTLET “You doubled the deficit.”
OBAMA When I took office in 2009, the deficit was 1.4 trillion. According to the C.B.O., the deficit for 2012 will be 1.1 trillion. Either you have the mathematics aptitude of a Shetland pony or, much more likely, you’re lying.
BARTLET “All of the increase in natural gas has happened on private land, not on government land. On government land, your administration has cut the number of permits and licenses in half.”
OBAMA Maybe your difficulty is with the words “half” and “double.” Oil production on federal land is higher, not lower. And the oil and gas industry are currently sitting on 7,000 approved permits to drill on government land that they’ve not yet begun developing.
BARTLET “I think about half the green firms you’ve invested in have gone out of business.”
OBAMA Yeah, your problem’s definitely with the word “half.” As of this moment there have been 26 recipients of loan guarantees — 23 of which are very much in business. What was Bain’s bankruptcy record again?
BARTLET And finally?
OBAMA Governor, if your ideas are the right ideas for our country, if you have a plan and it’s the best plan for our future, if your vision is the best vision for all of us and not 53 percent of us, why aren’t you able to make that case in the same ZIP code as the truth?
It's damn good advice for the President, as well as good fun for the reader. President Obama needs to show that he has the fire to take on Romney, and he needs to, as his fictional predecessor points out, not let Romney get away with his lies about the effect of Romney's policies.
I don't think it's panic time yet, folks. As the reel-life president counsels the real-life President:
BARTLET You picked a bad night to have a bad night, that’s all. You’ve got two more chances to change the scoreboard, and Joe unplugged should be pretty good television too. Make Romney your cabana boy in New York.