A Day Late, A Debate Short

Today in Denver, 13 hours after he slumped off stage in inglorious defeat while conservatives set off rhetorical bonfires of celebration across the land, President Obama finally decided it was time to begin debating his opponent. At a post-debate rally that was more of a postmortem, Obama told dispirited Democrats that the previous evening "I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney,” because the real one “has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that." The president also delivered a line that couldhave partially rescued his unaccountably listless performance on Wednesday night: "Governor Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth.”

The truth was not exactly a challenge for Romney in the Denver debate; it was a theoretical concept he decided to eschew. Thrice before the cock crowed, he had denied not only his tax plan, but also his health-care and Medicare plans, his energy plan, his view of Dodd-Frank, and his opposition to financial regulation in general. As for government? It’s the greatest! At the same time, he shamelessly lied about the president’s plans and their effects on middle-income Americans, small businesses, and energy independence (to name just a few items). Igor Volsky at Think Progress counted no less than “37 myths in 28 minutes.” It may be time for a new entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for rapid-fire dissembling.

The most (only!) generous explanation for Obama’s lethargy on the debate stage is that he never expected Tea Party Romney to morph so aggressively, so completely, back into a latter-day version of Massachusetts Mitt. But desperate men do desperate things—and sometimes, as was the case last night for Romney, that sense of desperation energizes and inspires. The question for the remaining debates is no longer the one people were asking prior to Denver: “Which Romney will show up?” It’s which Obama will show up—the half-asleep one who declined to debate on Wednesday night, or the jolted-awake one who so effectively hammered his opponent’s dishonesty half a day too late?

So They Say

“I’m going to say something controversial here. Obama arrived in Denver at 2 p.m. today, just a few hours before the debate started. Romney did his debate prep in Denver. When you go to 5,000 feet and you only have a few hours to adjust—I don’t know, maybe … [inaudible].”

Al Gore, straining to explain what happened to the president last night

Daily Meme: Fire!

  • Although the narrative that warmed the stage for the first presidential debate revolved around how little these events of stagecraft and soundbites matter, all discussion of fundamentals and political science have since evaporated in favor of a Beltway-wide pandemonium.
  • Andrew Sullivan had the most apocalyptic reaction, reaching epidemic heights that probably inspired many of the other equally outsized reactions: "How is Obama's closing statement so fucking sad, confused and lame? He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight."
  • Conservatives gleefully watched MSNBC, an all-you-can-eat buffet of schadenfreude, as one after another of the liberal network's personalities tried to come to grips with what was perhaps the most one-sided presidential debate since JFK beat a shifty-looking Richard Nixon in 1960."
  • Chris Matthews went code red, demanding to know, "Where was Obama tonight?" He urged our nation's commander-in-chief to watch more Al Sharpton and Rachel Maddow so he knows what's going on.
  • Obama's shares on Internet betting sites are plummeting, perhaps a premonition of the sure-to-be impending Black Tuesday of his election odds.
  • John Hinderaker said that the debate "wasn’t a TKO, it was a knockout, and that Obama "would be below average as a high school debater."
  • Joe Klein agreed: "I mean, he got his butt kicked. It was, in fact, one of the most inept performances I’ve ever seen by a sitting President."
  • John McCain was "surprised, frankly, at the president's poor performance."
  • Michael Moore, still outraged about that whole Bush presidency thing, tweeted, "This is what happens when u pick John Kerry as your debate coach."
  • Ed Kilgore: "If viewers thought Obama was phoning it in, that will matter, and it will matter a lot more if they are being told by every talking head in Christendom that Romney won big."

What We're Writing

  • Tom Carson: “Everybody over six in this country knows that Big Bird would have been a better moderator” than Jim Lehrer.
  • Jamelle Bouie: Last night’s debacle won’t change the campaign.

What We're Reading

Poll of the Day

While reproductive rights went unmentioned in last night’s domestic-policy debate, fully one in six Americans say they won’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t share their views on the issue—one of the highest percentages since 1992. Almost as many pro-choice voters as pro-lifers take this position.

 For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.

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