Craig Frucht | Road to November
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 07:10
I don’t know what you’d call the opposite of a magic trick, but it’s what we got from President Obama last week. The same president that electrified crowds on a storybook run to the White House four years ago sucked the air out of the room in the first of this month’s three presidential debates.
But this will not be a column about Obama’s torpid performance. By all means, enough has been written already. Nor will it be a column about Jim Lehrer’s ability to moderate a debate, which can be likened charitably to Bobby Valentine’s ability to manage a baseball team.
This is a column about magic — the kind of magic that allows Mitt Romney to tell 27 lies in 38 minutes on national television and then be declared the winner of something.
When you think about the message that each candidate delivered Wednesday night, it makes perfect sense that Romney’s would be more popular. Obama’s core idea was that with hard work and hard choices, we can continue on a slow but promising path to recovery. Romney’s was that he will make every good thing that voters want to happen come true as soon as he walks into the Oval Office.
So it’s no wonder people found Romney more exciting, especially since Obama’s expression by the end of the debate looked as though he had just witnessed a wounded animal slowly die.
But if Romney’s to be believed, then it’s entirely possible — easy, in fact — to give the wealthy windfall tax breaks without adding a cent to the deficit; to turn Medicare over to private insurance companies without endangering seniors’ healthcare; and to achieve universal health coverage without an individual mandate, a government-run insurance option or any other kind of regulatory oversight.
Many Democrats complained after the debate that Romney’s positions had tacked sharply to the left. That gives him too much credit, in my opinion, because it implies at least some degree of ideological coherence. Romney’s ideas reflected none of the realities of governing in a hyper-partisan climate or the sacrifices that are necessary for progress to occur. The only guiding principle in his positions was that they’re all popular and, when combined, utterly unachievable.
Instead of discrediting Romney’s extravagant claims, however, or at least pointing out how inconsistent they are with his past positions, most of the media — even liberal MSNBC — was content simply to contrast the two candidates’ body language and declare a victor based on it.
Then, two days after the debate, the government released its September jobs report, which showed that the unemployment rate unexpectedly declined from 8.1 percent to 7.8. Instead of celebrating this news, many prominent Republicans alleged a liberal conspiracy, not unlike the one that supposedly led to Obama’s strong polling numbers last month.
There’s no need to waste page space discussing this senseless theory. Right-wing Republicans are welcome to pretend that economic growth is only possible under a Republican administration, and they can pretend that Obama is a failure, a foreigner and a corrupt socialist.
They will also pretend that Romney magicked himself into office with the nice-sounding promises he made on the debate floor last week. The polls, however, don’t bear them out: Romney gained ground, to be sure, but his numbers have already leveled off, and Obama retains a slight lead that he is unlikely to relinquish.
Obama was caught off guard last week by lies that surpassed even Romney’s standards of outlandishness. There are still two debates left in the race, and Obama is a man who, above anything, hates to lose. Next week, he’ll be armed with a more compelling vision of America’s reality, and Romney’s grab bag of vague reforms will seem feeble by comparison.
Craig Frucht is a senior majoring in psychology and political science. He can be reached at Craig.Frucht@tufts.edu.