The First Presidential Debate: Mitt Won By Lying
The first televised debate happened in 1960. It was produced by Don Hewitt, the founder of 60 Minutes. It was Nixon vs. Kennedy. Richard Nixon–who was sick, and John F. Kennedy, who had just returned from Southern California and looked like a charismatic movie star. The story goes that those who watched it on television called it a win for JFK, while those who listened to it on the radio gave it to Nixon.
The takeaway? When it comes to debates, style and flash matter more than substance, and since the invention of the television, they always have. How else to explain last night, the first in a series of debates between Governor Romney and President Obama? How else to explain the reaction this morning? Some examples of pundit reactions.
We could go over the intricacies of their arguments, run the numbers, examine the studies cited and the laws in question. But none of that matters in election politics. Here’s what matters: President Obama stuck closely to his narrative, rarely deviating, even when he needed to deviate. Governor Romney lied. And 12 hours later, the media has declared Mitt Romney the winner. Was he actually the winner? Only if you believe that the man on stage was actually representing Mitt Romney’s plans, campaign promises and convictions. Does it matter? No. Unless President Obama can aggressively take down Governor Romney in the next debates, the election has tightened. All Mitt Romney wanted to do was change the narrative of the media, away from his 47% video, away from his flubbing of the Libya attack, away from his personal wealth, earned by shipping jobs to China. He succeeded.
President Obama came prepared to attack the Mitt Romney of the campaign trail, the guy who barely eked out a win over Newt Gringrich and Rick Santorum. That’s not who showed up. Should President Obama have pressed him harder, called him out on his lies? Perhaps. But maybe the members of the media–beyond a few aberrations–should not let Governor Romney come away with the win. (Because, after all, this isn’t high school debate, where there’s a winner and a loser based solely on what they brought to the competition. Mitt Romney could have stood up there and cried like a baby while President Obama delivered a speech that rivaled MLK’s I Have A Dream speech, but if the media declared him the winner, that’s the narrative, that’s the story, and the race tightens.)
The economic debate was always the hardest for President Obama to win. These are uncertain economic times and we are a country scarred by a financial meltdown with confusing, obscure roots–that go beyond President Obama and beyond President Bush to the administrations of President Clinton and President Reagan. We are constantly given numbers and told what to think about them–the unemployment rate, number of new jobs added, etc. etc. etc. But how many Americans know how we calculate that unemployment rate and therefore, exactly what it means when that number goes up? When we talk about jobs, what kind of jobs do we mean? Do we mean salaried professional jobs with benefits and security and the potential for growth–the kind of jobs that are the foundation for the U.S.’s precious middle class? Or do we mean part-time wage jobs at WalMart? The GOP has tried to frame the economic narrative with “Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?” Many of us are not better off than we were pre-2008 meltdown. But if we don’t understand that the roots of the economic crisis go beyond this decade, how can we understand that we need more than 4 years to recover? If we don’t understand the concept of a bubble economy–and the inevitable collapse that occurs–how can we understand that going back to the height of that bubble is not sustainable, and therefore, should not be desirable? These are all concepts important to understand the true impact of President Obama’s economic presidency–and these are all concepts impossible to communicate well in the strictly regimented debate format, more conducive to sound bites and zingers than well-reasoned policy arguments.
Governor Romney will do worse when it comes to debating foreign policy. President Obama killed bin Laden, helped the overthrow of Khaddafi, and ended the war in Iraq. He gave a brilliant speech to the U.N. over the Jewish holidays during a tense visit between the Israelis and the Iranians, who are on the brink of war. Mitt Romney has flubbed the only foreign policy incident that mattered–the killing of the American ambassador in Benghazi. President Obama will also come out strong when it comes to social policies, such as abortion, gay marriage, and birth control, as Mitt Romney comes from a party that has been continuously inserting a parade of feet into their collective mouth.
But we should not discount what happened in Denver last night, and what happened across the country this morning. The fact that we have crowned Mitt Romney–who got up on stage and blatantly lied to 40 million people–the victor hints at something dark about us as a society. We accept the lies. They are not subtle, they are not hidden. They are not up for debate. Mitt Romney lied, and we say he looked more presidential…why? Because he didn’t say ‘uh’ as many times?
It doesn’t matter who won or lost on that stage last night. What matters is that this morning, when the op-eds were published, we lost as a country. We lost as a democracy. We claim we want to spread democracy overseas, but how can we do that when we have this very real threat to democracy here at home? (After all, how can we make a fair and informed choice if we accept lies?)
I, too, hope that President Obama will be more aggressive. But I hope that we as a people can be more aggressive as well. No more lies. It’s unacceptable.
Written by Jess Mary Aloe
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