People think Romney won, press tells people

Mitt Romney touches a black person.

I watched last night’s debates on PBS, so it’s possible my perception was warped by the atmosphere of measured consideration. I had also just come from yoga and spent the first 20 minutes seeing each candidate as a big turkey leg, but other than that my memory is clear: Barack Obama looked composed if a little sluggish, and Mitt Romney was frantic. He talked over moderator Jim Lehrer and did that breathy puff-laugh he does when he can’t believe people are still asking him questions. Then I watched the post-debate commentary and learned that Romney actually won.

He didn’t actually advance more compelling arguments, of course. He continued to discuss his magical-thinking tax plan, in which the massive revenue shortfall of his 20% across-the-board tax reduction is offset by “accounting for growth.” He also lied a lot. Neither candidate would have won a truth-telling contest, but Obama at least cited evidence to back his claims. Romney just kept insisting that once he becomes president, everyone will get jobs and tax cuts and America moving again.

Yet somehow he won. On the PBS after-panel, everyone agreed that even though Obama made more sense and advanced more ideas, the American people would be bored by his technocratic numbernese. Romney, who talked over Jim Lehrer like a customer service rep talking over your grandpa, was “energetic.” His enormous, glistening face apparently made him easier to relate to than Obama, who was “flat.” Sure, Romney was infuriatingly vague to people who follow politics, but those people agreed on TV that stupid America would eat him up.

It’s an oddly self-fulfilling assessment. Even though high school forensics coaches and pundits alike thought Obama won the argument, this morning’s news insists that Romney won the debate. The experts don’t think that, but they think people think that. It’s a guessing game in which the guesser cannot be wrong: first you imagine how the American public will interpret events, and then you tell them that’s what happened.

Then you go back to deploring the state of contemporary journalism. Consensus that Obama bored the stupid is not unanimous, of course. There are the usual outliers (pun!): Erick Erickson of RedState would have you believe that Romney eviscerated Obama with facts as America cheered, and Huffington Post is aggregating silver linings. Those sites traffic in the sort of cynical, audience-pitched news that respectable journalists deplore. The fourth estate will collapse if reporters and pundits simply tell people what they want to hear. The only responsible course is to predict what people will think and tell them that.

Perhaps, though, I am the outlier. Maybe my smirking disdain for Mitt Romney colored my perception of his arguments. Maybe I follow politics too closely to see the big picture or—more likely—I am more susceptible to statistics and wonkery than the average voter. Still, this morning I cannot help but think that the tail is wagging the dog. The more I read the news, the more I think that my own impression of last night’s debates was just wrong. It’s a disturbing feeling on several levels.

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  1. I’m with you on this one. Most of Mitt’s statements were nonsense. Twice he mentioned China, accusing it of ‘cheating’ or something, then that junk about ‘is it worth borrowing money from china to pay for whatever’. What does it matter who buys our treasuries and shit? It’s just an obvious play on our latent fear of a chinese superpower. As far as his tax proposal, well now small businesses and middle income folks are off the table for an increased tax burden, but it will be revenue neutral. He insists that he will lower the effective rate for small business, so I guess he’ll be redistributing the wealth of CEOs, bankers, Doctors, and other highly paid professionals that don’t own a business. Somehow I doubt that’s what will happen. It was a total cop out to say the reason he won’t offer details is because he doesn’t want to impose his will on congress. He could offer a plan of some sort without it being absolute! And did he say he would make 4 million new jobs by becoming energy independent? Is it really so simple as that?

    I’m not really sure yet what the 716 billion being stolen/saved on medicare is about.

    I don’t really think Obama won that debate, so much as Mitt lost it by being so logically inconsistent.

  2. I watched the PBS feed, too, so the split-screen theatrics were lost on me, but goodness were there plenty of others to convince me Obama lost this round bad.

    A whole section on “the role of government” and he never mentioned the auto bailout? Romney dodges the cost of his tax plan and Obama doesn’t hold him to his 20% cut promise to bring the debate back to facts? Obama created more jobs in four years than Bush did in eight and we never hear that simple factoid once? Romney promises 12 million new jobs, which is exactly how many jobs the ecnomists say we’re going to get anyway — why didn’t Obama own that fact for himself right out of the gate? By my count, there are at least 426 ways to invoke the “47%” comments and Obama opts for … none of them? Ever? Gay rights, women’s health, immigration … away with all that! And worst of all, the event ends with two minutes of closing statements for which the president apparently didn’t prepare anything. He delivered half of his closing remarks, such as they were, to Jim our dreadful moderator, and another half of his remarks … to his podium.

    Surely somewhere in their oppo research, team Obama discovered that Romney likes to lie on the spot. Yet Obama debated like that was some big surprise the fact checkers would handle for him after the event was over. It was a dreadful performance on his part coupled with Romney doing what he does best: the polished shuckster presentation. I know the facts, so my vote isn’t changing. But I also know you have to fight for the facts in the debate — that’s what a debate is — and Obama didn’t. Sheesh, a strong defense would have been enough, but he also needed to make an animated, affirmative case for his past work and future plans and … nope. It was embarrassing.

  3. Obama practiced the debate with Sen. John Kerry. Kerry is a smart guy, but he is too much of a class act and gentleman to prepare POTUS for an aggressive, moderator ignoring, fact distorter like Romney.

    He needs to practice with the Democrat equivalent of Newt Gingrich.

  4. The Democrat equivalent of Newt. That’s interesting. Someone who will say anything to get elected. I’m only coming up with Bill Clinton here.

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