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This Isn’t the ’90s: Why Obama Won Last Night’s Debate

By Earl Yazel
Thursday, October 4, 2012 18:25 EDT
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Obama at the first debate (AFP Photo)
 
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Could we take exception to this blanket disparaging of President Obama’s debate performance last night? The very fact that some people thought a very calm Obama “lost” is exactly why I’m for him, in my heart, more than I was  a week or so ago.

People are behaving as if President Obama could have simply attacked Governor Romney in the manner that Bill Clinton can in speeches, or as Obama himself attacks in speeches.

But things aren’t that way — not for him, not in the format in question, and not in this situation.

And this sure as hell isn’t the 1990s, incidentally, is it?

Some of us also seem to think that the best thing that a sitting President can do when confronting someone like a Governor Romney in a limited debate setting is to behave as if he’s an NYU Political Science grad student  standing out at the Park and ramble on in an emotive webcast the moment Romney calls him a name, or tells a lie.

If Mr. Obama doesn’t behave like a very cool customer all the way through this electoral process– particularly face-to-face with his opponent — with more of the world watching than was ever before possible,  the consequences, day-to-day, before or after this election, are literally impossible for most of us to easily or entirely grasp at the moment here in the United States.

May we look at the latest headlines regarding only the “newer” international stories?  We have Turkey firing on Syria, and vice-versa.  We’ve got Japan and China exchanging very angry words about some little uninhabited “islets”…

… then there’s all that other stuff almost everyone knows about and has had time to digest. Perhaps all of this bores some of us because it’s older than a week — but it shouldn’t. Really, it shouldn’t.

This isn’t the 1990′s. Governor Romney can act as much like an old-school car salesman as he wants to, start yakking away about PBS, liken President Obama to one of his “boys”… and use all of those old debate tricks to engage Mr. Obama’s overt anger. That’s Romney’s advantage at the moment.

And it’s all he has. However: doing these obvious, jerky dodges about the same old stuff, taxes and health care for ninety minutes rather than anything else regarding domestic policy, and simultaneously lying about these matters as he glares and beams… none of these tricks will work when he’s talking about anything beyond, or approaching, the Cayman Islands.

What’s galling about this regarding progressive types today is how they’re behaving as if all of this isn’t the case.

President Clinton can, indeed, come out and be Elvis in the party atmosphere of a convention, throw out one-liners, and everyone can be nostalgic for the time that he was President — which, indeed, is very good, great for morale, and we all loved that speech — but Elvis isn’t Obama’s meme, anyhow.

Obama is Denzel.  President Obama, particularly in debates that the globe is watching and re-watching more closely than even the debates of four years ago, simply can’t be as emotional as he is in his campaign speeches. Especially when standing across a stage from his opponent. Has it ever occurred to some of you that this was the very first time that many people overseas have ever actually seen Governor Romney beyond a photo or a soundbite on CNN International? They got a load of him in the British press and media, all right, during the Olympics… think he’d win a national election, there, now?

“Well, yeah, all of that doesn’t matter — this was about America only, last night…”  Sure, sure, sure. sure. Get all Isolationist on me, now. It’s convenient, but it just doesn’t stand up to the larger world scenario that we’re now all in. We can’t say the world is watching one moment regarding some street brawl between cops and a crowd on a suburban street somewhere in the U.S., and then get cozy about how Mr. Obama should have given Romney  Ye Ol’  Smackdown last night as if it were Just Us. It makes no sense.

Obama can let Romney chatter on and on, and he needs to be polite and calm, even as Romney dismisses and commandeers the agenda from the moderator for a time (a newsperson renowned for acting the gentleman on all occasions and the U.S. pundits are now ballyhooing for being badgered and bullied), and Mr. Romney can fill the air with chatter — until things go Tea Party, again, and once again the Republican candidate is complaining about Big Bird, complaining about Spain. And saying a great many things that he himself knows won’t line up with facts even as he, himself, has previously stated them.

Governor Romney knows this, and so does President Obama. Why don’t more of us?

Earl Yazel currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he grew up and attended university. He has written for and participated in broadcasts for the flagship Pacifica Radio station KPFA in Berkeley, California, on the long-running Over the Edge program. He may be reached at e_yazel@yahoo.co.uk

Earl Yazel
Earl Yazel
Earl Yazel currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he grew up and attended university. He has written for and participated in broadcasts for the flagship Pacifica Radio station KPFA in Berkeley, California, on the long-running Over the Edge program. He may be reached at e_yazel@yahoo.co.uk
 
 
 
 
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