There’s no spinning this one, babe: my guy lost in last night’s debate. Obama was off his game, and Romney was so much better than usual he looked almost lifelike. But the real story of last night’s debate reinforces the fact that Democrats are winning the overall debate in this race, because the way Romney won last night was by acting like a Democrat — and by being a stunningly blatant bald-faced liar. Last night’s debate will not change the basic dynamic of this race because Romney is playing on our turf. The biggest question coming out of last night is not whether the election dynamic is different, it is whether the press corps does its job and calls Romney on his lies. Having lived through the Al Gore debate where a couple of tiny exaggerations set off a media firestorm over whether Al Gore was a serial liar, if the media doesn’t nail Romney on his BS, it would be a moment of shame. Based on a video I got sent this morning by the Obama campaign, it looks like last night reporters started to dip their toes into the water on a Romney Pinocchio routine, so we’ll see if they do their job and that keeps building.
Whether the media does its job, though, Romney’s strategy last night was remarkable: after years of thoroughly sucking up to the right wing base of his party in every conceivable way, Romney last night sounded more like a Democrat than a great many Democrats I have seen over the years. He talked about how important regulations were to a market economy. He decried Too Big To Fail banks. He said he wanted to lower the tax burden on middle income people but didn’t want the wealthy to pay any less than they currently pay. He emphasized that our society needs to take care of poor people and seniors. He passionately disparaged cuts to Medicare. He talked about the importance of helping the middle class and how we needed rising wages and incomes, not just more jobs. He emphasized the importance of high quality teachers and schools. He said he wanted to keep people from losing their health insurance because of preexisting conditions.
Romney’s policies put the lie to all these things, and the rhetoric is the precise opposite of what he said during the Republican primary and his remarks on the infamous 47 percent video. But no matter: we still have the Etch-A-Sketch device. And we have a candidate who is willing to say absolutely anything if the moment calls for it.
The most fascinating thing about all this isn’t that Romney is so willing to say anything, even if it contradicts his policy stands and past rhetoric, because he has been doing all that for quite a while. The fascinating thing is how the Republicans are walking away from their own arguments about the economy. For years now, we have been hearing from Republicans that we have to cut taxes and regulations for the wealthy so that they can create more jobs. We have been hearing that since 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax, we will need to tax lower and middle income people more. We have been hearing that we need to cut programs that help poor and middle income folks because people were growing too dependent on government, that we had too many “takers” and not enough “makers.”
We heard absolutely none of those arguments last night. In his most blatant lie of a night that was chock full of them, Mitt even tried to frame his and Ryan’s budget proposal, which openly lowers taxes for the wealthy and massively slashes funding for virtually all domestic programs, as a budget that would do the opposite of what it does. What we heard from Mitt last night is that you should vote for him because he really is a Democrat.
The only good news from the night was that, while polls show voters thought Romney won, the debate really did not change the nature of this race at all. Whether the press corps does its job or not and calls out Romney for all the lies, this election is being fought on our turf. In the campaign ads and speeches, in the next three debates, the Obama team needs to clearly and definitively show, as all the evidence makes obvious, that Romney really is not a Democrat and does not share the values or support the policies he said he did last night. If we stay true to ourselves, we will show that Romney and Ryan are definitely not true to what they believe, or being honest with the American public.