The real Romney comes out of hiding
Only America's unique political system requires that the candidate behind in the polls look chipper while the candidate favored to win pout like a 5-year-old whose parents took away his Halloween candy. Yet this is exactly what happened Wednesday night as frontrunner President Obama made a new definition of playing it safe by staring at his podium while Governor Romney tried a desperate gambit to win back the votes of Americans; he decided to be himself.
Instead of the cringe-worthy Romney we have seen on the campaign, a confused candidate whose talking points seemed only aimed at the Fox News set, we had a confident politician willing to tackle important issues and appeal to the center. Romney didn't run away from passing healthcare in Massachusetts, he embraced it and contrasted his bipartisan approach with Barack Obama's use of reconciliation to force a vote in the Senate. Romney didn't cry class warfare as soon as Obama mentioned tax cuts on the rich, he made a clear promise not to lower tax cuts on the wealthy. Romney explained his policies, and while he did not always go into detail, he offered a vision of a free market approach while appearing presidential.
In response, Obama said little and looked afraid of making any mistakes. At times he spoke like a professor bored of his own subject. The president even uttered the painful phrase: "Let us talk about taxes, as I believe it is instructive". He also had no clear response to Romney's challenges. He was unable to refute Romney's arguments about delegating more power to the states or the importance of the ballooning deficit, and he could not answer why no Republican voted for his healthcare plan, which he described as a "Republican idea."
This is not to say Romney is without his own faults. His remarks to Jim Lehrer about cutting funding to PBS: "I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you too. But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for us," fell flat. Furthermore, PBS's share of the budget is negligible. While Romney is correct in the painful choices we need to make to bring down the debt, he should be tackling the monster of entitlement spending, not small and useful discretionary spending. Later in the debate Romney addressed those issues head on and spoke honestly about the need to reform Medicare.
The response to the debates from the left was that Romney won because he lied. This is not true. Yes, Romney did exaggerate some statistics, like all politicians, including Obama, do, but he did not tell any outright fibs. I hope that in the coming weeks Romney releases more information about his tax policies to quiet the claim that his plan does not add up. Furthermore, I have read many scathing reviews of moderator Jim Lehrer's control of the debate. Lehrer had the near impossible job of telling the most powerful man in the country to shut up and he did a good job of letting the candidates steer the conversation and draw contrasts between themselves. He left the challenging to the politicians and focused his energy on trying to keep the candidates from running over time.
As Obama reevaluates his performance, I am sure he will switch tactics and debate better in the future. What is important is not that he miscalculated but that Romney finally became comfortable and found his message. Despite claims to the contrary in the last couple of weeks, this election is far from over.
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