Favorite

Debating a world-class BS artist 

"You can say anything you want during a debate and 80 million people hear it,'' observed Peter Teeley, press secretary to Vice President Bush. "If reporters then document that a candidate spoke untruthfully, so what?''

—New York Times, November 1, 1984

Barring a total meltdown — such as forgetting to wear pants or calling for war with Canada — there was no way Mitt Romney wasn't going to be declared the winner of his first debate with President Obama.

As a TV show, the debates resemble "American Idol" for politicians. They give the nation's esteemed political media — TV news channels in particular — their best chance to exercise power. And what TV networks need is a close presidential race, driving up ratings and enhancing their self-importance.

For that to happen, Romney had to win.

It's also true that with the exception of Clinton-Dole in 1996, incumbent presidents have been declared first debate losers every time. Ronald Reagan performed so badly in 1984 that observers wondered if he'd grown senile. (We now know his Alzheimer's disease was in its beginning stages.) George W. Bush sank in the polls after his first contest with John Kerry.

It's also a lot harder being president than a mere candidate. President Obama isn't the first incumbent to find prepping for a TV show a trivial annoyance amid the 24/7 demands of the White House. (Not to mention of the campaign itself.) He's probably not the first to underestimate his opponent either.

That said, Obama's oddly phlegmatic performance in Denver gave TV handicappers exactly what they needed to market the campaign as a cliffhanger. The president appeared alternately bored and mildly annoyed — too professorial by half.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow mentioned Xanax; I was thinking Ambien. My mother-in-law in Texas thought Obama acted like a whipped dog. Democrats of a certain age who keep hoping to see the president channel his inner Harry S. Truman found him impersonating Illinois' own Adlai Stevenson instead — too cerebral to take his own side in a fight.

Was it only last month that journalists wrote profiles describing Obama as competitive to the point of cockiness? Where did that guy go?

An awful lot of it was "mere theatrics," as it's tempting to say. On paper, Obama did substantively better. But scary as it is, a TV game show is exactly how Americans choose the so-called "Leader of the Free World." How can the president's "handlers" not have reminded him to speak directly into the camera? To look his opponent in the eye?

But the president's biggest problem with Mitt Romney was the same one Newt Gingrich (of all people) complained about during the GOP debates: the extreme difficulty of debating a clever liar.

Actually, "liar" is the wrong word. It strikes voters as rude and needlessly confrontational. Nor does "flip-flopper" do justice to Romney's serial evasions, although I've long thought Obama's campaign was making a big mistake casting him as the "severely conservative" ideologue he pretended to be during the GOP primaries.

And when Romney made his inevitable pivot to what George W. Bush called "compassionate conservatism," then what?

Well, what we saw during the first debate: a world-class BS artist in action, with Obama seemingly frazzled by his opponent's circular arguments, multiple self-contradictions, and shameless reinvention. A great BS artist, see, isn't concerned with truth or falsity, only with selling himself.

Would health insurance companies have to cover "pre-existing" medical conditions after Romney kills "Obamacare"? Well, sure. That is, if you already have a paid-up policy or live in Massachusetts. Otherwise, good luck. Anyway, what are you, some kind of socialist?

Did Romney vow during a GOP debate last February that "We're going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent." Those were his exact words.

So how could he look President Obama in the eye and indignantly proclaim that "I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans?"

Good question. Supposedly, he's going to accomplish both things by cutting loopholes, although he won't say which ones.

To be fair, Obama almost cornered Romney one time, pointing out that whether it's taxes, the budget deficit, financial reform, healthcare, or whatever, Mitt's all grandiose promises, no credible details.

"I think the American people have to ask themselves," he said "is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good? Is it...that somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them?"

Having asked an excellent question, Obama unaccountably failed to answer it, veering off into bafflegab about how "these are tough problems, and we've got to make choices."

No, Mr. President, it's because Mitt Romney's a BS artist. He's running a carnival sideshow game with no pea under any of the shells.

And in Denver, you helped him get away with it.

Favorite

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Swing and miss

    It follows that baseball is both too important and too trivial to lie about. Even if your name is Hillary Clinton.
    • Aug 24, 2016
  • Russia and Trump

    Are we watching an American presidential campaign or the pilot episode of a bizarre new TV series? Or both?
    • Aug 17, 2016
  • World in chaos?

    Supposedly 2016 is the Year of the Angry Voter. To hear the pundits tell it, Americans are just furious.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • The cult of gun-toting

    That Idaho mother shot to death by her 2 year-old son in a Walmart store? Judging by Veronica Jean Rutledge's biography, you can be just about certain that she'd driven to the store wearing a seat belt, with her little boy buckled carefully into his car seat.
    • Jan 8, 2015
  • Send your daughters to A&M

    This just in: "Study Finds Fruitcake Right, Anti-gravity Left Share Similar Traits, Tactics."
    • Feb 5, 2015
  • In God's name

    Because I'm not running for anything, I can give it to you straight: Christianity pretty much got out of the genocide business when church and state became separated in the United States and Europe following the American Revolution.
    • Feb 12, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Swing and miss

    It follows that baseball is both too important and too trivial to lie about. Even if your name is Hillary Clinton.
    • Aug 24, 2016
  • Russia and Trump

    Are we watching an American presidential campaign or the pilot episode of a bizarre new TV series? Or both?
    • Aug 17, 2016
  • World in chaos?

    Supposedly 2016 is the Year of the Angry Voter. To hear the pundits tell it, Americans are just furious.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

August

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Swing and miss

    It follows that baseball is both too important and too trivial to lie about. Even if your name is Hillary Clinton.
  • Pay to play. Really?

    The announcement that Bill Clinton will distance himself and foreign and corporate contributors from the Clinton Foundation if Hillary Clinton is elected president has, if anything, increased attention to the intersection of money and politics at the Foundation, along with the ongoing email controversy.
  • Dollars and degrees

    Governor Hutchinson says a high graduation rate (ours is about the lowest) and a larger quotient of college graduates in the population are critical to economic development. Every few months there is another, but old, key to unlocking growth.
  • The real targets in Trump's outreach to African Americans

    Political analysts have spent recent days asking whether Donald Trump's outreach for African-American support last week at consecutive night rallies in Michigan and Virginia will produce electoral benefit with voters who, according to a raft of surveys, are rejecting him at rates matched only by the poor showing of Barry Goldwater in 1964 after Goldwater's high-profile opposition to the Civil Rights Act.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Swing and miss

    • No, but I visit Chicago often and have many close friends there. It's without a…

    • on August 27, 2016
  • Re: Swing and miss

    • Sorry for going off on such a tangent - I have been kind of chained…

    • on August 27, 2016
  • Re: Swing and miss

    • I didn't miss your point at all. I'm not even arguing. The use of the…

    • on August 27, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation