Heck, I'll admit it: on Oct. 3, Mitt Romney won the first presidential debate. In a walk. But there's a caveat: Romney came in first for shallow surface style, period.
As for substance and truth? No contest: it was the president's win to those who care about facts, actual performance and measurable results. A small win, perhaps -- and characteristic of "no-drama Obama," but it was a policy-steady victory for the president.
Romney won only if you think glib, slick, aggressively unctuous delivery is more important than constancy, truth and details. If fatuously bizarre, self-contradictory statements is presidential -- Romney's your man. And if refusing to present specific plans and actual policy details abjures telling America precisely how a Romney presidency will affect you, your children, your parents and our nation's future, well then -- Romney's your winner, in a knockout.
Romney has contradicted himself so repeatedly in his nonstop dream for America to like him that I now wonder what he actually believes in. Is there a real Mitt Romney any more? After trying to out-conservative all other conservatives during the endless Republican primary, Romney is now making a wild dash in the opposite direction as he runs against Mitt Romney himself.
Romney earned the title of flip-flopper during the Republican primary for desperately saying anything to please. He did it again, over and over on Oct. 3, perhaps most glaringly when he vowed (his actual words), "I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans."
But just a few months ago, he proudly explained his platform with, "We're going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20%, including the top 1%." But wait, during the debate Mitt claimed, "I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale that you're talking about." But of course, that touted tax cut remains a hallmark of his campaign. Perhaps he just forgot.
So which Romney is he now? The governor of Massachusetts who created the model for Obamacare, or the Romney who now vows to obliterate Obamacare -- essentially, the same plan he already extolled? During the debate he directly contradicted himself on the spot, pushing his own individual mandate, "And the best course for health care is to do what we did in my state." Sure, Mitt -- it's now called "Obamacare." And the Etch-A-Sketch was shaken once again.
As for President Obama's off-night performance, well: that's easy to understand. From the very beginning he (like most Americans) thought, sure -- that's Mitt Romney standing there. But which of Mitt's faces had actually trotted out? All of them? Which Mitt thought attacking Big Bird was a great idea?
Mitt claimed to like moderator Jim Lehrer, but another Mitt was behind the wheel of the bulldozer that ran over Lehrer all evening. How do you debate a chimera who's running on all sides of the issues, who reinvents himself on the fly as he attempts to please everyone at once?
And just what did Romney offer? Flat-out untruths such as claiming there are 23 million unemployed (the actual figure is half that) and that 50% of recent college graduates are unemployed (also false -- Romney flatly fabricated by doubling the actual figure.) Romney delivered only miss-truths, empty platitudes and trickle-down schemes -- schemes which have been pronounced absolutely wrong by actual budget experts.
Will the debate be a game-changer? Nope. Ironically, the post-debate polling shows an uptick in Romney's approval only with base Republicans. Obama's improved with both Democrats and Independents. And there's the rub for Mitt.
Romney did make one very major strategic campaign gaffe on Oct. 3: he showed his hand and now the president knows he's running against the many Mitts.
Two days after the debate, the encouraging 47-month low 7.8% unemployment rate took the wind out of Romney's sails, so what did he do? He attacked the recovery. Remember when President Reagan touted the 7.4% unemployment rate during "Morning in America?" Well, it's obvious Romney's no Reagan.
-- Les Marsden is chair of the Mariposa County Democratic Committee