As usual, Charles Pierce understood the essence of last night's Mile High Madness. His commentary should be read in its entirety, but the best excerpt was here:
The only way that the wonkish, garbled, and distracted performance by the president makes any kind of sense is if the White House has internal polls that indicate that a majority of Americans believe that Willard Romney eats live chickens in praise of Satan. The basic fact of this entire campaign is that Willard Romney is a transcendently ridiculous figure. Some of it is his own doing. Some of it was forced upon him because he sought the nomination of a party that has become demented. Everything else flows from that. And, because of the president's unaccountable lassitude — is it possible that the whole angry-black-man kerfuffle ginned up on the right on Monday got into the man's head a little? — Willard Romney was able to portray himself as a firm, principled national figure of what passes for the rational center. I didn't think that was possible.The last paragraph linked above is what bothers me most. The president had multiple potential lines of attack last night. He never really even tried to launch any of them. The Boca Bombshell Video was pure political gift that, thankfully, Team Obama has used to craft a devastatingly effective ad that airs regularly here in FL. The candidate himself, however, never raised it once. If an opponent handed Bill Clinton a rapier like that, Clinton would've left his opponent (to steal from Jim Croce) looking like a jigsaw puzzle w/ a couple of pieces gone.
What happened on Wednesday night — what the president allowed to happen on Wednesday night — has changed this entire election.
What you saw, I think, anyway, was the end product of the president's consuming naivete as regards the American political process, as well as the end product of thirty years of a Democratic Party that has slid so far to the center-right that a Democratic president found himself arguing with a "severely conservative" Republican candidate over the issues of how much the Democratic president had cut out of the budget, how many regulations he'd trimmed, how much more devoted to the middle-class-kick-in-the-balls Simpson-Bowles "plan" he is, and how he would "reform" Social Security and Medicare — and, frankly, a Democratic president losing some of those arguments to his left. A Democratic president got through an entire debate and didn't mention unions at all, even though the fact that our teachers are unionized here in Massachusetts is a big part of the reason why Romney got to brag on how good our education system is.
Seriously now, how much would you have bet going in that the president would spend as much time as he did on areas in which "Governor Romney and I agree" and not mention the famous 47-percent video at all? Of all of the night's obvious surreality, that has to take the prize. By the time Willard got to his essential Tentherism — a severe form of wingnut crackpottery on which, of course, he was not called to account in any substantive way — I was sure that, somewhere, Al From, that greasy corporatist lackey, was smiling. He's got the political process of his dreams. Of course, it is also the case that The Great Sellout is already under way, so what the hell does it matter.
The president did not seem to be prepared for the energy of his opponent last night. He's not debating Grandpa Simpson this time around. Obama has only faced 2 Goopers while running for federal office. In '04, he faced a wacko talk show host. In '08, he faced a superannuated senator who didn't know how many houses he had. While Romney has more holes than a porcupine's underwear, he presents challenges that Keyes and McCain didn't.
Fortunately, it was only round 1, and (including the VP debate) there are 3 more rounds to go. Mondale demolished Reagan in their first debate in '84, and Kerry clearly had the upper hand in his first debate w/ W in '04. We all know how both of those elections turned out. Romney is still recovering from a series of self-inflicted wounds, and he made assertions (like denying the cost of his tax plan) that can and must be challenged in future rounds.
While I expect that the race will tighten in the coming days, Obama still holds the upper hand. The primary frustration of last night comes from the fact that Obama had the chance to put Romney on the canvas pretty much for good, and he blew that golden opportunity. If Pelosi is going to get back the gavel, the top of the ticket needs a decisive win that leads to a national Dem sweep. The chances of such a sweep are visibly lower today than they were yesterday.
In closing, I quote Pierce's final 'graf:
The fact is that the president is a cool and rational man and he is facing someone who is running as a caricature not only of himself, but of the several other selves he's found it convenient to construct for himself along the way. It is possible that a cool and rational man is incapable of confronting someone this ridiculous on the simple grounds of how ridiculous that someone actually has become. How to do it may not be within the cool and rational man's comprehension. But what happened on Wednesday night — and, more to the point, what the president allowed to happen on Wednesday night — has changed this entire election. It has given the Beltway press the horse race of their dreams, which is going to matter a lot over the next couple of weeks. Moreover, it may have buried progressive government forever by demonstrating how tight the boundaries really are around what is considered acceptable economic solutions to a battered national economy. That will remain the case, clearly, even if this president gets re-elected. If that's this president's final legacy, he has only himself to blame.While an election clearly wasn't lost last night, other equally important things likely were.