FRIENDS, WE NEED TO HAVE A HEART-TO-HEART, just among progressives. Close the door. I want say something.
I’m glad that Obama lost the debate. Yes, I just said that. It was painful, and it was maddening. For those of us who have stood with Barack Obama since 2007, it was even a bit humiliating. And it was just what we needed. It had to happen, the proverbial slap in the face.
Over the past few months, we progressives have grown complacent. I admit that it happened to me, too. All those blue arrows pointing upward. And Bill Clinton’s convention performance – did you see him? Wow. Nate Silver was putting victory at 87% odds, after all. That’s almost 90%, which is just shy of 100%. One-hundred percent, guys. Let’s celebrate!
And, so, the thought of showing up to another canvass or another phone bank to help turn out the vote faded from my mind. Couldn’t I relax through October just a bit, and leave the slog to someone else? Well, everyone started leaving it to someone else.
I was not fired up. I was not ready to go.
The truth is that, up until Wednesday night, President Obama wasn’t beating Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney was beating Mitt Romney. Between the snarky comments about the 47%, the bizarre GOP convention, the tax returns, the idiotic remarks about the President sympathizing with terrorists, and the twenty seven houses and Olympic show horse, it’s actually shocking that Romney was only down by about 5 points. All we had to do was sit back and watch the show.
That, apparently, was the President’s strategy going into the debate: put your head down and stay clear of the shrapnel as the R-Bomb explodes on stage.
We’ve gotten accustomed to this mental model, that a debate is about which candidate was more of a blithering fool or blustering zealot. That’s understandable – George W Bush, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Rick Perry. Need I go on?
BUT A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO DENVER: a different Mitt Romney showed up. This one had energy. And he sounded reasonable. He was completely different from the Mitt Romney who had gone to twenty-plus Republican debates, moving ever-rightward on immigration, taxes, women’s rights, gun control, and Sesame Street. Never mind that Wednesday’s Mitt Romney was entirely inconsistent with previous Mitt Romneys. (All of that has been well documented by journalists already.) The fact is that the typical viewer could imagine him in the White House and on their TVs for four years. And that was enough.
Why am I happy about Wednesday? Because this moment was inevitable, and I’m glad that it happened with a month to go instead of a week to go. We needed a bit of fear in our otherwise-smug sail into a second term. And now we’ve got it.
SO, I’M GOING TO BE BLUNT: STOP CRYING. I don’t want to hear that Mitt lied, or Mitt beat up Jim Lehrer. Yes, he did. That’s politics. No more hand-wringing. We lost that round. Get over it. It’s just one round.
Now, get up off of the floor. Let Obama worry about what Obama can do differently. Let’s worry about what we can do differently. Let’s ask ourselves: if we truly care about the election – about economic fairness, about Medicare, about rights for women, for LGBTQ people, for people of color – then we care enough to do more than watch a debate and shake our heads. This is worth it.
Being “in this together” means being willing to work and fight, even when you’d rather be doing something else – especially when you’d rather be doing something else.
Andrew Solomon is one of the founding Board members of ACT NOW. He summarizes his political philosophy as "progressive ends, pragmatic means." You can reach him at solomon [at] actnowny.org. More by Andrew at http://www.actnowny.org/