Four years ago, then-Sen. Obama faced still-Sen. McCain, and of course being a skilled and astute political junkie and politician, Obama understood that McCain would tell an occassional lie. McCain revealed himself as cranky, and at times nasty, but he never was more than a garden-variety Republican liar. Nothing special, in that regard. Mitt Romney is different. Mitt Romney tells lies as naturally as he breathes. His entire campaign is constructed of lies. His entire identity is constructed of lies. Mitt Romney wouldn't find the truth if given a map, a compass, GPS and professional guides, because Mitt Romney isn't even interested in finding the truth.
President Obama's problems in the first debate were twofold, and one was about style and the other substance. On style, the president seemed too passive and reserved, while Romney seemed like he had had an extra couple cups of coffee, which may not be something to which Romney is habituated. He seemed hyped. Like a frenetic gerbil. And while at least some weren't charmed by his running roughshod over the hapless Jim Lehrer, most of the pundits and a good majority of the viewers seem to think he came off as aggressive and passionate.
The second problem for President Obama was that he seemed unprepared to deal with someone as gleefully mendacious as Romney, and if there was one characteristic that best defined Romney's demeanor during the debate, it was his glee. He was having fun. He was telling lie after lie after lie after lie after lie after lie after lie after lie after lie after lie, and tens of millions of people were watching, and many of them were not informed enough to know that Romney was trying to become the Michael Phelps of political mendacity, and Romney was having the time of his life.
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One of President Obama's biggest problems throughout his presidency has been that he's a nice guy who genuinely attempts to understand and work with people, and he keeps running into Republicans who are not nice and who do not want to work with him. Mitt Romney is not a nice guy. He is a liar. He is an asshole. Pretending otherwise is doing him favors. President Obama can't say what we who are not president can say about Romney being a liar and an asshole, but by calmly and consistently refuting and revealing Romney's endless stream of lies he can prove it without saying it.
Scott Adams summed up the debate and the reaction:
I didn't watch the entire debate but I tuned in just in time to watch Mitt Romney use the President of the United States as a bar rag. I wondered if I was the only viewer who was thinking that one of the worst public speakers of all time was drop-kicking one of the best speakers of all time, but I see today that most pundits agreed on two points:Echidne concurred:
That tells you everything you need to know about the value of presidential debates. Sure, the fact-checkers weighed in afterwards, but by then the damage was done. Truth is literally an afterthought in politics, and apparently overrated.
- Romney lied 500% more than President Obama.
- Romney totally won the debate.
The consensus appears to be fairly strong: Romney won the debate and he also lied the most.And while it would be nice if a fairly strong consensus agreed that lying the most makes one the loser of a debate, that's not the world in which we live. Fact-checkers got busy, and lo and behold if they didn't discover that Romney had spent the bulk of the debate telling lies, but by then it was too late. The narrative had calcified. Romney was better at presenting his narrative, and it didn't matter that his narrative bore little relation to reality, because President Obama didn't respond to the narrative as narrative. It's not enough to refute one lie one time when Romney will repeat it 10 times in 38 minutes. It has to be refuted every time it is spoken. Romney's narrative has to be revealed not only as wrong but as deliberately dishonest. Had the president taken such an approach, the pundits and the public would have reacted very differently to the debate, and Mitt Romney now would be but a political bug splattered on the president's reelection windshield.
The advice to the president for future debates is simple: Mitt Romney is going to lie. Mitt Romney is going to lie a lot. He will repeat lies the president thinks he has refuted. He will ignore those refutations and continue to lie every time he has a chance to speak. It's not just Romney's political strategy, it's the kind of person he is. The president needs to be prepared. He doesn't need to be mean or nasty, but he does need to be alert to every lie, every time Romney speaks one. He needs to refute every lie, which will take up the bulk of the remaining debates, but that will become the narrative of the debates. Romney isn't just lousy on the issues, he's a lousy person.
Mitt Romney is a liar. A smug, smarmy, unrepentant liar. President Obama needs to take the fun out of it, for Romney. He needs to refute the lies, in real time, as they happen, with facts and figures, and it is very important that he have lists of sources to cite, so both the pundits and the more alert viewers at home will be able to check them, or at the very least understand that, unlike Romney's claimed sources, they not only are credible but actually exist. The president needs to enjoy himself. He needs to be serious and focused, but also bemused that the Republican Party has chosen as its standard-bearer someone who is so fundamentally dishonest. It's that simple.
Most presidential aspirants prepare for debates by crunching numbers and practicing sound bites and trying to anticipate every possible question and response. Debating Mitt Romney is different. Mitt Romney is capable of saying anything about anything at any given time. And that needs to be at the forefront of the president's consciousness going into the next debates. It's not only about explaining and debating the nuances of policy, it's about refuting lies. In real time. As they happen. Every time they happen. Because they will happen. Over and over and over. Because President Obama is not debating a typical politician. He is debating a politician who lives to lie, and who couldn't stop lying even if he tried, because he is so antipathetic to the truth that he wouldn't even recognize it if he accidentally stumbled upon it.