Oct 5, 2012 - By The San Jose (Calif.) Mercury NewsThe Mitt Romney who shone in Wednesday night's debate was the moderate Massachusetts governor, not the condescending presidential candidate who spent the past year pandering to the far right. The Barack Obama who phoned in a lackluster performance was the policy wonk president steeped in detail, not the fiery, eloquent campaigner who so inspired voters four years ago.
And to complete the bizarre pastiche, the once-incisive PBS newsman Jim Lehrer was a hapless bystander to a debate he was supposed to focus and control.
As a consequence, Romney got a virtual pass on promoting the same policies as George W. Bush and on trying to occupy every position at once, from the Everyman who feels the pain of the poor to the Ayn Rand free marketeer bent on again deregulating the financial industry and moving Medicare toward vouchers.
Meanwhile, Obama painted himself into a defensive corner. He let pass Romney's claim that he didn't work with Republicans, when in fact he has bent too far to try to compromise with a party whose publicly stated goal from Day One was to make him fail. He floundered in the weeds of his policies instead of driving home his successful rescue of the auto industry, the need to educate the future workforce and the urgency of investing in America. No business ever thrived by only cutting costs.
The president approached this debate as if the audience knew all about the issues. Mistake. Romney came in fresh, with an eye toward captivating independents who are just now tuning in. His was the smart strategy. Now the president has to play catch-up, both for his own sake and for the congressional candidates who will ride on his coattails.
Obama has more facts on his side, although he managed to blur enough figures to give fodder to the fact checkers. His policies are the ones that will rebuild a shrinking middle class, maintain the retirement safety net and fairly spread the tax burden.
By contrast, Romney's deficit reduction plan would lower tax rates and eliminate most deductions to make up for it _ but there's no obvious way this could result in the same amount of revenue. Romney was shameless in again claiming his vague insurance reform ideas would cover pre-existing conditions. When he said this on talk shows a few weeks ago, his staff quickly backtracked; it just continued the limited protections that were in place before Obamacare. Yet Wednesday, Romney said it again. People who weren't listening until now would not know the hypocrisy of it.
Now the Obama campaign needs to home in on the many inconsistencies between Romney's debate rhetoric and his actual proposals. And for the next debate, Obama needs to get out of the weeds, meet Romney's challenges head on and launch some of his own. There is no lack of material.
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