[Editor’s Note: After the last presidential debate I got an email from Bob Harris a longtime friend. He provided me his views about the debate and Obama’s inability to use the tools of his position. Bob is an astute observer of Washington, the national political scene and Congress. I thought Bob’s email observation and the Michael Gerson column he sent would be interesting reading before tomorrow’s presidential debate. He agreed to this being published.]
Throughout Obama’s Presidency, I have complained about his inability to use the White House and his powerful position to any advantage, whether politically or diplomatically. He just hasn’t seemed to understand and, therefore take advantage, of his own office. It is his only for the trappings. Very frustrating…
Obama debate performance and week following has further demonstrated his total lack of understanding of his office and how to use. He stood side-by-side with Romney and let Romney dominate him in a debate — this after nearly 4 years of standing next to leaders from around the world. Odd and very frustrating…but not unexpected.
Romney has more positions that some jockeys have mounts during a racing season. He can’t find one he likes and will stick to it long enough to embrace it.
I am forwarding Michael Gerson’s column from the Post today pointing out how Romney has found a new voice — a convincing voice at that. It is the voice of “his inner centrist.” This is very important and it must be understood for what it is by the President and the Obama team before the next debate. If Obama does not turn this new trend toward Romney by the debate next week, he will be inside the 16th pole with blinkers on, not seeing Romney charging past him from behind.
The column is below, but I pulled out the last paragraph to highlight here:
“Anger in the Obama camp is understandable. Romney seems comfortable with his new tone — almost relieved to be back into Massachusetts mode. He is better positioned to appeal to independents in Ohio and elsewhere. And Obama is still reacting to Romney, not the other way around. Days after they parted in Denver, Romney is still dominating the debate.”
This is where the President’s lack of understand of the power of his office really comes through. An incumbent president should never be in the position of responding…And, that is what we have seen for the past 3-plus years, why should anyone expect that to change during the campaign.
From Romney, a change in tone, not policy
By Michael Gerson, Published: October 8
Mitt Romney’s debate message has become his campaign strategy. In Denver, he was a bipartisan dealmaker, concerned about the lives of real people, especially when they inhabit battleground states. A day later, he apologized for his “47 percent” comment — which should have been done weeks before. In that same interview, he went on to talk about social mobility: “The gap between the rich and the poor has gotten larger. . . . I want the poor to get into the middle class.” His stump speech now features populist themes. Romney has discovered his inner centrist.
After considering their range of options, critics have chosen apoplexy. Democratic officials accused Romney of “outright fabricating” and “basically lying.” David Axelrod called Romney “Gantry-esque” — a charge of exceptional viciousness, hidden by literary obscurity. (Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry was an alcoholic, abusive, sacrilegious fraud.) President Obama, after recovering from the Denver altitude, set out this challenge: “If you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth.”
So is Romney being “dishonest” (Axelrod) or tacking a bit toward the middle, as presidential candidates often do? Is this readjustment fraudulent or merely later than expected?
For the most part, Romney has shifted his tone and emphasis, not his policy. All along, he has proposed tax reform, not merely tax cuts. He never opposed all federal financial regulations — though this is not the kind of thing a Republican emphasizes in the primaries. In these cases, Romney hasn’t changed his plans. He has merely refuted caricatures of his plans. You can hardly blame a man for refusing to be a straw man.
On a few issues in the debate, Romney’s transformation seemed a little too eager. Maintaining education funding seems at odds with his proposal for a 5 percent, across-the-board cut in federal discretionary spending — though it wouldn’t be that hard to make up $3.5 billion in education cuts elsewhere in a $425 billion domestic discretionary budget, if this is Romney’s intention. His health plan would not guarantee insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions in every case. But it would heavily subsidize the purchase of health insurance and guarantee that anyone with coverage could move from insurance to insurance without facing preexisting-condition exclusions.
These claims are within the bounds of normal, unscripted imprecision during a debate. For the most part, Romney was attempting to present his moderate conservative agenda in a favorable light to independent voters. I’d prefer that agenda to be more creative, particularly in promoting equal opportunity and social mobility. But it is not deception to emphasize the most appealing portions of your proposals. It is the nature of political persuasion.
The accusation of lying shuts down all genuine policy debate. Romney promises, for example, a 20 percent, across-the-board reduction in income taxes, with lost revenue made up by economic growth and cutting loopholes and deductions for the wealthy. I suspect these sources, in the end, would not be sufficient. So you can either close some loopholes for the upper middle class or reduce the 20 percent tax cut (a prospect one of Romney’s economic advisers has raised). This is worth a debate. But such a debate is rendered impossible by the questioning of motives. This is a genuine disagreement, not attempted fraud. Romney is making an argument, not engaged in a plot. And a refusal to engage the argument indicates an inability to engage the argument seriously or successfully.
Those who urge Obama in the next debate to call Romney a liar, or close to it, are doing him no favors. It is one thing to do this on the stump, where taunting and mocking result in applause. It is another thing to try this tactic face to face, where it nearly always seems desperate and small. Because of the manner of Obama’s failure in the first debate — by being too passive — he will need to be more aggressive in the next. But that is a difficult trait to calibrate, particularly in a president prone to public petulance. A small turn of the faucet and the cold water suddenly scalds.
Anger in the Obama camp is understandable. Romney seems comfortable with his new tone — almost relieved to be back into Massachusetts mode. He is better positioned to appeal to independents in Ohio and elsewhere. And Obama is still reacting to Romney, not the other way around. Days after they parted in Denver, Romney is still dominating the debate.