Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney cleaned President Barack Obama's clock during the first 2012 presidential debate held in Denver, Colorado, last Wednesday night. Even Obama's staunchest supporters gave the night to Willard Mitt Romney. They gave Romney the higher grade not because of any earth-shattering policy revelation, but because Obama appeared completely disengaged, slow, puny and unimpressive in his responses to Romney's uppercut jabs.
Undoubtedly, and to reiterate a common theme that penetrated the observations from some media analysts sympathetic to the president, his performance - though not new, given his less than stellar debate performances in the 2008 Democratic primaries - was disappointing, to say the least. And although presidents, like prime ministers, are way too busy running the executive branch of government to be practising for debates, it should not have taken substantially more effort for Obama to recognise the danger of playing "pillow fights" when the opponent is throwing political hand grenades at his groin.
Obama allowed Romney to get away with a flotilla of fibs. Unimaginably, he allowed Romney to slip-slide his way out of a performance laced with political flip-flopping about social security, deficit reduction, health-care reform, the role of government, tax reductions and so on. Obama went to sleep without serving Romney his supper - a supper loaded with Romney's own sour sauce and seasoned with his own pejorative remarks about the "47 per cent of Americans" who see themselves as victims.
It is unfathomable that while Obama could not genuinely sing the song of complete recovery, he weirdly quailed the way banana leaves behave when exposed to heat by allowing Romney to project himself as the better manager of the economy. The $2-million question that some people are asking today is: How could President Obama have been so sequestered by fear of upsetting the apple cart that he refused to remind the country who the real Willard Mitt Romney was during the debate? Obama missed an opportunity to tell the approximately 67 million people who watched Wednesday night's debate that his "most worthy opponent" staunchly opposed the automobile industry bailout that helped to restore the industry and saved thousands of jobs in Michigan and swing states such as Florida and Ohio.
Mitt Romney was more than ready for the big show and, boy, he delivered 90 minutes of uncontested political fluff, garnished with broad petals of feistiness and disingenuousness. Even so, no one in his or her right mind could seriously fault him for seizing the moment or from rescuing his campaign, when hitherto the debate appeared bound for trouble. Aided and abetted by a rather "soft" President Obama, Romney is now back into the race, and although "a great debate performance does not a president make", his performance could make it harder for the Obama team to close the deal. Obama needed to "knock out" Romney politically, but he failed miserably.
The Republicans are beating their collective chests in praise of Romney's
better-than-expected performance; they have earned their bragging rights even though Mitt Romney's rise came at the savaging of debate moderator Jim Lehrer. Poor Jim, he seemed to have completely lost control of the proceedings. His questions did not seem sharp; they were too broad and this played well to Romney's strength of being a wandering generalist who never offers anything meaningful or specific. Yet, the Democrats cannot piggyback on Lehrer's handling of the debate as an excuse for Obama's dismal failure because, although less obvious than Romney, Obama also scolded Lehrer over the "five seconds" he took away from him.
All of this brings me back to last week's article in which I addressed the components of success. If nothing else, Obama's lacklustre performance and Romney's surprisingly robust presentation proved that it takes more than hard work to succeed. In Obama's case, success would have required the combination of preparation, wit, passion, feistiness, engagement, presence of mind, tenacity and a particular kind of indomitability for which our athletes are well known. In Romney's case, success came because of not only hard work and preparation; it came because like water, two things must be present; two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen. Romney benefited from a perfect confluence of circumstance and opportunity, which is also known as "good luck".
With all that said, a day in politics is like a million years and sometimes the "smoke is greater than the fire". The objective of the Obama campaign must now focus on finding the newly ignited flames that Romney has set ablaze with his good showmanship during the debate, with a view to extinguishing them; this will not be easy to achieve. Like it or not, economic conditions in the United States, as with the rest of the world, particularly in the areas of employment, housing, economic growth, and investor confidence, are not where any leader facing re-election would like them to be.
Nevertheless, good political news came Friday morning with the release of the US Department of Labour employment report. The statistics show that the economy added 114,000 jobs in September, in addition to 86,000 jobs, which were not factored in the July and August employment figures; effectively lowering the unemployment rate to 7.8 per cent. The 7.8 per cent rate is the lowest unemployment has been since 2009 when Obama assumed office.
Politically, this is positive news for Obama; he made quite clear that an employment rate at or above eight per cent would be a disqualification for a second term. Talk about bravado and political gravitas in an environment where it is the private sector that creates jobs. However, the US needs GDP growth of three per cent per annum to keep pace with population growth. Romney's good debate performance may have tightened the presidential race, but as they
say, "It is not over until the fat lady sings".