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I know, it was painful to listen to.  We know Romney's lying; we know Obama knows he's lying (or if we want to be kind, showing a massive case of entitlement to his own facts).  And we wanted to hear Obama nail him to the podium with it.  But Obama was probably right not to do it.

Here's the problem: when Romney, running a campaign based on ignoring the facts, accuses Obama of being the one who's misleading voters, there are two serious dangers to making the intuitive, immediate response, the response we all wanted to hear.  They're dangers of style rather than substance, but style matters: it may be the thing that matters most in these events.  The first is that anger plays badly from a president, and for historical reasons it would play particularly badly from this one.  (Even the whitest of presidents can only really get away with being visibly angry in response to a personal attack on a family member or a physical attack on the nation.)  And with Romney already struggling with the impression that his lurches into You People and How Dare You leaves on voters, the last thing we should want is for Obama to make that impression less clear by doing a How Dare You himself on national television -- which is what "You are calling me a liar!?" risks becoming by its very nature.

The second danger, subtle but important, is that of Obama diminishing his own stature in the public's eyes.  The first person to call liar in a serious, adult event might be able to get away with it, though there's always a risk of it backfiring.  But being the person who says, No, you're the liar?  No matter how true it may be, it's almost guaranteed to make that person look childish and tiny.  Again, not what you want to do in a presidential debate on national television.  In fact, I suspect that was what Romney and his people were hoping for.

No, you kind of have to do what Obama did.  Which is, stay calm and put out a massive memo to the news media the instant it's over, highlighting all the real howlers, and wait for them to do their jobs.  It's unfortunate, but I really don't see what else he could have done.  And by staying calm and letting Romney walk out onto factual ice so thin we could all hear it cracking under him, in front of all America, Team Obama may have actually put Romney into a much worse position than when the debate began.

And it's too early to call this a debate loss.  Some here may remember that Al Gore won his first debate with Bush back in 2000.  For about twelve hours, before the media really got going.  After that, not so much.  The narrative is almost guaranteed to be more splintered this time out, but if even a quarter of the mainstream press goes with "Romney sounds smooth, repeats many previously-debunked claims," things are going to look very different by the weekend.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Romney won because he wasn't horrible (10+ / 0-)

    People were surprised that Romney is apparently a human being after all. They already knew all about Obama.

    I agree that Obama let him have the moment, while prodding him to say more things that will be hard to explain in the days ahead. Romney took the bait. We shall see whether he regrets it.

    •  Romney's human? (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrsgoo, JeffW, DemandTruth, ljb, NWTerriD

      Check his DNA. I want to see a certificate of live birth.

      We've got months and months of news stories indicating that Mitt is a robot. I, for one, don't believe he's actually human.

      -5.38, -2.97
      It's too big a world to be in competition with everyone. The only person who I have to be better than is myself. - Sherman T. Potter

      by ChuckInReno on Wed Oct 03, 2012 at 09:23:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good money after bad? (13+ / 0-)

    We would all have loved to watch The President eviscerate Mittens. But if tonight gives the Kochs, Wall Streeters, and the RNC hope that Mittens can pull it out...maybe they keep spending on chasing the White House and let a few tight Congressional races slip.

    •  This was my thought exactly (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ParkRanger, GAS, WakeUpNeo, ljb, KenBee, Deep Harm

      Look folks, don't get all uptight about the media declaring this a neck and neck horse race again.  Romney simply can't make up 10 points in Ohio and Wisconsin with. Good debate.

      Obama would have only truly lost this debate tonight with a huge gaffe, and that clearly didn't happen.

      Hopefully, this debate becomes fools gold for the right, and they waste valuable resources on "the stench" instead of races they can actually win.

    •  LOL! Please keep spending money! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GAS, ljb, KenBee

      if a habitat is flooded, the improvement for target fishes increases by an infinite percentage...because a habitat suitability index that is even a tiny fraction of 1 is still infinitely higher than zero, which is the suitability of dry land to fishes.

      by mrsgoo on Wed Oct 03, 2012 at 09:26:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  We can only hope. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GAS, mrsgoo, WakeUpNeo, ljb, NWTerriD

      Especially since it seems increasingly clear that the money's a lot more dangerous downticket, where there's not a lot of money or press attention/earned media to counter it.

      I still can't quite believe that Romney put the $716-billion Medicare lie into his closing statement.  Points for chuzpah, I suppose, but if I were any of the factcheckers who've put the time into swatting it down over the past six months, I know what I'd be urging my colleagues to lead with in their stories tomorrow.

  •  I like this interpretation the best. (13+ / 0-)

    That doesn't mean it's necessarily the correct one, but it fits what we know about how Barack Obama does things.  Republicans are Rovean/tactical fighters (the whole "zingers" bullshit), but this President is strategic - he does everything within the broader context of the race, and doesn't treat it as a bunch of isolated tidbits.

    Remember, folks - Obama is a counter-puncher.  The fact that he didn't counter-punch in this debates means Romney has one hell of a fist headed his way in coming weeks based on the lies he told in this debate.

    Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

    by Troubadour on Wed Oct 03, 2012 at 09:21:17 PM PDT

    •  Exactly how I see it. My gut tells me that PBO was (6+ / 0-)

      ok to let him run with the string but at the end, PBO was looking pretty PO'd. I think PBO is running the long game. And man, it's gotta be hard. Lehrer was a complete wuss as a moderator and let Rmoney run all over him even if as Rachel said, PBO spoke 4 minutes longer. I'm going to go with the long game here. PBO CANNOT come across as the angry black guy. Too easy to fit into that narrative that the RW wants to project on him. Let's let OFA play with this and then PBO can come back as the angry president!

      if a habitat is flooded, the improvement for target fishes increases by an infinite percentage...because a habitat suitability index that is even a tiny fraction of 1 is still infinitely higher than zero, which is the suitability of dry land to fishes.

      by mrsgoo on Wed Oct 03, 2012 at 09:38:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Pure speculation, I admit (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NWTerriD, KenBee, Troubadour

      This is really based solely on the fact that when I stopped and thought about what I wanted to hear, I realized I couldn't get it to play out in any way that really worked.  (Which isn't to say there was no way of doing it at all -- I'm certainly not playing in the same leagues as Obama and his team.)  And we do know that Romney has a history as a bully: trying to needle an opponent into a display of vulnerability is one of his go-to tactics.  It wouldn't be all that surprising if the Obama team was particularly wary of that potential trap tonight.

  •  I told the group I watched the debate with tonight (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NWTerriD

    the same thing. That Obama gave Romney a lot of rope to hang himself.

    But then I remembered that Americans depend on the media to do their thinking for them so they'll probably miss the fact checks ....if there are any.,

    Big loss tonight. Tired of Dems being always so weak. Disappointed yet again.

  •  People are forgetting that the media... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NWTerriD, KenBee, Deep Harm

    Want a horserace.  Even if President Obama "eviscerated" or lacerated or exposed Romney's fountain of lies, the media would continue to call it a horserace.  That's what they want and so that's what they'll find, in an oh so Republican manner.

    Let the punditry have their day or two of "Romney wins" headlines and "race is tightening" talking points.  It'll be nice to balance that out with headlines of Romney's lies the rest of the time until the next debate.

    By next week, all the hyperventilating will be over and Romney will be in a far worse position having to explain all of his contradictions and lies.

    The most dangerous... programs, from a movement conservative's point of view, are the ones that work the best and thereby legitimize the welfare state. Krugman

    by BasharH on Wed Oct 03, 2012 at 09:48:22 PM PDT

  •  First step in Rope-A-Dope: get a Dope (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Deep Harm

    keep watching for steps two, three and four...

    This machine kills Fascists.

    by KenBee on Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 01:31:56 AM PDT

  •  My thought, too (0+ / 0-)

    A lie told with conviction will convince some people. But, when the lie is exposed later, those same people are outraged, not only that the teller lied, but that the teller was so skilled at lying, suggesting plenty of practice.

    Speak the truth, but ride a fast horse.

    by Deep Harm on Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 05:17:18 AM PDT

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