I'm sorry, but I disagree with the cable pundits. I don't watch television much, but this week I'm in a situation where I can. The development of group-think has been interesting to watch. (I've been watching mostly MSNBC and CNN.) The instant reaction to the debate was mostly "Eh." Some good, some bad on both sides. But then the narrative developed: Obama looked like he didn't want to be there. Romney had refound his mojo. And the pundits built on each other.
I thought Obama was dignified, perhaps not as dynamic as he should have been. But I tend to have a similar reaction when the person I'm talking to is winding himself up and getting loudly repetitive. I thought Romney looked like a bully, and that strange little smile that seems to be his idea of a listening expression was still there, although he was also jutting his brow in a way that suggested he was trying to look more like a normal human being.
Romney lied a lot. He's not going to have a $5 trillion tax cut, he's going to provide tax relief. Read that sentence again if you didn't get it. A number of his sentences just didn't track in any way that allows an evaluation of their content. And, as Kevin Drum pointed out, he responded, over and over again, in the same way, with the same few numbers he had managed to memorize, to every single one of President Obama's points.
I also didn't like Romney's bullying, his talking over both Obama and Jim Lehrer. I've been subjected to that kind of treatment far too often; it's what big men who think they've got all the answers do to women and blacks all the time.
Jim Lehrer really is getting too old for this sort of thing. His voice is no longer strong, and he just looks old. On the other hand, there's little you can do with a bully.
I think that the word debate means different things to different people. The teevee rules have long been disputed in that context. But I think the teevee context has thrown the concept into a realm that is far from my expectations: the verbal equivalent of a knock-down, drag-out brawl, the kind of thing you see on the shows with the opposing sides shouting at each other.
That was the debate Mitt Romney held, Jim Lehrer and Barack Obama be damned. And the pundits liked the alpha-male show. But a president needs a different skill set.
Cross-posted at The Agonist.