Political Animal


October 04, 2012 5:56 PM Why Last Night’s Debate was a Replay of the First Bush/Gore 2000 Debate

By Paul Glastris

This morning on the BBC I was asked why the “great communicator” Barack Obama had done so poorly in last night’s debate.

It suggested several reasons. Partly, I said, it was because Romney’s unforeseen rhetorical “move to the center” threw Obama off his game. Partly, I argued, it was that the president, at this late date, still hasn’t found a pithy way to talk about his considerable first term achievements (in health care, energy, education, and financial regulation) and how those achievements could translate into job gains in the future, and he hasn’t put forth a specific policy agenda for the second term to insure those gains (by the way, this also explains why his convention speech was so subpar).

But I also said that it was simply difficult to argue with an opponent who is engaging in the level of factual mendacity we saw out of Romney, and that last night reminded me of the first debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000. As you may recall, in that debate Gore pointed out time and time again that Bush was misstating his proposed budget—that his tax cuts would go disproportionately to the wealthy and that those tax cuts would dwarf what he was claiming he would spend on education, health care, and defense. In response, Bush shamelessly disassembled and said it was Gore who was peddling “fuzzy math.” There was no way for the audience to judge who was right, and they got no help from the moderator, who was—surprise surprise—Jim Lehrer, the same person who moderated last night.

Of course subsequent events proved that Gore was right on the facts. But he was widely judged the loser of that debate.

One thing, however, has changed since 2000. Back then, virtually no one in the mainstream media—save Paul Krugman—called Bush out on his dishonest numbers. But today, fact-checking sites that didn’t exist in 2000 have been picking apart the veracity of both Obama’s and Romey’s debate performances, and so far giving the latter nearly all the Pinocchios. As Ed, Jonathan Bernstein and others have pointing out, the real question is whether, over the next few days, the story in the press remains Romney’s “superior” performance, or the mendacity behind that performance.

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.


  • Wordsmith7 on October 04, 2012 6:13 PM:

    Perhaps the debates are an outmoded idea.

  • Varecia on October 04, 2012 6:16 PM:

    "This morning on the BBC I was asked why the great communicator Barack Obama had done so poorly in last night’s debate. .."

    Well, thanks so much feeding the wingnut meme--NOT! The truth is that Obama did better than is being reported, and Romney did worse than is being reported. There were no controls on Romney's out of control behavior, first and foremost by the moderator who amply demonstrated he is past his prime of a moderator if he in fact ever had a prime as a moderator, and then not pushed back forcefully by Obama. But when Obama was explaining something, he did very well.

  • c u n d gulag on October 04, 2012 6:32 PM:

    Pardon me if I have no faith in the MSM pushing forward ANYTHING EXCEPT their own corporate agenda.

    There are, what, 6 companies that own 80-90% of the MSM companies - in ALL mediums?

    Their interest is in keeping this as close a horse race as possible - FOR THE OWN PROFIT MARGINS!!!

    So, I expect nothing from them, but what advances their own narrow self-interest - the country be damned.

    It's another major, possibly deadly, hazard, along the outlook of the Conservatives:
    PARTY UBER ALLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    So, pardon my cynisism that anyone but the left blogosphere will report the truth.


  • esaud on October 04, 2012 6:46 PM:

    I am still seething with anger at Obama's horrible performance. I put last night on par with his "surge in Afghanistan" and his "shellacking" speeches, when I nearly killed my TV.

    Good God in heaven, we need a real FDR-type progressive in the white house. But here we have a democrat giving groung on social security, fergawdsake.

  • Varecia on October 04, 2012 6:52 PM:

    esaud, it was NOT a "horrible" performance! It was, as one commenter posted on another blog, "workmanlike." Romney's was the horrible performance, an empty suit on some kind of unidentified stimulant. Stop buying into the wingnut spin. Romney was unacceptable, both in demeanor and in content.

  • John Petty on October 04, 2012 7:15 PM:

    Face it, Romney bitch-slapped Obama last night, and Obama did nothing about it.

    We don't need fact-checkers. Fact-checkers are "explainers." (If you're "explaining," you're losing.) We need some fire in our candidate.

  • schtick on October 04, 2012 7:39 PM:

    I just hope Jim stays retired after last nite. Willard walked all over him. Obama did get bitch-slapped, but he's in a position where he can't bitch-slap back or he'll be the out of control black man in the White House. Willard is being called out for his lies. I just hope they stick. I'd hate to think that Jim is the thing that gave us Dubya and Willard, too!

  • Joel on October 04, 2012 8:07 PM:

    ". . . Bush shamelessly disassembled . . ."

    Hmm. Disassembled is what you do when you blow up a building or box up your tinkertoys.

    I think the word you're looking for is 'dissembled.'

  • rick on October 04, 2012 8:41 PM:

    By virtue of his endless stream of lies, distortions, and falsehoods - Romney revealed himself as nothing less than a shameless cheater. You cannot be declared a winner when you've so blatantly cheated. Time to wipe that smarmy smirk off of his many faces.

  • Mitch on October 04, 2012 8:45 PM:

    Obama could bitch slap right back if he wanted to without becoming the "angry black man" that so many people worry about.

    All he had to do was look at Romney, smile, and say calmly, "Mr. Romney, what you have just said is untrue," or, "Your numbers simply do not add up, and lying does not change that," or, "You change your positions on a near daily basis; who is the real Mitt Romney?"

    If he said it as cool and calm as we all know that Obama can, then only Fox would accuse him of being the scary "angry black man" and they are ALREADY doing that and will keep on doing it for as long as Obama is a public figure. If Obama thinks that any amount of politesse will win over the 27 percent, then he is delusional and should not be running for office at all.

    Holding back out of fear is one of the simplest ways to guarantee failure in any enterprise. Particularly when the opponent is utterly remorseless and willing to lie about everything, as is the GOP. I disagree with anyone that suggests that only the GOP can call Dems liars, or fight dirty, or go on the offensive. We can fight back harshly, without ever being angry, loud or rude.

    Obama once said that he never brings a knife to a gunfight. Well last night, he brought a Nerf bat.

    I love Obama, and he has this election in the bag (most likely); but his job is NOT to simply be reelected; it is to begin fighting the constant rain of "conservative" falsehoods that have infected and weakened out society.

    He needs to learn to fight for what he believe in, if he ever wants to actually do some good for this country, instead of being the nice guy who was mediocre at best. That will inspire other people to believe in it, too.

    Otherwise, I fear that the debate showed us the future, and it looks just like the past.

    Obama will win, and spend the next four years locked down by the GOP. They will use any possible dirty trick or hostage to ensure their will is done (like they used unemployment to extend the Bush tax cuts), and Obama will keep trying hard to "reach across the aisle" and be "post-partisan" while the GOP cackles with glee.

    The economy will continue to creep along, improving, but not fast enough. And the GOP will continue to blame it all on Obama, instead of their endless stone-walling and the "conservative" policies that have been bleeding us dry for a long time. Then the GOP will gain an even larger hold on Congress during the midterms, and have a much easier time winning everything in 2016.

    I don't believe in tribalism. I have no emotional attachment to the Democratic Party. I agree with them on most issues, so I support them. But they need to fight for the ideals that they are supposed to represent, and they need to be willing to fight with as much brass as the GOP. If getting elected, or playing the Game, or remaining inoffensive to the opposition is more important to Dems than doing the right thing, then they probably deserve to lose.

    Maybe we need another Gilded Age of plutocracy and another Great Depression in order to bring about a return of the progressive, American policies that helped change the world in the 20th Century. I fear that Obama and the Dems lack the mettle to fight for those things. Or anything, for that matter.

    Let's see if they can prove me wrong.

  • square1 on October 04, 2012 9:08 PM:

    IOW, Democrats have learned nothing in the past 12 years about electoral politics.

  • Anonymous on October 05, 2012 12:19 AM:

    Mitch, clear eyed to the bone and most honest post I have ever read.

  • Anonymous on October 05, 2012 1:32 AM:

    @wordsmith7: Perhaps the debates are an outmoded idea.

    I don't think so, but the format is certainly outmoded. As I have said before, Jim Lehrer is and old-school guy who expected that gentlemen would observe the gentlemen's rules of debate. He was totally wrong, as Romney stepped up waving his dick right out of the gate and demonstrated beyond a doubt that rules are for schmucks.

    Future debates will have to acknowledge that there is no honor anymore among candidates or parties. All that matters is scoring the point, no matter how dishonestly it is come by. All of the violent sports -- football, soccer, hockey, boxing, etc. -- rely on the rules to keep things kosher. Only the Republican party has chosen to disband all of the honorable rules of the encounter.

  • Thisby on October 05, 2012 1:34 AM:

    Sorry, Anonymous at 1:32 a.m. was me. Stupid Captcha.

  • yellowdog on October 05, 2012 1:46 AM:

    I believe the point of the post is that Gore did what everyone wanted Obama to do last night: He called out the lies of his opponent. He called out the nonsense. It didn't work. (Well, maybe it did, since he won the popular vote...) The press seemed unusually light on Bush in that race--and unduly hard on Gore--and you see what we ended up with.

    If there is a story in all this, it is that we have to push the media to do its bloody job. (I thought Gwen Ifill had set the lowest possible bar as a moderator in 2008 until Jim Lehrer slunk under it last night.) We have to push hard against a media that goes into false-equivalence mode automatically. The media has shown itself quite capable of simply ignoring the real story. (Real news comes from trackers and hidden cameras these days, it seems.) MSM may well ignore the rain-down of lies coming from Romney and Ryan--unless they get holy hell for it. That's is the point of this post, methinks.

    Limbaugh came out as soon as the moderators were announced declaring them all representatives of the biased liberal media. You think that had no effect? I don't think Candy Crowley wants to pin a liberal label on the rest of her career by doing anything to make Limbaugh seem right. The right knows how to work the (supposed) refs. They are good at it.

    Fine if you want to rail on Obama for his performance--but do something else. Send a message to the three remaining moderators not to pull another Lehrer act. Martha Raddatz is up next, for the VP debate. Let her know what you expect.

  • Len on October 05, 2012 4:18 AM:

    Hey Mitch, you're going to build up the Green Party? That's some heavy lifting. Maybe in the next life?

  • Michael on October 05, 2012 5:55 AM:

    I believe this is a strategy, republicans believed they would get Obama all fired up with his lies, and have these video's as fodder for future proof of the angry black man.

    Now that that is past, Biden will tear apart Ryan, who will be anything but civil...Their cards have been laid on the table. Obama , who had nothing to gain by being combatitive when leading in the polls so, can now more fluently defend and describe his accomplishments of his term,and further ridicule the arithmetic after Biden refutes the incompetent math of Ryan...

  • berttheclock on October 05, 2012 6:25 AM:

    President Hillary Clinton would have steam rolled Romney. The Obamabots got what they wanted in '08. Live with it.

  • Marc on October 05, 2012 9:02 AM:

    Romney proved that he would make a great used car salesman, willing to say anything to close the deal.

  • bigmart on October 05, 2012 9:12 AM:

    Paul Glastris succinctly nails Obama's problem, as president and debater: "He hasn't put forth a specific policy agenda for the second term ..."

    It's not that rope-a-dope has never worked, but it ain't pretty.

  • BJ smith on October 05, 2012 10:18 AM:

    What is everyone talking about? Seems it is slick used car salesman Mitt & his many, many lies.

  • John Q on October 09, 2012 2:48 AM:

    "...the real question is whether, over the next few days, the story in the press remains Romney’s “superior” performance, or the mendacity behind that performance."

    So far the former.

    Why am I not surprised?

  • Cheryl on October 16, 2012 4:38 AM:

    That fight wont stop as long as the problem is not solved. Let's not really blame each other but to help each one on how to get solutions.pacquiao vs marquez tickets