Thursday, October 11, 2012

Andrew Sullivan captures the post-debate Democratic freakout (via BuzzFeed)

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At the beginning of last week Romney's presidential campaign seemed to be going into an irreversible downward spiral, the polls showed Obama pulling ahead in all the swing states, and Republicans were starting to panic.  Well, that was then.

Last Wednesday's "debate" clearly changed the dynamics of the race, at least for the moment.  Romney's performance was unexpectedly strong, and Obama's was surprisingly weak, passive, and ineffective.  Yes, Romney's strategy in the debate was sweepingly dishonest—he suddenly reinvented his whole identity as a candidate, pretended that everything he had been saying and doing in his campaign over the past two years never happened, and repeatedly made claims that ranged from misleading to flatly untrue.  But it worked; and a major part of the reason it worked is that Obama let him get away with it.

Since then all the major public opinion polls have showed significant swings in Romney's favor, and suggest that he may have repaired his unfavorable image in the eyes of a lot of voters.  Conventional wisdom has long held that, aside from some superficial short-term reactions, presidential debates rarely have much real impact on the race. This time, that conventional wisdom seems to have been wrong.  Presumably there were a lot of voters hanging right on the edge, ready to be strongly influenced by one event like this one.  With some help from Obama, Romney won them over.

For those of us who are convinced that a Republican victory in November would be a catastrophe for the country, this situation is depressing and alarming.  But there's no point in trying to sugar-coat an unpleasant reality.  At least for the short term, the debate gave Romney a tremendous boost and was a disaster for Obama's campaign.

On the other hand, it won't necessarily prove to be an irretrievable disaster, and it's too early for Obama supporters to succumb to panic or get totally demoralized.  Polls suggest that the race remains tight, with the political-statistics guru Nate Silver still giving Romney only "about a one-in-three chance of winning the Electoral College," and a lot can happen between now and November 6.

Still, there were good reasons to feel dismayed about Obama's debate performance and its aftermath.  Some of those were expressed, in an especially dramatic and emotionally intense way, by long-time Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan.  Not long ago Sullivan wrote an optimistic cover story for Newsweek predicting that Obama would turn out to be a genuinely transformation president, "The Democrats' Ronald Reagan" (he meant that comparison as a compliment).  Then, as he watched Obama letting Romney beat him up during the debate, Sullivan freaked out, declaring right afterwards that "He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight."  And Sullivan didn't calm down the next day, or the day after that.

Two writers at Buzzfeed put together a nice collection of Sullivan's impressions of the debate, visually enhanced with appropriate GIFs (see below).  They're worth looking over and thinking about.  I hope that Sullivan's overall reaction, which was that "Obama just essentially forfeited the election," turns out to be overwrought and prematurely pessimistic.  But most of his assessments strike me as being, in their own terms, perceptive and at least partly on-target.  (A significant exception is Sullivan's often-expressed opinion that Obama should have embraced the Bowles-Simpson report—or, more precisely, the joint statement by the co-chairs, since the Bowles-Simpson Commission never actually passed an official report for Congressional action.)  And I agree with this last observation:
If the [Republican] lies and propaganda of the last four years work even after Obama had managed to fight back solidly against them to get a clear and solid lead in critical states, then reality-based government is over in this country again. We're back to Bush-Cheney, but more extreme. We have to find a way to avoid that. Much, much more than Obama's vanity is at stake.
Right.

Yours for reality-based politics,
Jeff Weintraub

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Buzzfeed
October 9, 2012
Andrew Sullivan's Obama Meltdown In 8 Key GIFs 
The Daily Beast blogger and ardent Obama supporter has been in panic mode about the President's chances since the first debate.
By Dorsey Shaw & Rosie Gray

Andrew Sullivan's Obama Meltdown In 8 Key GIFs
How is Obama's closing statement so fucking sad, confused and lame? He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight.

Andrew Sullivan's Obama Meltdown In 8 Key GIFs
Does Obama want to be Al Gore? My worry is that his phlegmatic, even temperament may blind him to what we just saw: a president incapable of defending his own record clearly, of rebutting the mis-statements and arguments of his opponent, and of telling us what he'll do for the next few years. Do that again, and you're sinking.

Andrew Sullivan's Obama Meltdown In 8 Key GIFs
But this was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look.

Andrew Sullivan's Obama Meltdown In 8 Key GIFs
So in reality, we recall that Obama actually set up a Simpson-Bowles Grand Bargain, but Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, vetoed it (as was his prerogative on the commission, unlike a real fiscal conservative, Tom Coburn) and made sure it never got to a Congressional vote. Obama, in the worst mistake of his presidency, decided then to bob and weave on this, rather than risk embracing it alone.

Andrew Sullivan's Obama Meltdown In 8 Key GIFs
This is a rolling calamity for Obama. He's boring, abstract, and less human-seeming than Romney! I can't even follow hm half the time. Either exhausted, over-briefed ... or just flailing. He is throwing this debate away.

Andrew Sullivan's Obama Meltdown In 8 Key GIFs
That we are having this discussion at all reflects the enormity of Obama's implosion. This race is now Romney's to lose. Not just because Romney is shameless liar and opportunist. But because Obama just essentially forfeited the election. In the first match-up between the two candidates, one was a potential president; the other a dithering wonk. I'm still reeling. I'm sorry if these are not things an Obama supporter should say at this point. But the demoralization is profound.

Andrew Sullivan's Obama Meltdown In 8 Key GIFs
Perhaps by the next debate, the president will have a clue what he wants to do for the country and the world - and be able to communicate it. But I'm also angry. If Axelrod couldn't see the Etch-A-Sketch coming, when Romney's campaign all but told us they were cynical enough to do and say anything to win, then he truly is incompetent.

Andrew Sullivan's Obama Meltdown In 8 Key GIFs
I'm trying to see a silver lining. But when a president self-immolates on live TV, and his opponent shines with lies and smiles, and a record number of people watch, it's hard to see how a president and his party recover. I'm not giving up. If the lies and propaganda of the last four years work even after Obama had managed to fight back solidly against them to get a clear and solid lead in critical states, then reality-based government is over in this country again. We're back to Bush-Cheney, but more extreme. We have to find a way to avoid that. Much, much more than Obama's vanity is at stake.

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