Thursday, October 04, 2012

Ich Bin Ein Berliner Redux

No fair-minded, honest, political junkie can deny that Mitt Romney’s assertiveness, vigor, and semi-specifics stole the show in last night’s first Presidential Debate of the 2012 campaign – much to the consternation of we on the Left who were hoping (and expecting) that President Obama would wipe up the floor with his clueless, wealthy, Conservative opponent.  Alas, he did not.

Rather than brimming with the passion, energy, and details he has demonstrated on the campaign trail, the President came across as passive, petulant, exhausted, disengaged, and either unwilling or unable to challenge Romney on several of his glaring departures from his ultra-Conservative, bumbling, stump speeches.  Anyone who saw last night’s contest but hasn’t been paying attention to this endless horse race until now, could easily come away with the notion that Mitt Romney is a strong, reasonable alternative to Obama.  It doesn’t matter that this isn’t so; appearances are everything.

Indeed, as I watched the Obama-supporting pundits last night and early this morning tear their hair out over the fact that Mr. Obama didn’t challenge Romney’s doesn’t-add-up tax plan, hit him over the head with the revealing 47% fiasco, remind the proud businessman that a nation isn’t a corporation, or mention any of the vital social and cultural issues (women’s issues, in particular) that are a critical part of this campaign, I was reminded of an amusing historical moment and comedian Eddie Izzard’s comments about it.

In June of 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed a huge, adoring crowd in Berlin.  In an effort to convey his spirit of solidarity with post-WWII West Germany, he told them “Ich bin ein Berliner,” intending to mean “I’m one of you.”  The crowd went wild – even though “Ich bin ein Berliner” literally means “I am a doughnut,” referring to the popular German dessert.  The correct phrase would have eliminated the “ein.”  But as Eddie Izzard has said, “It proves once again [that in public speaking] it’s 70% how you look, 20% how you sound, and 10% what you say [that matters].”

Last night’s debate proved anew that this formula is true, in large part, I believe,  because  the President couldn’t politically speak truth to aspirational power.  He couldn’t say “I saved this country from falling into another Great Depression after GWBush fucked everything up,” or “It’s a miracle that I was able to get anything done when, from Day One, your party was dedicated to having me fail and getting rid of me,” or “I’ve had to govern while being continually accused of being an anti-business Socialist, not being a Real American in my understanding of this country, not being a native-born citizen, and being a Muslim who’s trying to have the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood take over the White House.”  And most of all, he couldn’t say “What really burns your ass is that a black man is in charge, and you’d like to ‘take the country back’ to the multitude of inequities of the 1950s.”

Until a few years from now, when the post-presidency “a look into the Obama White House” books come out (yes, I know there are already a few), we probably won’t know why the President chose to handle the first debate as he did – and it had to have been a deliberate decision, because there’s no doubt that Mr. Obama has a mass of facts at his fingertips.  For example, during a speech in May of this year at the NanoTech Complex at the State University of New York in Albany, Mr. Obama said: “Companies get tax breaks for moving factories, jobs and profits overseas.  They can actually end up saving on their tax bill when they make the move.”  This is something that Mr. Romney claimed to know nothing about last night, despite his own business history of considerable outsourcing.

So, I encourage my fellow Obama supporters to not lose heart.  There’s still plenty of time for Romney to put his foot back in his mouth while speaking out of both sides of it.  And, there are still three more debates (two presidential, one vice-presidential) to come, during which, I’m confident, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden will land hard punches on the Far Right that Romney alternately embraces and rejects, depending on who he’s talking to.  It ain’t over ‘til the proverbial fat lady sings – and I’m not even humming…

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