President Obama did what he needed to do Thursday following his not-as-dismal-as-everyone-thinks-but-still-not-all-that-good debate performance Wednesday night, and that not so much to put the event behind him, although that was part of it, but to build a positive narrative coming out of the debate, not just to counter the "Romney won" CW but to provide an honest perspective focused on substance, on the facts, as opposed to the style points favored by the ever-shallow media.
We can agree, perhaps, that Romney "won" the debate based on the degraded standards we (or rather the "experts") use to decide such things, but on the substance, with respect to the truth, it was pretty clear that Romney failed miserably.
Attacking the president, and defining himself ever more deeply, with a relentless deluge of dishonesty, Romney supposedly looked and sounded confident and passionate, Obama's "equal" up on stage, all in stark contrast to Obama's supposed detachment. There is some truth to that, if you're basing it all on image and perception, but as it recedes further and further into the mists of time, we can look on it -- and must look on it -- with a seriousness of purpose that was seriously lacking among pundits, their knees jerking wildly, in its immediate aftermath.
Let's take a quick look at some of these more serious -- and for Romney, ominous -- assessments:
-- Igor Volsky, Think Progress: "At Last Night's Debate: Romney Told 27 Myths In 38 Minutes";
-- Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone: "The First Debate: Mitt Romney's Five Biggest Lies";
-- Greg Sargent, Washington Post: "Romney's policies are still deeply unpopular, which is why he relentlessly obfuscated about them";
-- Jonathan Bernstein, Washington Post: "Romney strong on performance, weak on policy in sluggish debate";
-- Mark Memmott and Scott Montgomery, NPR: "Romney Goes On Offense, Pays For It In First Wave Of Fact Checks";
-- Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog: "The triumph of style over substance"; and
-- Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly: "Mitt Gets Away With It -- For Now."
And three from New York's Jonathan Chait: "The Return of Massachusetts Mitt," "Romney's Successful Debate Plan: Lying," and "Would a Republican Candidate Lie About Taxes?" (The answer to that question: Yes. Shamelessly.)
Paul Krugman summed it all up rather nicely:
OK, so Obama did a terrible job in the debate, and Romney did well. But in the end, this isn't or shouldn't be about theater criticism, it should be about substance. And the fact is that everything Obama said was basically true, while much of what Romney said was either outright false or so misleading as to be the moral equivalent of a lie.
And this is why the Obama campaign has a new post-debate plan, reports Benjy Sarlin of TPM: "Expose 'Serial Evader' Romney."
And to get back to the beginning of this post, President Obama himself was on the case during a speech in Colorado:
Now, the reason I was in Denver obviously is to see all of you, and it's always pretty, but we also had our first debate last night. And when I got on to the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney.
Whereupon he proceeds to go through the ways in which the Romney of the debate was so different from the Romney we've come to know so well during the campaign, to contrast his policies with those of the real Romney, and to present a clear vision for the future, articulating, in stark contrast to Mitt's refusal to provide specifics, what he would do if re-elected.
Watch the clip. Obama may have struggled somewhat during the debate, at least in terms of style, but he was back on form the next day, and it's this sort of leadership that we need to see much more of in the two debates to come, not to mention on the campaign trail the rest of the way.
I realize that dealing with Romney's relentless lying isn't an easy task, but President Obama must stand firm.
Cross-posted from The Reaction