Cross-posted from AlterNet.
The final bell had barely rung when the fight was called for the man from Massachusetts. He won all the style points. He seemed poised, on his toes and took the fight to his opponent, who seemed listless and flat-footed.
Forgive the boxing metaphor. It's been so pervasive in the wake of the first Presidential debate Wednesday night that it's hard not to think of the event as a prize fight. But while it's a bit of a cliché, it's also apt. The incumbent is like the reigning champ, and as in boxing, the challenger has to win decisively to win at all.
To that end, Mitt Romney appeared to do a lot of dancing and threw a lot of punches. But while there was plenty of swinging, the fact-checkers determined that little of it had any real substantive pop. But for casual observers, the visual was enough: Romney was a whirling dervish, and Obama was asleep on his feet.
Obama supporters sat ringside, waiting for their man to stop covering up and do a little counter-punching. But they were left wanting, and the pundits, like panelists on a sports-talk show, say Obama's failure to return the fusillade cost him the debate.
Most frustrating were the many opportunities Obama had to land a real haymaker, to drop Romney like Jed Bartlet smacking down Rob Ritchie. A campaign littered with gaffes shows Romney's handsomely chiseled chin covers a glass jaw, and a well-timed shot could've sent him to the canvas and left Obama as the undisputed champion.
Here, then, are the three knockout blows that President Obama could have, and should have thrown to turn out Romney's lights and end the fight for good.
1. "You admit your economic theory doesn't work."
Romney beat the drum about creating jobs over and over, repeating that to create those jobs, government has to lighten the tax burden on "job creators," i.e., the rich. It's banal supply-side economics. And a huge opening for Obama to say:
"Giving wealthy people more money doesn't create jobs. Businesses don't hire because they have more money; they hire because there's demand for their products or services. You create that demand by putting more money in the pockets of working families who will spend it on goods and services-- the same people you told they'd get little help from you. The very well off and corporations have enjoyed a very generous tax situation for the past 20 years. The stock market has rebounded to near-record highs, and the rich have seen their share of the nation's wealth jump, and corporations are sitting on huge piles of cash. Yet, as you point out, there are still far too many Americans out of work or under-employed. Governor, by your own reckoning, you've just shown that the trickle-down economic plan that your party has pushed for the last 30 years--and the one you have promised to follow--doesn't work."
2. "Pick one set of facts and stick to it."
Many observers were waiting to see what kind of zing Romney's well-rehearsed zingers would carry. The answer was, not much. The most transparently canned zinger--"Mr. President, you're entitled to your own airplane, your own house, but not your own facts"--was Romney being too aggressive and leaving himself wide open for:
"Governor Romney, your campaign has seen you change positions on every significant issue. You and your running mate can't seem to agree on anything at all except that you're going to do whatever you promise to do at the moment. Until, of course, you make a different promise. Your staff says you're the etch-a-sketch candidate, who changes when the scene shifts from one campaign to the next. Your top pollster says you don't care about what the fact-checkers have to say about your contradictions and flip-flops. So before you lecture me on facts, all I ask is that you pick one set of facts and stick to it."
3. "I'd figure with your experience exporting jobs, you'd know all about it."
Romney essentially called President Obama a liar to his face when he said that he had never heard of any tax benefits for companies that shift their operations outside the U.S. The benefits surely exist, and as an officer of Bain Capital, with its storied history of buying up companies and gutting them or shipping operations to overseas sweatshops, he had a fiduciary duty to exploit the bejesus out of them. In denying their existence, it was as if he had dropped his hands to his waist and stuck his chin out and offered it to Obama to hit it. That's where this would have been the coup de grace:
"You don't know about the tax benefits, Governor? They were available to companies like Corporate Software Inc. when they shifted call center jobs that middle class Americans used to do to Europe and Japan. Modus Media, when they moved software production to Australia, Asia and Europe. GT Bicycles when it off-shored its manufacturing operations to Asia. All of those companies used to employ American workers, who used their wages to support their families and enjoy the benefits of a middle class life--but no more, because their jobs were shipped to foreign countries. If those names sound familiar, Governor, they should. They're all companies Bain Capital owned or controlled in the 1990s, when you were in charge. If you don't know that there are significant tax benefits to shipping U.S. companies overseas, you need to get yourself a new tax lawyer, because your guy isn't giving you much bang for your buck."
These shots would have made Ronald Reagan's totemic "There you go again" look about as biting as a Dixie riddle cup. They speak to the traits that voters have come to expect from Romney. Namely, he is an out-of-touch one-percenter whose loyalties lie with other one-percenters, who will say anything to get elected (which Rudy Giuliani called him out for, before notoriously flip-flopping to endorse the "man without a core," albeit tepidly), and whose brand of vulture capitalism is a key contributor to the nation's economic nightmare.
Each of these independently could have been the shot that made pundits say, "There's no way Romney can come back from this beating." If they had been used in conjunction, Mrs. Romney would have rushed the stage and thrown in the towel. The Republican Party would have folded its tent and Reince Priebus would've changed his phone number.
But that was never going to happen. The President must at all times appear presidential. The obstructionist Republicans in Congress, the professional Obama haters of the conservative media--Obama can't blame them for unemployment or a divisive, distrustful mood in the country, lest he seem defensive or whiny. And he also can't slap around an inferior combatant like an internet gamer pwning noobz. That is beneath the dignity of his office.
But if he wants to stay president, he's going to have to fight, presidentially. The first rematch is in two weeks. Time for Obama to get the Eye of the Tiger.