I wasn't thrilled with President Obama's flat debate performance, but that was not the real story last Wednesday night. After months of everyone anticipating adviser Eric Fehrnstrom's predicted "Etch-a-Sketch" reset, Mitt Romney finally "etch-a-sketched" virtually every position he'd taken throughout the campaign. "Etch-a-sketched" his massive deficit-busting tax cut for the wealthy, his position on pre-existing conditions, his attitude toward government regulation, his tremendously "bipartisan" 844 vetoes of Massachusetts legislation while governor, most of which were overridden by the veto-proof Democratic legislature. You name it, Romney "etch-a-sketched" it. There's no nice way to say this -- this guy is the biggest lying cynic ever to run for high office. His attitude is that the electorate is so dumb than you can fool most of the people most of the time. Just keep your oxymoronic grinning straight face and fling the bull like the experienced salesman you are and no one will notice that you said the opposite yesterday. It's why Romney chose Ryan to run with -- they both share the ability to lie to your face with that same sorry smirk.
So how could so many pundits, even the blatantly liberal ones on MSNBC, be so enamored of show biz style over substance that they inverted the real story and the secondary one? President Obama may not have shown enough fight, but these pundits showed less. Have a guy's back a little if you're in the opinion business and he's your man. And it's not like you have to fake it. In movies, the plot takes off at a point in story structure called the "inciting incident." The inciting incidents in this debate were Romney's bold-faced about-faces, not Obama's seemingly astounded reaction to them.
Maybe it's because I've never in my 65 years held a job that wasn't in show business that I so downplay the importance of the show biz side of political theatre. Sure, there's an aspect to debate that's pure show biz, and Obama and his team shockingly flunked Stagecraft 101 this late in the game. The president needed to look Romney right in the eye and listen to his crap and to keep looking Romney in the eye and then slam him with the truth. Yes, Mr. President, stop looking down and pretending to write or maybe you really were writing but that completely predictable swath of worthless TV blither at the bottom of the screen made it impossible to tell and P.S. you needed to be prepared for the split screens too. But what the f__k does any of this have to do with how public policy actually affects real live Americans? Are we really this shallow? Is the pundit class really so shallow as to deem a lousy job of stagecraft more important than any semblance of substance, and to declare the guy who lied through his substantial teeth the "winner" because, after all, everyone knows facts and consistent core beliefs don't matter in American political discourse?
Again, the only way politicians actually affect people's lives is with the public policies they support, in other words, how they vote. Mitt Romney's liberal use of the "Etch-a-Sketch" ain't conservative. It's just plain phony, and the only thing about him you can count on over the course of his political career is his inconsistency. Someone who spends 90 minutes proving 'you just can't trust him' is not the 'winner' of any debate. And unless the American public is as dumb as he thinks they are, he won't be the winner of any election either.