Thursday, October 4, 2012

The First Rule Of Debate Club

… Is not to blog about Debate Club. Or at least it should be, because the more I think about last night’s debate between Pres. Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the more I feel like an aneurism’s going to burst inside my head.
Evaluating the candidates’ performance at last night’s debate, the Chicago Sun-Times summed up what seems to be the conventional wisdom this way: “Romney wins on style, Obama on facts.”
If you score Wednesday’s debate largely on the basis of which candidate for president exuded a rambunctious energy, it was Gov. Romney all the way.
If, however, you score Wednesday’s debate on substance — accurate facts and honest arithmetic — Obama more than held his own. He drove home the false promises and dangerous ramifications of Romney’s proposed tax cuts, which would surely raise taxes for the middle class by eliminating breaks, such as the home mortgage deduction, and require the elimination of essential programs, such as student loan subsidies.
Seems legit.
Anyway, if you want to track Mitt’s mendacity – and who doesn’t? – Jeff Fecke runs down the “Top 7 Lies of the First Debate” at Care2 Causes, while Think Progress tallied more than two dozen Romney myths in a thirty-eight minute span, including the easily debunked lie that Obamacare “steals” $716 billion from Medicare:
There’s that number again. Romney is claiming that Obamacare siphons off $716 billion from Medicare, to the detriment of beneficiaries. In actuality, that money is saved primarily through reducing over-payments to insurance companies under Medicare Advantage, not payments to beneficiaries. Paul Ryan’s budget plan keeps those same cuts, but directs them toward tax cuts for the rich and deficit reduction.
(As an aside, that whopper only begins to make sense if you believe that insurance companies are the intended beneficiaries of Medicare. Which, although insane, may say more about the warped mindset of today’s GOP than the lie itself.)
But the real story of last night’s debate appears to be Pres. Obama’s less-than-stellar performance, and, specifically, his failure to rebut many of those same falsehoods with sufficient vigor. Or, in the case of the $716 billion lie, with any vigor at all.
Admittedly, I was less than enthusiastic about the way the President addressed Gov. Romney’s tenuous relationship with the truth. While I appreciate the President’s desire to stay on message (a task at which many Democratic candidates before him utterly failed), he missed an opportunity to debunk the Medicare lie, in particular, and that was one instance where some righteous indignation would seem to have been in order. Actually, I would have liked to see the President channel DSU Martin Schenck from the BBC series Luther:
I know men like you the way you know men like me and I know you wouldn’t have done this if you believed there was the least chance of it coming back on you. Well, guess what? It’s come back on you like the hand of God. And the next words from your mouth will determine the weight and velocity of the staggering tonnage of sh*t that’s about to plummet onto your head.
But that wasn’t very likely to happen, now, was it?
Because if we’re being honest, there’s a different set of rules that apply to this President, and it’s not his fault there’s a different set of rules. For proof, look no further than Tuesday’s coordinated release of a supposed “bombshell” video of then-Sen. Barack Obama addressing a predominantly African American crowd Hampton University in 2007. Yesterday, my friend Emily Hauser wrote an excellent piece on the overhyped, phony controversy entitled, “On Code Switching,” posted both on her blog and at Angry Black Lady Chronicles, in which she explains:
Given that last night’s effort involved a speech given in public, five years ago, before he was even President, which had already been covered multiple times in multiple venues, both print and broadcast — it was, shall we say, a particularly weak (if loudly trumpeted) effort.
That didn’t stop Matt Drudge, The Daily Caller (Tucker Carlson’s joint), and Fox News/Sean Hannity from really really trying to go all-in, though. Like, to the extent that Hannity briefly performed his version of what he believes to be Al Gore’s version of sounding “like” a Black preacher, and just – wow.
It would all be quite comical if it weren’t so damaging. I think that we tend to forget just how much air gets taken up by this kind of bloviating, how much effort and energy that could be better spent elsewhere, not to mention how exhausting I can only guess it must be for that 12-18% of Americans who happen to be black and for whom this kind of dehumanizing nonsense is part of their daily lives.
(Read the whole thing; it’s well worth it.)
But so here’s the point. There are no coincidences in politics. If you think there are, well … you’re not from Chicago.
The Hampton University video came out (again) on Tuesday, the day before the first presidential debate, specifically to make Pres. Obama look – gasp! – Black. As in, a Black man who speaks in Black intonations to Black audiences, no matter how polished and (ahem) Harvard-educated (read: Product Of Affirmative Action) he seems to be when he speaks to, you know, us. Never mind that, as Emily Hauser correctly points out, we all engage in code switching. When Pres. Obama does it, it makes him an Angry Black Man.
And you know what? It doesn’t help when our side plays on the same racial stereotypes the right uses against him. In the midst of last night’s debate, Bill Maher tweeted this gem:
Barry, come on – lift up your shirt and show him the gun!
Har-dee-har-har, Bill. That’s hilarious. You know. Because … black guys and guns, amirite?
Really, Bill? Really?
Post-racial America, my royal Irish arse.
The point is, no matter how much it may have soothed our collective liberal anger to hear the President bring the rhetorical hammer down on Mitt Romney last night, there’s no way to escape the fact that in twenty-first century America, the white majority –  including an awful lot of white  liberals – still equate strong, outspoken Black folks with thugs. That some liberals may think fondly of thuggishness in this context is kind of irrelevant. It reinforces the unspoken but obvious subtext of this election: If the President speaks too forcefully, or, God forbid, raises his voice, the right can and will use it to pander to hyper-racially-sensitive white folks.
And hyper-racially-sensitive white folks are voters, whether we like it or not. If the Bill Maher demographic carried elections, he wouldn’t have had to throw his vote away on Ralph Nader in 2000. But it doesn’t, and so every vote counts.
So what do we do, as the grown ups in the room, when we’re confronted with what happened last night? We can bicker and argue over whether the President struck precisely the right balance between attempting to speak to the nation as a whole – sane people and racists alike – and giving voice to our justifiable outrage at the lies of Mitt Romney, but that’s an argument we’re not likely to resolve before November 6. Or, we can recognize the racist double-standard that exists in this country and refuse to blame Pres. Obama for it.


  1. Thanks Dave, I really love your take on the debates. IMO, the second debate President Obama will learn from the first debate.

  2. I don't watch debates because there are far more entertaining ways to kill my brain cells.

    Romney's a lying sack of shit, that will probably never change. Unlike the current PotUS who does REALLY HARD WORK every day (including most of those when he's on "vacation") Romney has only to get up in the morning and worry about getting the job, a job for which he is unqualified.