On this night , the professor stayed home.
Instead, on an evening less than a fortnight's distance from All Hallows Eve, his equally-brainy, dark side alter ego appeared and delivered a debate performance scintillating enough to rekindling the tingle up Chris Matthews' legs.
It's as if "no drama" had somehow become "pure drama" Obama. This perhaps previously unseen Dark Professor flat out mopped the floor with the professional businessman resulting in a celestial-like post-debate glow that radiated long after the debate had concluded. Heck even George Will called it "immeasurably the best in American History." In any event, it left a glow that the President deliciously savored. He stayed on what had been a white hot debate floor for some thirty-minutes after Mitt and his crew had slinked off into the night.
While Mitt certainly enjoyed his moments, those moments that really counted often found Romney perched in stiffened silence. By two-thirds the way through, the GOP nominee was projecting as if cognizant of his starring role in a real-time occurrence of the dispiriting side of personal evolution that in politics, can play out in a matter of seconds: a big shot being reduced to a little shorty.
What a turnaround. But was it planned? I've heard some observers theorize that Obama's defenseless performance in Debate One was deliberate; a kind of rope-a-dope strategy actually designed to groom Romney for the brutal victimization that occurred Tuesday evening. There's certainly no denying that in their initial encounter, rebuttals by Obama to Romney's debate-long barrage of embellishments, denials, distortions and outright lies were both perplexingly sparse and agonizingly weak.
There's also no denying that as a result, Obama conceded to Romney an unfettered forum from which Mitt would lay out his campaign's easily rebuttable narrative on themes involving taxes and fiscal strategy, immigration policy and a women's right to choose. For some 67 million Americans -- many of whom had paid no real prior attention to either candidate's campaign mumbo jumbo -- that initial debate was their opportunity to hear Romney's counter to the narrative put forth about Mitt by the Obama campaign all summer; and hear it directly from the mouth of the candidate himself. As the rope-a-dope theory goes, the idea was to give Mitt all the rope Obama needs to hogtie Romney in the second debate.
According to this scenario, when during the first debate, Romney flatly denied that his tax and fiscal proposals create of a minimum $ 5 trillion hole in the budget, the absence of a strong rebuttal from Obama would encourage the Romney campaign to use the week leading to Tuesday's debate to reinforce that denial and other such false claims. As the theory goes, Obama spends that week feigning an obsession with "Big Bird" and ignoring the Romney campaign's work at locking into the minds of voters the assertions, promises, premises, claims, and denials advanced by Romney during that first debate.
Thus the essence of this supposed rope-a-dope strategy has Obama allowing Romney -- to "self-construct" in Debate One; for Mitt to set himself up as Obama's straw man in the Debate Two. And that debate's town hall format would presumably be more favorable to the President than to the stiffly awkward Romney.
Right now it remains to be seen whether any progress Romney made in a week of building on his Debate One narrative will turn out to have been lost in just over two-hours last Tuesday night. But what is now clear is that the Town Hall format provided an abundance of opportunities for Obama to expose that narrative time and time again.
For example, Romney's " five point economic plan " that he claimed will create "12 million jobs" and which produced no real response from Obama during the first debate was on Tuesday gruesomely dissected as absent of the intellectual property necessary to collateralize an economic turnaround. After derisively labeling it a "one-point plan," the President meticulously stacked up the trillions upon trillions in costs specified in Mitt's proposal; weighing them against the across-the-board 20 percent tax cut proposed by Romney:
"Look, the cost of lowering rates for everybody across the board 20 percent along with what he also wants to do in terms of eliminating the estate tax, along what he wants to do in terms of corporate changes in the tax code -- it costs about $5 trillion.
Governor Romney then also wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs, even though the military's not asking for them. That's $7 trillion.
He also wants to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. That's another trillion dollars. That's $8 trillion.
Now, what he says is he's going to make sure that this doesn't add to the deficit, and he's going to cut middle-class taxes. But when he's asked, how are you going to do it, which deductions, which loopholes are you going to close, he can't tell you.
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