Actor Ken Osmond as he played "Eddie Haskell" on "Leave It to Beaver," a TV show that ran in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In the first presidential debate in 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore famously sighed in frustration over the ill-informed comments from Republican nominee George W. Bush -- and the national press corps went wild saying that Gore's sighing proved that he was an obnoxious know-it-all. Gore also insisted on getting time to counter Bush's misstatements, showing how pushy the Vice President was.
Obviously, other factors contributed to the debacle of Election 2000 -- when Gore's narrow victory was overturned by five Republican partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court -- but one of the reasons Gore's popular vote margin was only about 500,000 was that key journalists made Gore their whipping boy to "prove they weren't liberal."
I was reminded of that history when I watched the instant analysis -- now congealed as conventional wisdom -- that Mitt Romney was the decisive winner over Barack Obama in the first presidential debate of 2012. Yet, Romney had presented all the oily charm of Eddie Haskell, the sneaky sidekick on the "Leave It to Beaver" show of the late 1950s. The GOP nominee offered one squirrely prevarication after another. So how did that work out? At the end of Bush's know-nothing rule, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans were dead along with thousands of U.S. troops; the U.S. economy was in freefall; millions of Americans were losing their jobs and homes; the federal budget had gone from surpluses to $1 trillion-plus deficits; and serious threats to the future, like global warming, were ignored.
With his eyes blinking and his weight shifting, Romney even mixed in an insult comparing the President's honesty to Romney's five sons repeating falsehoods hoping they would eventually pass as true. In other words, behind his forced smile, Romney was cleverly shielding his own lies behind the preemptive attack of telling the American people that the other guy was the liar.
It seems that Eddie Haskell has grown up -- and he is Mitt Romney.
Yet, the fury, including from liberal commentators on MSNBC, rained down on Obama for not countering all Romney's lies aggressively enough in real time. Obama did challenge Romney's reinvention of his 20 percent tax cut as not really a tax cut and the Republican's insistence that his health-insurance plan covered people with pre-existing conditions when it really doesn't. But apparently Obama wasn't loud and forceful enough.
Krugman on Romney
Few of the instant analysts did what economist Paul Krugman did in a column in Friday's New York Times. He deconstructed Romney's deception about his health-insurance proposal. Romney claimed that "No. 1, pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan."
"No, they aren't -- as Mr. Romney's own advisers have conceded in the past, and did again after the debate. Was Mr. Romney lying? Well, either that or he was making what amounts to a sick joke. Either way, his attempt to deceive voters on this issue was the biggest of many misleading and/or dishonest claims he made over the course of that hour and a half.
"Yes, President Obama did a notably bad job of responding. But I'll leave the theater criticism to others and talk instead about the issue that should be at the heart of this election.
"So, about that sick joke: What Mr. Romney actually proposes is that Americans with pre-existing conditions who already have health coverage be allowed to keep that coverage even if they lose their job -- as long as they keep paying the premiums. As it happens, this is already the law of the land.
"But it's not what anyone in real life means by having a health plan that covers pre-existing conditions, because it applies only to those who manage to land a job with health insurance in the first place (and are able to maintain their payments despite losing that job). Did I mention that the number of jobs that come with health insurance has been steadily declining over the past decade?
"What Mr. Romney did in the debate, in other words, was, at best, to play a word game with voters, pretending to offer something substantive for the uninsured while actually offering nothing. For all practical purposes, he simply lied about what his policy proposals would do."
Yet, instead of doing what Krugman did, i.e., expose one of Romney's cruel deceptions -- especially cruel to Americans with pre-existing conditions if Romney wins and lets the insurance companies return to the status quo ante, pre-Obamacare -- the American pundit class piled on Obama.
With the exception of Rev. Al Sharpton, the panel of MSNBC "liberal" show hosts hammered away at Obama's low-key performance and barely mentioned Romney's hyper-activity as he shape-shifted himself from a "severely conservative" fellow into a caring guy whose harsh proposals have just been grievously misunderstood.
Romney even jumped in to act as a surrogate debate moderator, elbowing aside Jim Lehrer who curiously saw his job mostly as cutting off President Obama from giving answers while letting Romney ramble -- all the better to soften Romney's threat about zeroing out PBS funding.