Wow. Last night's debate, posted in full above, was a spanking - one viewed by an estimated 70 million people.
Obama spent most of the past four years carefully limiting his appearances to friendly journalists and softball situations. His last appearance was being "eye candy" on the View. And last night, it showed. Of course, having an unsupportable record didn't help matters either.
The importance of last night just cannot be overestimated. It was Romney's one chance, for an hour and a half, to speak to America without having it filtered through the lens of the most biased press in my lifetime. For tens of millions of Americans who haven't followed the campaign up to this point, but have been subject to a tsunami of attack ads trying to frame Romney, it was a first chance to take their own measure of the man. Romney rose to the occasion.
Romney's performance was aggressive and respectful. His command of the facts was impressive. His performance was as good as Obama's was poor.
Now to be sure, Romney's performance was anything but a full throated defense of small government conservativism - it was Rockefeller Republicanism. But regardless, in this election, where the ghost of Rockefeller is facing off against the ghost of Marx, I'll take the former any time.
So how bad was Obama's performance? As Bill Maher tweeted: “i can’t believe i’m saying this, but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter." And if you really, really wanted to revel in schadenfreude, you tuned into MSNBC for the post debate wrap-up, where the wailing and gnashing of teeth was deafening.
A couple of things were, I thought, high points of the evening. The first was when Obama repeated his talking point, that we shouldn't be giving "tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas." Romney's response - to paraphrase from memory: "Mr. President, I've been a business man for thirty years, and I have no idea what you are talking about." Obama's response . . . silence.
The second high point of the night was when Obama criticized the oil industry over its "tax breaks." Romney pointed out that those tax breaks, available to all companies as part of the tax code, amounted to about $2 billion a year. He then pointed out that Obama had given $90 billion in actual subsidies to the green energy industry, many of them Obama campaign donors and many of whom have gone belly up. Romney finished his thought by noting that Obama was even a failed crony capitalist - 'you don't pick winners and losers, you pick losers.'
Romney got across his points - and hit Obama repeatedly on his record. Obama for his part repeated the talking points from his inane attack ads - and on more than one case, completely refused to engage on his record. Lastly, there were several points in the debate, particularly during the comparison between Romneycare and Obamacare, when Romney seemed more like a HS teacher explaining something to a particularly dense student - and he managed to pull it off without seeming condescending. That was quite a trick. I must admit, while not a great supporter of Romney, he actually earned my vote last night.
Update: Here is Frank Luntz's focus group from last night - the one where a number of Obama voters go racist and say they now plan to vote for Romney. Enjoy.