Romney Loses!

The debate was again very stimulating, and again I had trouble sleeping, more out of excitement this time, not because I was fighting against despair, as was the case after the first Obama – Romney confrontation.

This debate turned the election back to its substantial fundamentals. Obama’s September advantage has evaporated. It was perhaps inflated by the Democrats excellent convention performance and the Republican’s very poor one, and also by Romney’s 47% put down. Now there is a real contest between a centrist who is trying to move the center to the left (think Obamacare), and a professional candidate with unknown political orientation, clearly against Obama, though not clear what he is for.

Three competing approaches to governance, in fact, have been presented in the campaign. If Romney had won last night, he would likely win the election. Then there would be a contest between Romney, the Massachusetts moderate, and Romney, the severe conservative. There’s no telling what the result would be. But because Obama prevailed, he is still in there, and for three reasons I think that he will likely prevail. It’s a matter of authenticity, common sense and American identity.

Moderate Romney won the first debate because he performed well and because the President didn’t. That was reversed last night. The President was sharp, answering questions accurately and with authority, responding to Romney’s attacks precisely, most evident in the way he turned his greatest vulnerability, his administration’s handling of the attacks on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Romney tried to use the same technics to dominate and shape the discussion as he did the last time.  But it was off putting. He insisted on talking when moderator Candy Crowley tried to keep him within the time limit, first with success, then failing. His attempt to bully a woman didn’t look good, as was noted on social media. And then there was the unfortunate turn of phrase “binders full of women,” a phrase that took off on the web immediately, revealing as it does a patronizing approach to woman and a view from on high of human beings as pages that fit into binders.

Romney was not nearly as weak as Obama was in the first debate. But Romney’s second performance reveals the unattractive technics he used successfully in his first performance, perhaps lessening the earlier success.

In the first debate, Romney pivoted. His move to the center thrilled Republican moderates and operatives, apparently making him attractive to independents and undecided voters. It confused Obama, who responded poorly. But prepared for this now, Obama effectively responded and Romney now wasn’t able to cogently account for his proposals or for himself.

Romney was caught between his supply side fantasies of cutting taxes on the “job creators” to stimulate economic growth, and a promise that he wouldn’t favor the rich, when job creators = rich. He declared that his move to cut tax rates and radically increase military spending will be paid for by closing unspecified loopholes, but wouldn’t or couldn’t provide evidence. Obama was particularly sharp in criticizing this.

“Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up.”

Romney used an authoritative tone to trump such contradictions in the first debate. It didn’t work last night. And there was a big difference between his weak performance and Obama’s. Obama’s identity, his character, like it or not, is consistent. Romney’s isn’t. After campaigning for President for six years, it is still not clear whether he is severely conservative Romney or moderate Mitt. Strong performance can hide this, but the weak performance raised serious doubts.

Romney tests common sense both in the specifics of his major policy ideas and in presentation of self. His strongest move in the debate was to use every bad statistic about the economy, sometimes questionably cooked, and claim it is the fault of Barack Obama, from employment statistics to the price of gasoline. Without recognizing the larger historical and global context of hard times, it is all Obama’s fault. Some of this seems pretty compelling. It is his best argument, but I have my doubts that it can work when the alternatives Romney proposes so obviously most directly benefit the most privileged and so closely resemble the policies of George W. Bush. The Governor’s inability to distinguish himself from Bush and his policies, I think, was a notable low point in Romney’s performance

Women played a special role in this debate. There was a stark contrast in the way that Romney spoke about and to woman and the way that the President spoke: women in binders versus “women as heads of households,” as the President answered the question of equal pay for equal work. What was remarkable about the women in binders gaffe, is that it revealed a candidate who seems to be removed from America as it is and as it is becoming: less white, Protestant, Anglo, heterosexual, socially equal and mobile, and educated, than Romney and the Republicans imagine, with more suffering that demands government action. Obama and the Democrats speak to the America that is becoming, while the Republicans are in denial.

I realize this may be the most politically momentous night of my life. The differences between Romney’s and Obama’s approaches to America and its problems are stark and the choice was clearly revealed. Obama won the contest, in my judgment and according to the early polls.  As a partisan, I am very pleased. As a sociologist of political culture, I am intrigued.

In my next post, I will further consider the debate and focus on the positive vision that Obama expressed. I heard many commentators last night declare that the President has still not presented his plans for a second term. I don’t think this is accurate and will explain.

  • Michael Corey

    I actually enjoy reading alternative perspectives on the same subject. Your perspective of Govenor Romney, for instance, stands in sharp contrast to the 10/16/12 New York Observer endorsement of Romney. Perhaps that is a good example of why the election remains very close.

    To me, the “binders of women” controversy is somewhat puzzling. Romney worked hard to recruit, hire and mentor women in significant positions, and in the process he was given binders filled with resumes of qualified, high potential women. That’s a very good thing that others should model. I’ve done the same thing.

    President Obama looses credibility when he tries to avoid being straightforward on issues like Libya and oil and gas leases on public lands. Facts are sticky. Personally, I believe it will be in President Obama’s best interest to be open and honest on the Libya situation otherwise he risks losing the next debate on foreign policy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Goldfarb/34603203 Jeffrey Goldfarb

    The binders of women is poetic. He doesn’t speak of women but their resumes. It suggests a distance from actual people, though not necessarily a distance from a hiring plan. I have to say that the Libya controversy puzzles me. What is the issue? Lack of clarity about what happened during a crisis, or is it the politicization of the crisis. If the latter, I simply don’t see how the Obama administration is particularly culpable. It seems rather to me to be an attempt by his opponents on the right to try to find a weakness in a foreign policy that ought to have a relatively broad bi-partisan support. On the other hand, he is quite vulnerable to criticism from the left: drones, enemy combatants (a post on this from Canada is coming this week) Guantanamo and the like, with which I am sympathetic. But yes of course, it is good to read alternative views. Even better when they engage each other.

  • Michael Corey

    Personally, I applaud efforts like this to find, hire, and mentor highly qualified women. I helped set up a system in the company that I worked for to do this. It was part of a bigger program to help people be all they could be. I recruited and hired exceptional women from a variety of backgrounds and helped them succeed. During review sessions, the profiles of all of the people we were tracking were in binders. I can assure you that I and my associates dealt with the candidates with genuine interest and respectfully. I’m sure that Governor Romney had a similar approach based upon the comments of women who have worked for him.

    The Libya situation in my view is a big deal on many accounts. Based on testimony before Congress and in other documents we know that more security was requested and denied. Why? It wasn’t a budget issue. We know that the State Department monitored the attack, and never believed it was the result of a demonstration gone awry. It was conducted by militants on 9/11. Days and weeks went by with the administration telling a very different story. Why? Possible explanations include the fog of war (not likely based upon testimony to Congress), incompetence, mismanagement or deception. The President’s explanation deals only with the explanation: he wanted to be absolutely sure. If that was the case, then he should not have promoted the alternative explanation. This in my view from beginning to end is a horrible mess. Damage control is usually best served in my experience with the truth up front. I’ve dealt with many crises. I’ve completely changed my schedules and others, including canceling vacations, to deal with crises. I could never have imagined going on campaign and fund raising trips until I really knew what happened and organized things to deal with all aspects of the situations. This could have been done relatively quickly. How a leader deals with issues like this gives us insight into how leaders deal with other issues. That’s why I think Libya is a big deal, and why I think the President needs to defuse it with truth prior to Monday.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Goldfarb/34603203 Jeffrey Goldfarb

    It’s not what Romney did or did not do as Governor in hiring women, but how he spoke about it as he didn’t address the issue of pay equity.

    As far as campaigning after a tragic event: this sounds to me like a Fox news talking point. I am sorry. I don’t see the scandal. It only appears as such in our present hyper politicized partisan media environment and I don’t see the truth being hidden,

  • Iris

    Whether Romney hired women is not the issue. His positions on women’s issues are pitiful. He does not support equal pay, women’s right to choose, and contrary to what he said last night (he’ll deceive, if not outright lie), he does not support a women’s right to contraceptives under her insurance plan if her employer doesn’t like it.

    Romney looked downright silly when it came to Libya. He’s behaving like a brazen opportunist. God help us if Romney is elected especially when it comes to foreign policy. The Middle East is a tremendously complicated part of the world. What I read from NYT reporting is that the Libya attack was both a terrorist attack and hastily planned in response to the video. People work in foreign service aware of the dangers, often avoiding conducting business in bunker embassies. It is hard to know exactly what could have prevented the tragic deaths in this case, but I trust the administration to get to the bottom of the situation. Obama is not ducking his responsibility or culpability. You sound like you supported McCain in 2008 when he suspended his campaign in order to deal with the economic crisis. Lot of good that did him, or the country.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aron.hsiao Aron Hsiao

    The problem is not with the intent, it is with the misjudgment in evidence in the formulation “binders of women.” It is the same issue seen in the “47 percent” comment, the Big Bird issue, and in the way that Romney handled the Libya moment during the debate.

    These are missteps not on factual, logical, or ethical grounds but on social and political ones. They demonstrate a lack of personal and cultural sensitivity and normative understanding; either he knew how each of these comments would be received and didn’t think it was important, or he didn’t know, which is probably worse.

    The job of President of the United States (or indeed any similar position in national government globally) is first and foremost a political and diplomatic one, both domestically and abroad. Leadership of and communication with the public and administrative units at various levels, coalition-building, state-level negotiation, and so on are not merely rational-calculative roles and responsibilities. Yes, one can argue that they ought to be, but in any practical sense that argument is moot; it’s now how the world (or people) thus far seem empirically to function.

    What the public intuitively senses and worries about in Romney’s case is that “binders of women,” “I like Big Bird,” “47 percent,” and any number of other phrases demonstrate weakness in a primary core competence area of political leadership. It is not a secondary issue, nor should it be.

    In other words, it’s not (just) about the women; it’s about how Mitt does (or in this case, doesn’t) effectively communicate with them. The same thing is true in each case; one could similarly say that Bain Capital isn’t the issue, but rather Romney’s inability to leverage it properly and effectively in service of a clear narrative and vision. Obama’s handling of Libya, whatever you think of the outcome, was much more skillful in this regard.

    People complain about Ronald Reagan or “Slick Willie” and the degree to which they seemed ultimately immune to negativity or scandal, but in fact both were effective in governance and the enactment of a policy program, and Clinton remains effective in so many other roles today, in each case because of these primarily social skills. At this level, such sensitivity is the first requirement for efficacy at job responsibilities.

  • Michael Corey

    I have a feeling that the current election environment may be making it difficult to see the forest from the trees. What Romney raised was an example of a best practice that he used to advance women in the workplace. It is non partisan and is a good thing that some other organizations have also used. Over decades, I searched out best practices, identified them, adapted them and applied them for the purposes of organizational and employee development. These are the types of things in the workplace that positively improve the prospects of many women and men. It is non idological and in my view we should cheer efforts like these. To do otherwise, I think is not in the best interests of helping women and men reach their potential.

    As for Libya, a basic principle in resolving problems is recognizing them and dealing with them. I really believe in a practical sense that President Obama would be best served by dealing with all the issues involved before the debate on Monday on his terms. Aside from helping himself, there are also basic policy, management and leadersip problems which can also be addressed that would help him, his administration, and the country.