I Get Post-Debate Letters

photo of Obama grimacing and looking downward during first debate
Fired up? Ready to go?

I sometimes forget that the email address I used to sign up for Obama campaign updates (almost exclusively fundraising appeals these days) gets filtered into its own special folder in my email inbox, because otherwise it’s simply too annoying to deal with the daily volume of email from that single source, this close to election day. So it wasn’t until today that I thought to check that folder, and found this after-debate appeal from the President’s campaign:

If you want to be president of the United States, you have got to be willing to stand up and tell the American people the truth.

Mitt Romney had a chance to do just that the other night, and he chose a different path.

Rather than own up to his plan for $5 trillion worth of tax cuts for the wealthy that he’s spent more than a year talking about, he denied it. Instead of telling the truth about his plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program, he dodged the question. And given the chance to explain how he’d “replace” Obamacare, he offered no plan.

Oh, boy. I could feel my blood start to boil as soon as I read that – I didn’t even need to get down to the ubiquitous hat-passing appeal for more of my money. This was my reply:

Look, I know you’re deathly afraid of coming off in a way that will let Sean Hannity portray you as the “angry black man.” And not without reason. But as Jon Stewart of all people put it on Thursday after that turd of a performance you turned in, shouldn’t you display at least as much of the “fired-up, ready to go” spirit and sense of urgency as you request of your email list volunteers? It’s just too early for you to start playing to not-lose, to start taking a knee and running out the clock.

Jesus Christ, Barack, going into that debate on Wednesday, everyone agreed that if Romney had a bad, or even just an OK night, and you had a good one where you really held his feet to the fire, you’d make the trending-downwards of the Romney campaign permanent. You’d “put him away.” Instead, you proved Chris frigging Christie right when he took his wide, bloviating ass onto the talk shows in the pre-debate days and arrogantly proclaimed that Mitt Romney was going to wipe the floor with you.

And yes, you did win in the “honesty” category. And yes, it sucks that since 1960, the press have discovered (and in fact actually CELEBRATE) that their source of employment itself – the media – can make candidates President on the basis of who had the better hair or smile rather than who had the better arguments and policies. But for crying out loud, it isn’t as if this is exactly new information you or your supposed campaign professionals are only now having to adjust to on the fly, in the moment. You knew it going into that debate; that’s the way it’s been now for fifty years. But instead of bringing the kind of enthusiasm you regularly (though not always) display on the stump, you gave the nation (many of them tuning in for the first time to the campaign that evening) Professor Obama, the 3D chess player and detached, bored leader of a diffident class of freshmen students.

Mitt Romney kept lobbing meatball after meatball over the heart of the plate, the kind of lies that just BEGGED to be swatted into the third deck…and you just kept standing there taking pitches.

What. The. Hell.

Go out there and act like you want to win this thing. Because if you don’t act like that, why the hell should anyone else?

The Obama campaign’s email continued on with this final bit of insanity:

Debates are one factor, but you need to remember: what he or I say in those debates will not decide this election.

Breathtaking, in its insipidness, isn’t it? I mean, think about that sentence for a moment. After an election – especially if one is on the losing side – there’s a tendency to stir the ashes, to keep doing autopsy after autopsy and analysis after analysis, trying to figure out what went wrong, what that magic “one factor” was that swung the painfully close election into your opponent’s column and sent your candidate to the showers. All such post-facto scab-picking is of course useless in the “no-sense-crying-over-spilled-milk” sense of the word. But something campaigns or their supporters seem to fail to notice is that aside from the futility of playing the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” game, the other undeniable truth in any such close loss is that almost any of the factors that swung the opponent’s way can be said to have been “the deciding factor.”

When George W. Bush won by the slimmest of margins in 2000 (leaving aside that in many ways, it was the SCOTUS and not the voters who (s)elected him), such agonized, after-action analysis was at its height. The favorite scapegoat for Al Gore’s loss was of course Ralph Nader. And, with a loss of 537 votes in Florida, certainly the 90,000 Nader voters in the Sunshine state can have been said to have “made the difference” between President Gore and President Bush. But it’s equally true that if Al Gore had been able to win his OWN STATE, Florida would not have mattered (Presidents almost never lose their home states; both 2000 and again this year are outliers in that regard — Mitt Romney is behind by as much as thirty points in Massachusetts). Others pointed to electronic voting machine irregularities in Ohio, or any number of other factors that, had that one factor been different, would have resulted in a President Gore. Here’s the thing (and the reason why such noodling is pointless after a loss): they are ALL true. Yup, had any one of those things been different, we’d have had a different President in 2001. And because this is true, it makes it patently silly to claim that this or that specific factor was THE thing that cost Gore the election. It ALL matters.

That’s why this Obama letter – especially that last sentence I quoted – is so noxious. Because in their blizzard of email to supporters, the Obama campaign at least pretends to know this: they say things like “the call you make today to a voter in Ohio or Iowa or Florida may make the difference.” When it comes time to ask their supporters for money or volunteer time or even simply enthusiasm, the Obama campaign seems to understand full well that there IS a threshold between winning and losing, and that indeed everything that helps the campaign is a factor in getting them across that threshold and into a second term.

Which is why it’s borderline insulting for them to claim that a thuddingly bad debate performance by the President which was viewed by some sixty million Americans supposedly “will not decide this election.”

Bullshit, Barack – and you know it. If the race is truly close, it may very well be that everyone from you and whichever one of your staff wrote this email to the “professional left” that you allow your campaign to so roundly ridicule may be sitting around in the days after a President Romney is elected, each offering up that one factor out of hundreds which “was the deciding factor.” If you lose in November by a handful of votes in Florida or Ohio after having had the momentum trending in your direction up until last Wednesday, it will certainly be valid to note that was the day you lost.

Last thing: of course you and your staff are right, that virtually all independent journalists and fact-checkers agree that Mitt Romney lied his way through Wednesday night. But allowing Thursday-morning fact-checkers to do what you should have done in the moment is not only vastly less effective, it’s a paler version of the same kind of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” that happens on the day after an election. Don’t let Romney get away with it again. And don’t delegate the job of refuting him to your underlings or the media in the week AFTER Romney tries to foist off that kind of nonsense on not just you, but the American public. Instead, act like you ask US to behave: as if every phone call, every small contribution, every door knock and yes, every debate performance might just be “the deciding factor.”┬áBecause it might be.

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