After the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney got a much-needed “bounce,” and saw his poll numbers rise to the point that he now appears neck to neck with Barack Obama. While Romney and his team can celebrate a win, the new poll numbers raise a lot of questions about American voters.
Who are these people who, each week, attach themselves to the latest debate performance or campaign ad? When jobless numbers fell, we leaned towards Obama; when Romney’s “47%” video went viral, we leaned towards Obama. And when Mitt Romney pummeled Obama during the first presidential debate, we leaned toward Romney. We immediately forget about his comments on the 47%, and his stance against the Affordable Care Act.
Whether Romney and Obama were on target with their statistics and talking points during the most boring presidential debate in history is another story. We can leave that to the fact checkers who have been working overtime to point out how both candidates’ statistics don’t add up. What’s interesting here is our collective memory.
For the presidential candidates, who have both been running their campaigns for months, it might all come down to the last debate, or even the final day of the campaign.
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What Romney actually did during the presidential debate was waffle. Perhaps this was what threw off Obama. Almost everything Romney said reflected a center Right position. The hardcore conservative of the Republican National Convention and Republican fundraisers was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Obama and Romney seemed to agree on many issues, because they were both leaning to the center.
So which is the real Romney? Perhaps he’s the guy who will say whatever he needs to say in order to win over voters. This is nothing new. President Bill Clintonwas constantly accused of waffling, which is really a breakfast-sounding word that means pandering to an audience. Remember when Romney showed up all tan and brown for an interview with Jorge Ramos at Univision? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
If American voters cannot take into account the reality of the last decade because they’re so focused on the latest trending sound-bite, we have a big problem. People will be voting based on some random comment, a stumble, a debate performance, a speech, anything except the history of our recent past, and how eight years of Republican leadership drove the country into two wars and the worst recession in the country’s history since the Great Depression.
Obama was on watch when the Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. He maneuvered controversial legislation that in the long run will likely prove to have averted an even worse recession, by bailing out the auto industry, banks and some mortgage holders on Main Street. He overhauled Pell Grants and student loans, making it easier for students to attend college, and gave temporary amnesty to millions of young, undocumented immigrants.He also led the most significant overhaul of the healthcare system in this country since Medicaid and the Social Security Amendments of 1965.
But Obama’s most important achievement has been the tone of his administration. The crazy, saber-rattling of the George W. Bush administration—and in essence most Republicans including Romney—has given way to a friendlier and more careful approach to foreign policy. Republicans call it wimpy and apologetic. But Republicans think they live in a John Wayne movie. Now, when the world looks at the United States, they see a powerful ally, not a bully.
Perhaps Obama knows that the only thing voters are going to care about when they go to the polls on November 6 is not the achievements of his administration, but the video or sound-bite that happens to be trending that day. Let’s hope he’s got a few “zingers” up his sleeve.