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Down at the Town Hall

Political debates are scored subjectively, of course, and those predisposed to thinking that Barack Obama won Tuesday’s contest will likely go right ahead and think so. He didn’t convince us that his presidency hasn’t been disastrous, however, and we doubt that he won over many other skeptics.

Despite the significant advantages of a “town hall” format and a moderator clearly eager to help his cause, Obama probably also failed to convince many voters that Republican rival Mitt Romney is a lying, woman-hating, tax-cheating, Big Bird-killing plutocrat eager to wage war on the poor and downtrodden. Although Romney missed a few opportunities along the way, he came across as knowledgeable, competent, and very much a human being.

Romney also seemed classy yet down-to-earth as he endured the quadrennial inanities of the “town hall” “debate.” The questioners at these events almost invariably want to know about something of personal importance rather than national significance, which gives an edge to Democrats ever willing to oblige an individual at the taxpayers’ expense, and these purportedly undecided voters often turn out to be partisans hoping to embarrass the Republican. This time around a woman asked about women, which seemed intended to help Obama regain an apparently lost advantage with female voters, but it only gave Romney an opportunity to point out that a lousy economy is harmful to both sexes while Obama was reduced to touting a little-known Lilly Ledbetter bill that will affect a relative handful of women while discouraging many employers from hiring anyone of either sex. Another woman seemed to be demanding proof that Romney is not George W. Bush, and although we were disappointed he passed up the chance to produce his birth certificate he otherwise handled the question well without blasting his fellow Republican, while Obama was unable to offer a compelling theory that Romney is in fact Bush.

The best efforts of the moderator also failed to do Obama much good, although one of her frequent interjections was widely blamed by many conservative pundits blamed for one of the most disappointing moments of the night. During the inevitable discussion of the murders of four Americans at the embassy in Libya on Sept. 11, an issue that has been severely damaging to the president’s campaign, Obama insisted that he had described the event as terrorism from the outset, and when Romney disagreed the moderator flatly insisted that the president was right. A glance at the transcript of the president’s Rose Garden address in the immediate aftermath does include one oblique reference to terror toward the end of his brief remarks, but the coming days of news coverage should force even the most biased reporters to concede that the president did nonetheless spend weeks telling a now-discredited story that the murders were the result of a spontaneous demonstration provoked by a little-known film. Indeed, within minutes of the debate even the moderator was admitting she had been essentially incorrect.

There’s no telling how the rest of the world viewed the debate, but we were heartened to note that a couple of focus groups gathered by news outlets shared our impression. One of the focus had been chosen by the left-wing loonies at MSNBC, so that’s a good indicator that Romney did well enough.

— Bud Norman

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Where the Buck Stops

As the tragedy that occurred in Libya on Sept. 11 becomes an ever greater embarrassment for the Obama administration, the administration’s excuses become ever more desperate.

The latest official line was trotted out in last week’s vice presidential debate when Joe Biden, in between his constant snorts, sighs, and rude interruptions, attempted to deflect the blame onto the State Department for failing to inform the president of repeated requests from the ambassador for more security and onto the House Republicans for cutting for the State Department’s security budget. Obama’s remaining supporters should hope that he comes up with something better for tonight’s debate, because neither argument is convincing.

Even as Biden was pleading Republican-imposed poverty as the reason for the fiasco, we were wondering if the money allocated for security was insufficient or merely misspent according to naïve notions about the Middle East. There were already reports that the Marines were denied ammunition to guard the Egyptian embassy, which had been attacked and trashed by an Islamist mob the same day as the murderous assault in Libya, and it seemed unlikely that the budget was so niggardly that it couldn’t afford a few bullets. Since then the story has proved even more improbable, as we’ve learned that the State Department’s security budget is twice what it was a decade ago, and that there was an extra $2 billion sitting around in the agency coffers earmarked for embassy security. In another example of the administration’s questionable priorities, we’ve also learned that there was enough money in the State Department’s budget to purchase a $108,000 charging station for one embassy’s newly purchased Chevy Volt.

Nor are we impressed with Biden’s claim that the fault lies not with the president but rather with the woman that he appointed to oversee the State Department. Although Hillary Clinton has dutifully accepted responsibility for the failure to provide the necessary security, surely Obama deserves some blame for putting her in charge. Nor does Clinton’s soldierly mea culpa change the fact that she and Obama, as well as several other administration officials, continued to peddle the story that a virtually unknown low-budget video had caused the tragedy, a bald-faced lie that resulted in the imprisonment of a filmmaker and yet another blow to the invaluable tradition of free speech.

Perhaps Obama will be so bold as the reiterate that argument advanced by campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, who has claimed that the death of an American ambassador and three of his brave countrymen in a terror attack by a group supposedly vanquished by the administration would be of no interest to anyone if not for the nitpicking of Mitt Romney. There might be something to that, but if so the country has bigger problems any presidential candidate can possibly remedy.

— Bud Norman

A New Coat of Paint

The past few days have been devoted to a much-needed renovation of the home office, and the effort has left us too exhausted for our routine thorough examination of the news or to work up our usual right-wing rant.

This renovation mostly involved putting a new coat of paint on the ceiling and walls, and if that doesn’t strike you as a particularly daunting task then you haven’t painted a room recently. Although the actual application of the paint to the surface isn’t very tiring or time-consuming, even with the trim work required for eight windows and a baseboard, the rest of the task is downright Herculean.

In this case it began with the removal of an especially ugly wallpaper border that had been affixed to the top of the walls by the previous occupant. We’d love to share a quick and easy way to remove these monstrosities, we truly would, but after many hours of applying water, various wallpaper removal products, steam, and copious amounts of elbow grease, our best advice is to learn to love whatever is there.

The next step is a trip to a local hardware store to buy the paint as well as the drop cloth, rollers, pans, brushes and other devices required for painting. We made quick work of choosing a color called “Brown Sugar,” which we assume is meant in the confectionery sense rather than the more lascivious Rolling Stones sense, but it seems that no trip to a hardware store is possible without a lengthy discourse on home improvement from the customer standing next in line at the check-out counter. On this occasion the lecturer was a rather elderly woman who had worked for many years as a real estate agent, just one of many uninteresting facts about her that we learned while waiting for the paint to be mixed, and we learned how various projects would affect our re-sale value. We patiently explained that the information was of little use to us because we intend to grow old and die in this property, a prospect that became more and more appealing with each passing anecdote, but the advice kept coming until the Brown Sugar had been mixed and paid for.

Then there was the major matter of moving the furniture, which naturally revealed dust bunnies, cobwebs, cat toys, and various other surprises which required extensive vacuuming and scrubbing, which in turn led to a rash decision to conduct a thorough cleaning of the premises. This entailed disposing of numerous grocery sacks worth of outdated papers, including the phone numbers of some long-deceased friends notes from freelance assignments completed several years ago, and the owners manuals for computers that were consigned to the basement several technological generations ago, as well as the scrubbing of items that had somehow accumulated sufficient dust and grime to cover a large desert.

It’s almost done, though, and we must say that the office is looking quite nice. The Brown Sugar is soothing yet masculine, and everything looks much better without all the soot. We should be back to the right wing rants by tomorrow.

— Bud Norman

Veep, Veep

Joe Biden didn’t say anything memorably laugh-out-loud stupid in Thursday night’s vice presidential debate, which will likely suffice for the Obama administration’s many media cheerleaders to declare him a runaway victor, but it is unlikely that he talked anybody into voting for his ticket. Paul Ryan didn’t deliver the expected mauling, which will likely be enough for those same media cheerleaders to declare him a flop, but he also probably didn’t convince anybody to vote for the Obama-Biden ticket.

We followed the debate on an over-the-airwaves broadcast, as God intended, but through the miracle of Twitter we learned that a focus group of allegedly undecided voters at CNN seemed to think that Ryan got the better of it. Indeed, the network’s newfangled approval meter was so consistently going up during Ryan’s time and down during Biden’s that several liberals complained it was somehow rigged in the Republican’s favor. There’s no telling if this was an outlier response, but it does seem far-fetched that the folks at CNN, of all people, have suddenly become members of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

The distaff portion of the focus group was most impressed with Ryan, the “Tweeters” report, which is especially good news for a ticket that has until recently struggled to win over women voters. At the risk of sounding slightly sexist, we’ll venture that such a response might be at least in part because Biden is an aging, pudgy, and hair-plugged fellow while Ryan is youthful, famously buff, and thickly coiffed, but Biden’s rather rude behavior throughout the proceedings might also have been a factor. Barack Obama has blamed his universally-panned performance in the first presidential debate on being “too polite,” and Biden was clearly eager not to make such a mistake, interrupting, pouting, inappropriately smiling and smirking to the point that even reliably liberal pundits were “tweeting” their annoyance.

Biden’s reputation for stupid statements also provided Ryan with the only laugh line of the evening. When Biden tried to score points with Mitt Romney’s famous secretly recorded remark about the “47 percent” of Americans who take more from the government than they contribute, Ryan effectively blunted the attack by noting that Biden should understand that “words don’t always come out of your mouth the way you intend.”

Stylistic considerations aside, we thought Ryan prevailed on most of the substantive points. The debate opened with a question about the attack on America’s embassy in Libya and the four resulting deaths, and Biden attempted to deflect attention from the administration’s outrageously incompetent and dishonest role in the fiasco by criticizing Romney for addressing a mealy-mouthed message sent by the embassy in Egypt after a riot there the same day. Biden noted that Romney’s comment was “criticized by media around the world,” but surely most Americans are more concerned with the deaths of four countrymen than the predictable response of the media.

As the debate moved on to broader foreign policy matters, Biden tried to portray the Republicans as blood-thirsty war-mongers while simultaneously boasting how very hawkish and cold-blooded his boss has been. Biden made a similar attempt to have it both ways on the national debt, a pressing problem that Ryan has at least made a serious attempt to address during his congressional career, blasting the Bush administration for its half-trillion deficits while shrugging off the trillion-plus deficits that have occurred during the Obama administration. He even criticized Bush’s expensive prescription drug plan for seniors, then later boasted how seniors don’t have to pay for their prescription drugs.

For reasons known only to the moderator, who once counted Obama as a guest at one of her weddings, both candidates were also asked their shared Catholic faith and how it affects their differing views on abortion. Ryan was forthrightly anti-abortion, stressing his ticket’s moderation in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother, thus coming across as the more centrist of the two candidates. Biden also flat-out lied about the administration’s dictate that the Catholic church must provide contraception to the employees of its hospitals and social service organizations, allowing Ryan to wonder out loud why the Church is currently suing the administration.

Ryan also got the better of the closing statements, we thought, reminding the audience of the administration’s many failures and offering a believable argument that he and Romney could do better.

On the whole, that CNN focus group probably got it right.

— Bud Norman

Who Would Do Such a Thing?

Of all the arguments that have been advanced against photo identification requirements for voting, the most confounding is the frequent insistence that there has never been and never will be a documented case of voter fraud. Some people might commit rapes, robberies, murders, and various other sorts of mayhem, we are told, but it requires a particularly cynical assessment of our fellow humans to believe that anyone would ever stoop so low as to commit voter fraud.

That the argument is usually made by the very same people who insist that any Republican victory is proof of a stolen election makes it all the more peculiar, but we’ve found that there’s simply no convincing them of the need to take even the simplest and least burdensome precautions to prevent an ineligible person from casting one or more votes. Two recently released videos show that some people are quite willing to accommodate voter fraud, so long as its done on behalf of the right candidate, but even this is unlikely to convince those with a touching faith in the innate honesty of mankind.

The videos were made by James O’Keefe, the comedian-journalist-provocateur who became briefly famous with his hilarious hidden-camera footage of officials at various ACORN offices offering business counseling to a man posing in an most unconvincing costume as a pimp. That widely-publicized effort resulted in the de-funding and subsequent disbanding of the hard-left community organizing group, earning O’Keefe the eternal enmity of the liberal press, and his latest effort is unlikely to endear him to his critics.

Both of the new videos show undercover reporters entering various Obama campaign headquarters and voter registration booths around the country to ask for assistance in casting multiple votes in different states. In each case such help is quickly forthcoming from the campaign staff, who offer advice, encouragement, and the necessary registration forms, usually accompanied by giddy laughter at the prospect of Obama picking up a couple of extra votes from a single voter. In one instance the campaign volunteers even note that a postage stamp for the fraudulent registration has also been provided.

Some Obama supporters will counter that none of this is definitive proof that voter fraud has actually occurred, which is true enough for their purposes, but it does seem to suggest that not everyone is America is so high-minded that they’ll not even consider adding a few illegal votes to the ballot count. The folks at Think Progress, a left-leaning think tank that has been among Obama’s most loyal allies, went further in their criticism by alleging that O’Keefe’s efforts actually constituted a violation of the voting laws.

If so, we’ve finally got a documented case of voter fraud. In fact, we’ve got it on tape.

— Bud Norman

Flipping the Big Bird

The reviews are in, and the most panned political advertisement of the year is the one starring Sesame Street’s Big Bird character on behalf of the Obama campaign.

In addition to the massive amounts of ridicule being heaped on the ad by the conservative punditry, even such reliably pro-Obama media outlets as NBC, ABC, and Politico have all given it a rousing thumbs-down. Yet another rebuke, and one that will likely doom to the ad to a mercifully short run, was issued by the Sesame Street producers, who politely requested that their characters be left out of the political fray.

All of the criticisms, of course, are warranted. The spot opens with a montage of Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, and Dennis Kozlowski being hauled off in handcuffs for their notorious white collar crimes, then cuts to footage of Mitt Romney citing the sizeable subsidies to the lucrative Sesame Street franchise as an example of wasteful government spending. For the benefit of those wondering what one has to do with the other, a voice-over dripping with sarcasm helpfully explains that Romney “knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about, it’s Sesame Street.”

One hardly knows where to begin mocking such nonsense. Perhaps Romney isn’t spending much time on the campaign trail railing against Madoff, Lay, and Kozlowski, but that’s likely because they are all currently imprisoned for their long-ago and largely forgotten misdeeds, a point implicitly acknowledged by the ad’s images of their arrests, and few Americans outside the Obama headquarters still regard them as a pressing problem. We note that Obama has been conspicuously silent regarding Bruno Hauptmann, but we don’t take that as evidence that he’s soft on those who kidnap and murder the children of aviation heroes.

As for Romney’s alleged obsession with Big Bird, the Republican party’s word-counters have documented that Obama has invoked the character’s name far more often in recent days. More importantly, Romney has the better argument. Sesame Street’s vast licensing empire earns it huge amounts of money, as a visit to any toy store will immediately reveal, and it makes no sense for a nation $16 trillion in debt to throw it a few more bucks. Indeed, if not for the show’s mushy multi-culturalism and soft-headed emphasis on a fashionable notion of unearned self-esteem it would likely be reviled by the left as a crassly commercial creature of the hated 1 percent. Obama correctly notes that the show’s subsidies represent an almost infinitesimal portion of the budget, but that only bolsters Romney’s point that a president unwilling to make such a cut is hardly equipped to tackle the more politically difficult reforms needed to keep the country solvent.

Being of a certain age we have no lingering affection Sesame Street, and reserve our childhood television nostalgia for the private sector Captain Kangaroo, but even the most naïve pre-schoolers tuning in to Big Bird should recognize that the latest approved-by-Obama message reeks of desperation.

— Bud Norman

Shrewd Military Judgment

There are a lot of opinion polls out lately, some of them suddenly heartening to us rabid right-wing types, but the one that caught our eye was conducted by the good folks at The Military Times. The trade publication for our men and women in uniform found that its readers prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama by a landslide margin.

As if we needed another reason to admire our armed forces, 66 percent of the respondents to the poll favored Romney and only 26 percent would rather retain their current president. There aren’t enough active duty personnel to swing an election, especially when the government has such suspicious troubles getting ballots to them, but the Romney campaign should be shrewd enough to parlay their collective endorsement into a few extra civilian votes.

The military is one of the last remaining institutions that enjoys the public’s respect, after all, and its judgment regarding their Commander in Chief will likely carry some weight with some undecided voters. Although The Military Times stressed that most of the respondents said they were basing their vote on the basis of economic issues rather than military or foreign policy matters, we suspect that’s only because of the armed forces’ traditional reticence about the way wars are being conducted. Soldiers, sailors, and airmen are in the only occupations that currently enjoy full employment, and it’s unlikely they have no strong opinions regarding the president’s unprecedented military strategy of fighting the Afghan war according to a predetermined timetable, his unusual preference for foes over allies, his habit of claiming credit for the successes wrought by the skill and bravery of his troops, or his inability to properly pronounce “corpsman.”

At the very least, the overwhelming support of the troops should help to blunt the Obama campaign’s efforts to portray Romney as a bloodthirsty, war-mongering brute eager to fight the world. If the men and women who would do the fighting aren’t buying it, the people safe at home should be all the more skeptical.

Back when a Republican with an exemplary National Guard record was running the wars, rather than a Democrat with no service record and a clear antipathy to anything military, we used to hear a great deal about “chickenhawks” who had never served in uniform having no right to an opinion regarding the national defense. We’d always counter that we’d be happy to let only active duty military and veterans select the president, but we never got any takers. The Military Times’ poll should make the offer even less appealing to the Democrats.

— Bud Norman

Tough Questions

There’s been a great effort in the past several days to make excuses for Barack Obama’s universally panned performance in last week’s presidential debate, with pundits blaming everything from the thin mountain air to having John Kerry as a sparring partner, but few of the president’s fans will acknowledge a more unsolvable problem. The president was not only facing tough questions for the first time in his political career, he was facing questions for which there simply is no good answer.

When Mitt Romney noted that Obama had promised to cut the federal deficit in half within four years but had instead doubled it, for instance, there was no disputing the factual basis of the complaint and no option but to offer excuses. The final debate will likely spare Obama the embarrassment of answering to that point again, as it is intended to deal exclusively with matters of foreign policy, but even hen the president will be hard-pressed to answer some of the questions that are sure to arise no matter the elevation of the site or who is helping out during the debate preparation.

The attack on the American embassy in Libya by Islamist mobs on Sept. 11, which resulted in the deaths of the ambassador and four other Americans, will raise several tricky questions.

It has now been widely reported, despite the reluctance of the press to disclose anything that reflects poorly on the administration, that the embassy in Libya had lax security despite repeated warnings that an attack was being planned. The president has thus far managed to avoid questioning about this infuriating fact, but it is unlikely he will be able to do so during the debates.

While he’s at it, Romney should also ask why the administration continues to lay the blame for the attack on an obscure low-budget video released months before the murderous riot when they had to know that it was, at most, a convenient pretext for a pre-planned attack motivated by anger over the country’s ongoing war against al Qaeda. It’s the sort of thing that the press would be eager to question a Republican administration about, but apparently it will take a presidential debate to force an answer from a Democrat.

As an adherent to a much-maligned religion himself, Romney might also ask why the president has been so exceedingly sensitive to the religious sensibilities of those who attacked our embassy and murdered our citizens, going so far as to imprison the aforementioned filmmaker and tell the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” There have been no official scolding of the artists who immerse crosses in urine or depict Jesus Christ as a transvestite, or the so-called comedian and million dollar donor to the Obama who routinely ridicules Christianity, much less the producers of a hit Broadway musical that mocks Mormonism, so it would be useful to know why Islam is alone among the world’s religions in enjoying an exemption from the nation’s long tradition of free speech.

Perhaps so few Americans still care about the lives of our diplomats, the honesty of an administration, and the right to free speech that none of this will come up during the “Town Hall” debate, but surely Romney will get to these questions in their last face-to-face encounter. If Obama and his new debate coach can come up with good answers to these questions, we will be most eager to hear them.

— Bud Norman

About That Tax Break

One of our favorite moments in Wednesday’s presidential debate, among many, came when Barack Obama launched into his frequent complaint about the tax break for shipping jobs overseas. Mitt Romney responded that in his many years of big-time business he had never encountered such a tax break, and joked that perhaps he should have been hiring better accountants.

Obama made much of the line when attempting to do post-debate damage control at a campaign rally on Thursday, mocking the supposedly savvy businessman for his ignorance of the most basic business practices. The crowd of adoring fans ate it up, because of course there’s a big tax break for shipping jobs overseas. Everyone knows that.

As with so many of the things everyone knows, however, a moment’s reflection should raise suspicions about whether it is actually true or not. Did some congressman actually stand up in the House or Senate and propose a Tax Break For Shipping Jobs Overseas Act? Did a president actually hold a signing ceremony for such a bill upon its passage by a majority of reelection-seeking politicians, and proudly proclaim that America would now enter a bold new era of mass domestic unemployment? Did such an outrage actually go unnoticed by the press and the American public? Anyone willing to believe so would probably also believe that Romney has remained competitive in a national election on a platform of tax hikes for the middle class and tax cuts for the filthy rich, but Obama seems to be doing well enough with that line and will likely find a few takers for the shipping-jobs-overseas-tax- break canard as well.

Obama’s more sophisticated supporters, of which there are a few, will roll their eyes and explain impatiently that he’s talking about the tax deferral provisions for foreign profits earned by multi-national corporations. This takes the discussion far beyond what everyone knows, naturally, and Obama is surely hoping that it goes so deep into the forbidding thicket of tax code complexity that only the most intrepid policy wonks will dare to investigate. Those who do take the time and effort to understand the rule and its consequences will likely conclude that it is a sound policy and that Obama’s proposed revision is a bad idea.

Put in the simplest terms we can muster, current law allows American-based companies that do business in foreign countries to defer paying the 35 percent corporate tax rate until the profits are returned home. Because doing business in foreign countries usually entails hiring some natives who are familiar with the local language, laws, and culture, and in some cases factory workers making products that can be more cost-efficiently shipped to local markets, this can indeed be construed as a “tax break” for overseas jobs. Never mind that in most cases the jobs are being created rather than replaced, and that in almost every case the jobs would not be created in America for logistical reasons that a law cannot change, or that the taxes are eventually being paid at the highest corporate rate in the industrialized world, its close enough to a tax break for shipping jobs overseas for government work.

The outraged crowds at the Obama rallies should stop to consider, however, that their candidate’s proposal to eliminate the rule will put American companies at a competitive disadvantage in global markets. Other countries don’t tax foreign profits at all, much less at the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world, so they’ll be able to offer much lower prices than American firms paying taxes to both the foreign country and the homeland. Many companies will eventually respond by leaving America altogether, taking their jobs and tax revenues with them, and the ones that stay will be the ones that can lobby and contribute their way to other favors.

Many of the screaming fans at the Obama rallies will be quite happy with anything that hurts those darned corporations, which are somehow blamed for keeping the American economy in its current sluggish state. Obama was back to bashing those evil corporate jet owners in Wednesday’s debate, a habit that annoys even his most ardent supporters here in Wichita, “The Air Capital of the World,” where evil corporate jet owners are the lifeblood of the local economy, and anti-business rhetoric continues to be a staple of the campaign.

The real reason that corporations aren’t hiring in America, apparently, is because they just aren’t taxed, regulated, and demonized sufficiently here. Everyone knows that.

— Bud Norman

The Great Debate

Wednesday night was a good one. Our beloved New York Yankees at long last clinched the American League’s eastern division title with a 14-to-2 win over the hated Boston Red Sox, and then our man Mitt Romney scored an even more lopsided victory over Barack Obama in their first presidential debate.

Debates are scored by highly subjective criteria, one of their many disadvantages relative to baseball, but we were not alone in declaring Romney the winner. The consensus of conservative pundit opinion agreed, and conservative pundits are notoriously harsh critics of their candidates. The astute fellows at the Powerline site called it a “knockout” for Romney, mixing in a boxing metaphor, and The National Review’s estimable Jonah Goldberg wrote that “Romney simply dominated and deflated Obama.” Matt Welch of the libertarian journal Reason quipped that “Romney just took Obama for a cross country drive strapped to the roof of his car.”

Liberal pundits are usually harsher yet toward conservatives, of course, but even they were forced to concede a Romney victory. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, famous for admitting to feeling a thrill go up his leg every time Obama speaks, was on the air sputtering “What was he doing tonight? He went in there disarmed.” Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast, who has an even more homoerotic attraction to the president, called the debate “a disaster.” Foul-mouthed comedian Bill Maher, who has raised a million dollars for the president’s campaign, “tweeted” in his typically illiterate style that “i can’t believe i’m saying this; but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter.” Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, who currently holds the world record for smugness, further confirmed Romney’s victory when she said “I personally do not know who won this debate tonight.”

More important by far was the public’s reaction, and the early returns indicate most viewers also saw Romney as the winner. The Cable News Network, usually reluctant to report anything embarrassing to Obama, revealed that their viewers picked Romney by 67 to 25 percent. Viewers of the Columbia Broadcast System were less enthusiastic, but still picked Romney by a more than two-to-one plurality. Future polls that will include voters who only heard about the debate will likely show an even larger number declaring Romney the winner.

Much of the result can be attributed to a very poor performance by Obama. Once lauded by the star-struck press as the world’s greatest orator, he was hesitant, halting, defensive, and downright dull throughout the evening. Part of the problem was that he was forced to defend a very hard-to-defend record, such as when Romney noted that candidate Obama had promised to cut the deficit in half within four years but instead had more than doubled it, and with no way to plausibly deny the charges he was unable to come up with any inspiring excuses.

Obama was also clearly out of practice at facing such tough questions, having spent the last four years being coddled by an adoring press corps, a staff full of yes-men and yes-women, and the die-hard fans who still show up for his campaign rallies. At one point during a discussion of tax rates he noted that Donald Trump would be considered a small businessman “although I’m sure Donald doesn’t like to be thought of as small in any way,” then paused for the uproarious laughter that would have surely followed from his usual friendlier crowds, and he seemed stunned by the silence that instead resulted.

The other important reason for Obama’s widely conceded defeat was a very strong performance by Romney. The Republican candidate did much to dispel the image that the Democrats have tried to pin on him simply by walking on to the stage without a top hat, spats, diamond-studded walking stick, and villainous curled moustache, but he further helped himself by coming off as informed, thoughtful, dignified, and friendly and likeable even as he aggressively pressed the case against his opponent. He also helped himself by vigorously denying Obama’s oft-repeated claim that the Republican ticket intends to raise taxes on the middle class while lowering taxes for the filthy rich, and making the most of his opportunity to dispel various other lies that have been told about him. Romney made a solid defense of free market economics while retaining his centrist credentials by acknowledging the need for sensible regulations, and generally seemed the more reasonable of the two candidates.

There’s still a lot of campaign left, just as there’s still plenty of baseball to be played, but it was a good night for the good guys.

— Bud Norman