Mitt and Big Bird

If you wait around long enough, Mitt will give you something to talk about.

Mitt Romney just can’t win.

When people say Mitt Romney is out of touch, it goes so much further than the man being rich, or having an elevator in his garage, or making a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry.  It goes much further than Romney not understanding the problems of the middle class and making derisive comments directed at 47% of the population. 

No, it’s deeper than that.  And the evidence is sort of writ large on the internet.

Consider that Mitt Romney probably "won" the first presidential debate.  I wasn’t surprised that Romney was declared the winner (I actually said he would by default).  I was, however, surprised how flat Obama was.  I don’t fully believe he threw the debate-- but if I were in Obama’s strategic circle and you told me he threw the debate, I’d believe you.  He certainly didn’t look and act and sound like the orator we expect. 

That leaves pretty much two things:  either Obama really was rusty and unprepared for Mitt’s hard, fast run at the middle (wherein he more-or-less changed his position on the political spectrum in front of our eyes), or he purposefully wanted to give the appearance that he was treading water. 

And, though I don’t want to weigh in on this too heavily—because there’s really no evidence he threw the debate—there are strategic reasons and upsides to doing such a thing.  The first is that, the more Mitt talks, the more people perceive him wedging his foot into his mouth next to his silver spoon; and one could see how it might be effective to just let that happen and accumulate fodder for the campaign trail (more on this later). 

The second is that, for Obama, any performance you give in debates two and three naturally shift the focus and momentum back in your favor.  You drive the narrative.  It’s almost inevitable that the media will discuss how “the real Barack Obama” showed up in the second debate, provided he simply go over the very low bar he set for himself Wednesday.  Any momentum Romney had in debate one is negated in debate two, and we’re that much closer to the election.

So, there are reasons to do such a thing.  I’m not saying he did it, and I’m not apologizing for his performance.  But it’s silly to dismiss it as though there isn’t any strategy behind such an idea. 

And that brings us back to Mitt putting his foot in his mouth, and being out of touch.

What I don’t think Mitt Romney understands—and what Barack Obama didn’t understand at the beginning of his term—is that you can have a 90-minute debate where you impress people with your parries, jousts, and pivots.  You can drop all the zingers and stretched facts and policy details about the tax code you want.  You can drop numbers and buzzwords and economic statistics. 

You can do all that, but all some people are going to hear after the debate is over is: “He wants to kill Big Bird.” 

All they’ll take away from the whole thing is, “I don’t understand that other crap.  But I know Big Bird.  I’m going to look smart by walking around my office water cooler and saying, ‘Did you hear about how Romney wants to do away with Sesame Street?’”

There was absolutely no reason for Romney to attack PBS and the debate moderator (and PBS employee), Jim Lehrer.  It was a move where the upside was a dog-whistle to conservatives about cutting funding for public television, and the downside was a strategic catastrophe.  Showing the country what it looks and sounds like when you fire someone—and allowing people to make the connection that, in the same stroke, you’re also going to put down Mr. Snuffleupagus – has way more downside than up.  Even people who do care, and do understand, all the policy details Mitt dropped are going to have a good time with the internet meme that “Romney the Grouch” is against Ernie and Bert.

Two full days after the debate, and Big Bird is still a top trend on twitter. On social networking sites, doctored pictures of a foul-mouthed Elmo wielding a switchblade directed at Mitt are everywhere.  People are going to trade memes and jokes on this for a week.  The conversation, a mere 48 hours after the debate, is Sesame Street—not Mitt Romney’s plans for America.  Debates are often remembered for that one, succinct moment or soundbite.  Mitt has to understand that.

So, yes, Mitt Romney won the debate, but only to the people who are interested in the art of debating and politics.  History shows us that debates are won and lost not by scorecards and pundits, but by perception; and if one of the few concrete things people walk away talking about is that Mitt Romney went after their childhood icons, that is a tainted win he cannot afford.  



This blog was brought to you by: @PatrickInPublic, and the number 47.

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lyn October 11, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Murphy- I tried.
lyn October 11, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Watts- I don't know why I bothered with you today. I thought just maybe this fellow might be interested in an intellectual exchange. But I see you would rather put down someone. I should have known you would once again continue down this road. For the last time, as I'm not going to try on any topic again with you because you seem to like to leave your "opponent" a lesser person than they may truly be,... I say I'm sorry when appropriate - not on the demands of someone who is tearing me apart and making a mountain out of a molehill. I said some peoples posts have been deleted and this is a fact. And I did not know if any of yours had or had not been - so I'm not saying I'm sorry about that! And if you think I'm lazy because I'm for not researching why those posts were deleted, go ahead and think that. If you want to know why they were, YOU look it up. I really don't care - some repeated posts across the country have been deleted so therefore, logic prevails that editors felt TOS were violated.
MZ October 11, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Watts, I would have to politely disagree with you. At least from my observations the democrat side seems to pay way more attention to race than does the republican side. My anecdotal evidence consists of having worked around union members for over a decade. These were blue collar workers who voted democrat and were some of the most racist people I have ever met. These weren't isolated incidents or from a single union or location. It was quite widespread. They were roughly evenly split between urban and rural settings. In Avon Lake (certainly not urban) I am amazed by the racist comments that come from my well educated liberal friends mouths. They vote a strait democrat ticket year after year including for Obama and still openly utter racist terms, not dog whistles but flat out racist. Conversely, most business owners that I know (and there are many) couldn't care less about the color of ones skin. Can he or she do the job and help make profits is all that matters. I think most Americans, certainly not all, judge based on character, not color. We all carry stero-types, it is only natural. But I think most are deaf to dog whistles.
Watts October 12, 2012 at 12:45 AM
Your first post directed toward me as a response to a very credible and unbiased statistical analysis from Nate Silver: "... keep your uninformed and misleading comments to your own states Patch." Your next post to me: "Go back to your own local Patch, at least your own state. I wouldn't mind if you had an interest in this area. But I have a problem with all of you spreading your garbage on other Patch networks just to promote you agendas, for free and going unchecked." Then you started down your path of multiple posts grouping me in with some subset that you defined in your own mind, along with "policies" that also existed in your own mind: "I have seen many times that a posters comments have gone from say 20 different Patch to maybe 12, which means 8 editors did the ethical and proper thing - deleted them." Then continuing your insults to me: "Problem is, you don't want to "engage", but rather you bring your own brand of "ignorance" attached to your uninformed comments." - all of which I think that you now personally know isn't true, but if you had spent even two seconds to look at my post history you could have known that wasn't true. So please tell me at what point do you feel compelled to be a decent human being and apologize? Is it only after you start to insult my family members and tell people that I worship at the alter of satan? What lines do you have to cross before you feel that an apology is due? Again, your audience awaits.
MZ October 13, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Watts, Here are some urban lefties that appear by the article to be flat out racists under the guise of helping the kids. A school board voting to have different standards based on race. Your thoughts? http://tampa.cbslocal.com/2012/10/12/florida-passes-plan-for-racially-based-academic-goals/


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