Over the past month I worried that Mitt Romney was another GOP loser of a presidential candidate in the line of Bob Dole and John McCain. Dole and McCain are great Americans who have made profound personal sacrifices for our freedom, but as presidential candidates they were palookas. I wondered whether Romney was this year’s Republican bum of the month served up to lose honorably to the Democrats’ heavyweight champion.

The answer Romney provided last night in the debate with President Obama (transcript here) was something like the great negation of Nathaniel Hawthorne saluted by Herman Melville: “He says No! in thunder…” I can’t think of a better debate performance by a presidential candidate in the modern era, going back to the Kennedy-Nixon debates.

Obama’s apparent lethargy last night gave expressive form to his tired talking points. He struggled to remember them and work them into his comments at the appropriate times. Getting pummeled early in the match he asked the moderator to intervene on his behalf. He sought first to hide behind Michelle Obama’s skirt, his (racist) grandmohther’s travails and then skirt-chaser Bill Clinton’s record.

Barack Obama is a big-time bs artist. At least since his law school days he has risen in great part through his perception that the people around him want to like him and see him succeed. He is a big faker who has never been pushed or exposed.

The symbolic moment last night was the point at which the bologna met the grinder. In response to one of Obama’s standard talking points on the putative corporate tax breaks for taking a plant overseas, Romney said: “Listen, I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant. The idea that you get a break for taking jobs overseas is simply not the case.”

And just before that on Obama’s corporate handouts: “But — but don’t forget, you put $90 billion — like 50 years worth of breaks — into solar and wind, to — to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I — I had a friend who said, you don’t just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers. All right? So — so this is not — this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy-secure.”

Bang, zoom, pow. Obama knew he was losing and at the end he knew he had lost.

Watching the debate, I thought of Apollo Creed’s trainer in Rocky, when Creed is shocked by the pummeling he is taking in the championship match that Creed has blown off. The trainer says to Creed: “He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!”

I hope the Rocky analogy is limited; Creed recovered. Rocky went on to lose the fight on points to Creed.

Obama lost last night, but he is a competitive guy who has his Chicago cornermen and the refs working overtime to make him a winner. Last night, however, Romney won Round 1.


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