Reviewing the past few months of this tumultuous presidential campaign, I see the debates as having a wondrous salience. The first was the most momentous since Nixon versus Kennedy, though that 1960 confrontation was mostly a matter of cosmetics. Listening to it on radio, many in the audience came away thinking that the participant with the 5 o'clock shadow had won. That would have been Richard M. Nixon.
In the first debate this year, Mitt Romney hammered Barack Obama mercilessly. Under the ongoing assault, Mr. Obama's knees buckled and he repeatedly looked glassy-eyed. If the contest were a prizefight, the referee should have stepped in. I actually felt sorry for Mr. Obama. My tax bracket notwithstanding, I did not want to see Mitt hit him again, but he did: The economy! The national debt! The joblessness! However, the debate was not a prizefight. It was the first of three presidential debates, and though restrained in the next two contests, Mr. Romney accomplished just what he wanted. The debates left him looking reasonable, informed, competent and presidential.
During the final two debates, all Mr. Romney had to do was continue to look presidential. He glided suavely through them, as his opponent snarled, looking spiteful, petty, mean-spirited and second-rate. In sum, Mr. Obama looked like the challenger -- and not a very gifted challenger at that. In the end, most Americans went away feeling Mr. Romney has the right stuff to be president, and some wondered why a majority ever elected Mr. Obama president in 2008. Mr. Obama's presidency proves that not just anyone can serve in the country's highest office. In 2012, the charisma of a showman has about exhausted itself as a qualification to lead America. Only the Washington press corps still hankers for a "thrill going up the leg" or "a perfectly creased pant leg" or whatever other literary device was meant to convey a pundit's enthrallment with the community organizer from Chicago. How about a fast-beating heart or tummy flutters?
Mr. Obama has come across as an amazingly close approximation of Jimmy Carter, complete with a slow-growth economy and a foreign policy disaster, though one of Mr. Obama's empty boasts was he understood the Arab world especially well. His backup team of David Axelrod and David Plouffe serve as a second-rate Jody Powell and Hamilton Jordan. Frankly, I preferred Jody and Ham.
I must in all humility acknowledge that it took me all of two weeks into his presidency to recognize that Mr. Obama was in over his head. On Feb. 5, 2009, I said in this space that Mr. Obama's presidency was doomed. I pronounced him a dud, unlikely to be re-elected president. Said I, "With the economy in crisis and American national security in the hands of a starry-eyed novice, one can argue that we are in for a reprise of the Carter years complete with the self-righteous pout." Well, I argued this for almost four years and today I rest my case. Next week, Mr. Obama goes into retirement. I hope he will consider Hawaii.
Given my perspective, it was an easy case to call. A few months back, I published my findings in "The Death of Liberalism." In that book, I noted that in the conservative deluge of 2010, independents with conservatives turned the liberals out. The independents do not always share the conservatives' social values, but they are very ardent for prudent economic policies. The growing debt and unbalanced budgets (both state and federal) had roused the independent vote. I said they would vote with the conservatives for years to come because Mr. Obama and his cohorts in Congress were going to pile up trillion-dollar deficits for years to come. Along with conservatives and independents, the "uncommitted" voter will come next week. The uncommitted always goes with the challenger.
There are two numbers that have been relatively underemphasized this election year: 18 percent and 24 percent. Eighteen percent is the standard cut the federal government takes from the gross domestic product. Twenty-four percent is the cut that Mr. Obama's government is taking. He says that to pay for this engorgement of the federal government, all we need to do is raise taxes on the rich. The conservatives and independents recognize that there is not enough money earned by the top percentage of taxpayers to pay for it and probably not enough down below. Pithily put, we cannot afford liberalism. That is why we shall be getting a new government next week.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is the author most recently of "The Death of Liberalism" (Thomas Nelson, 2012).
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