There is no need to grade this on a curve. Romney did very well in absolute, not relative, terms. He didn't just do well compared with Obama's poor performance; he really shone, in every category. He proved himself to be very knowledgeable on policy and business, quick on his feet and able to deliver zingers as graciously as possible under the circumstances.
Obama, on the other hand, didn't just get edged out by a man who performed slightly better on a given night; he turned in a very poor performance. It wasn't just an off night for him. It showed that he isn't conversant with the essential details of the major issues at stake in this campaign and affecting our nation.
Obama is so often insulated by his teleprompter and his rigid control of the few news conferences he has that some haven't caught on to his weaknesses. But those were laid bare last night, as he couldn't hide his ignorance on so many critical issues. (You would think more people would have caught on by now from witnessing, for example, Obama's inability to identify the size of the national debt on David Letterman's show to within $5 trillion.)
The debate didn't turn on a cute turn of phrase or a clever one-liner or two; it was a comprehensive slaughter on substantive issues.
As we live by the sword, we meet our demise by it, as well. So as Obama's creators have manufactured his larger-than-life image, he is inevitably -- and fairly -- held to that standard. It's particularly damaging to Obama that he was taken down in the very area in which he and his devotees claim he excels the most: rhetoric.
As I wrote in a recent column, it is obvious that Obama's strong suit has been campaigning and community organizing, the latter being a euphemism for agitating and rabble-rousing. He has demonstrated that he hates getting his hands dirty on the details or even in the process of governance. He appears to believe that it should be enough that he drives the major issues of the day -- the big ideas -- and delegates almost everything else to his subordinates. On Wednesday night, he reaped the fruit of his habit of neglect -- because the national audience witnessed it.
It was actually nothing new, as we've seen it a number of times over the past four years. Remember when he gave a rambling 2,600-word response, taking more than 17 minutes, to a woman named Doris at a public forum in Charlotte, N.C., that exposed his embarrassing amateurishness and naivete? Or his frustrated monarchical command during the Gulf oil spill debacle, "Plug the damn hole"? But Wednesday night, he staggered and stumbled repeatedly, to the point that no one can think it was just an isolated fluke or gaffe. It was way more than just a bad night.
This inattention to details is particularly troubling because it flows, I think, not from an inability to grasp facts but from a narcissistic arrogance, nurtured by years of coddling, that leads him to believe he doesn't have to condescend to learn the nuts and bolts of the issues upon which his decisions are changing lives and the very character and vitality of this nation. He is above it all.
Finally, Wednesday night, Obama was called on his empty slogans, and he had no response. None. Countless times, he resorted to, "Four years ago, I was left with this horrendous problem." Because he couldn't explain away his failure to improve any of our problems, he had to keep harking back to how terrible the situation was when he took office. It really is bush-league, and it's getting powerfully embarrassing.
Also, he was heavy on the cliches and generalities, even for him. He invoked fairness, class warfare, his professed love for the middle class, and Bush's two wars and tax cuts. But that's all he had, and it was nothing.
He tried again to claim that Romney would destroy Medicare and had his head handed to him in return when Romney refuted the dishonest charge and accurately turned it right back on him. Romney also refused to let Obama get away with any of his lies or propaganda, such as that he has "cut" $4 trillion from the budget -- despite the fact that every year, we are still running $1 trillion deficits.
This was a wonderful night for those of us horrified about the future of the nation. Before the debate, I believed that Romney would win the election, but after it, I am significantly more confident. Thank you, Mr. Romney, for allowing me a very good night's sleep.