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President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney greet presidential debate audience.
(photograph by Zhang Jun/Xinhua, Zuma Press)
“I really think that one of the profound decisions the American people have to make now is whether they want to be governed by a president, or a boss. And I mean a boss!” ––Bravo Television’s James Lipton in conversation with Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball Show.
Halloween is close enough to the date of the 2012 American presidential election that the idea of the country waking up to either a trick or a treat on November 7 serves as an appropriate metaphor for the intense anxiety that has characterized much of the current campaign for the White House’s Oval Office.
Critics of Democrats have accused them of guerrilla decontextualization trickery in the form of a presidential administration that has delivered less that they believe it should have over the past four years. Likewise: critics of Republicans have charged them with attempting to force upon the country a potential leader whose potential administrative policies seem to shift and adapt to audience preferences.
In one sense, critics of both parties can claim the opposing candidate guerrilla decontextualized himself during the first 2012 presidential debate on October 3. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did so by passionately presenting his political platform in much more moderate terms on such issues as affordable health care, women’s rights, and taxation than in the positions previously stated in live campaign appearances or the notorious 47 percent video. This penchant for reversing positions has been described by Mother Jones Magazine, Mr. Obama, and the Urban Dictionary as “Romnesia.”
Republicans can claim the president engaged in guerilla decontextualization during the first debate by playing the role of a timid schoolboy allowing a classmate prone to bullying others to, in the consensus of the news media and much of the Democratic base, walk all over him and straight to a first-debate victory. For the second debate on October 16, it was Mr. Obama who executed the U-turn, not so much where his stand on fundamental issues is concerned but in regard to how dynamically he presented and defended his position. Whereas he had previously appeared somewhat reticent or even docile while Romney drove home point after point, in the second debate he repeatedly stood and challenged Romney’s contentions to such a degree that the two men often appeared more as if they were engaged in a boxing match rather than a debate.
After the Dance
Several major poll analyses after the second debate––CNN’s and CBS’ among them–– declared Barack Obama the winner. They generally qualified his triumph as a “narrow” one and some polls indicated nearly a full third of viewers decided it was a draw.
However: anyone listening to the Michael Baisden Radio Show the day after the second debate would have heard one listener after another call in to express astonishment that anyone should have remained undecided or ambivalent after seeing President Obama’s pointed dissection of Mr. Romney’s various assertions and proposed economic strategies. Moreover, very few people of any political persuasion at all have bothered to dispute that Mr. Romney’s demeanor during the debate often was a true and frequently unsettling mixture of bully-like conduct and presumed racial superiority.
Bravo Television’s James Lipton appeared on Chris Matthews’ Hardball program the evening after the second presidential debate. In what he seemed to experience as an “aha moment,” he stated that he finally came to understand what he views as Mitt Romney’s true character: “He is that boss who tells lame jokes and waits for everyone else to laugh or else and who keeps us forever off balance, uncertain and anxious.”
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love
Notebook on 2012 Presidential Election & Guerrilla Decontextualization