The Indispensable Man

It may not be the popular or politically correct thing to believe, but I hold fast to the opinion that our founding fathers, men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and the rest are among the greatest men who have ever lived. Our nation would be blessed to have even one such great men at its founding. The fact that we had so many great men must surely attest that America is under the protection of divine providence. Of these great men, George Washington stands head and shoulders above the rest. For his contribution to the cause of liberty, leading the fight for American independence, and then not making himself a king or president for life, Washington is surely one of the greatest men who have ever lived.

It is no easy task to write a biography of Washington. For too many people, Washington seems to be too distant a marble statue of implacable virtue that normal people cannot relate to. The man, with his very real flaws, disappears behind the image. More recently, there is a tendency, among the ignorant woke, to dismiss Washington as merely a slaveholder, never mind the fact that Washington grew up in a time in which slavery was accepted and uncontroversial, that he came to have misgivings about the institution of slavery, and he, almost alone among his contemporary planter class, actually made a real effort to prepare his slaves for the freedom he believed they would gain when slavery, being obsolete, would die out. A candid assessment of Washington’s life and works runs the risk of seeming to be a hagiography, and yet to focus too much on his flaws, does the man an injustice.

James Thomas Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensible Man tries to thread the needle of writing a biography of Washington that makes him be a paragon of virtue while not dwelling overmuch on his flaws. In this effort, Flexner is mostly successful doing a passable job of relating Washington’s life and accomplishments and establishing that Washington was, indeed, the indispensable man without whom the American colonies could not have gained their independence. If you want to know about Washington’s life and accomplishments, this is a good book to read.

I cannot help, however, but feel a little disappointed when I finished Washinton: The Indispensable Man. It is a good work but there are some flaws. For one thing, there are no maps. This might be a fatal flaw in the sections dealing with Washington’s military career in the French and Indian War, and particularly in the Revolutionary War. How is the reader expected to follow the movements of the Continental and British armies without any maps? How can we understand the course of the battles? If I were not already familiar with the battles of the War of Independence, I would have been lost.

The lack of maps is somewhat frustrating, but I had a more serious problem with this book, it is too short, or too long. The problem is that Washington: The Indispensable Man is not the right length for what Flexner is trying to do. It is too long for a mere summary, but not long enough to get to know Washington. The author seems to hint at things but then moves on without going any deeper. I learned about Washington’s deeds, but I did not feel that I got to know Washington the man. I do not feel I got to know any of the people Washington interacted with, his friends, mentors, officers, subordinates. Flexner mentions names, tells a little about what they did and how Washington acted, and then moves on. I don’t get to know how Washington really felt about people he shared his life with.

Part of the problem is that Washington: The Indispensable Man is a condensation of James Thomas Flexner’s earlier four-volume biography of Washington. Flexner asserts in the preface that the text in this book is almost entirely new and not a series of patched together extracts, and while I have no reason to doubt his word, the book does indeed read as if he took out selections from his longer work. It summarizes but leaves tantalizing hints that there is more.

As I said, I can recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about Washington, but I fear that the reader is going to end the book unsatisfied. It is a good book to begin to learn about Washington, but not to end one’s study of the great man.

 

Impeachment

Now that the Donald Trump impeachment saga has come to an ignominious end, I thought it might be interesting and informative to take a look at the previous presidential impeachments and compare them to the present effort. So far, there have been three presidents impeached by the House of Representatives, Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump in 2020. While the precise circumstances of each case have been dissimilar, with various specific accusations being made against each president in diverse historical and political contexts, there have been similarities in the three presidential impeachments, as we shall see. In no case, so far, has the president actually been convicted and removed from office. In each case, the charges made against the president, the conduct of the trial in the Senate and the ultimate outcome has been a matter of politics rather than the law. Impeachment, then, is more of a political matter than a strictly legal one.

The constitution mentions impeachment in several clauses. Article I Section 2 Clause 5 states:

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

The House of Representatives impeaches a government official, including the president. Impeachment is simply bringing charges of misconduct against the officeholder, rather like a prosecutor bringing charges against a person accused of committing a crime. Contrary to what many of Donald Trump’s critics seem to believe, impeaching an official does not mean that that official is actually guilty of any crime, nor is he automatically removed from office. The Senate tries impeachments, acting as a sort of jury, as stated in Article I Section 3 Clauses 6 and 7 of the constitution.

6: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

7: Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

According to Article II Section 4 of the constitution:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868, as a result of the conflict between Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction. It is not necessary to get into the details of that conflict here.

Andrew Johnson

Simply put, President Johnson favored a more lenient treatment of the defeated south than the Republicans who controlled Congress. Johnson was a Southern Democrat who had been added to Lincoln’s ticket in the election of 1864 as a gesture of national unity. After Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson found himself opposed by both Congress and his own Cabinet, particularly his Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. To prevent Johnson from replacing Lincoln’s cabinet with his own men, Congress enacted the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 which prevented the president from dismissing cabinet officials without the consent of the Senate. Johnson demanded Stanton’s resignation anyway, Stanton barricaded himself in his office, and Congress proceeded to impeach President Johnson.

Edwin Stanton in his office.

On February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives voted 126 to 47 to impeach the president. The following week, the House presented eleven articles of impeachment, accusing President Johnson of violating the Tenure of Office Act by firing Edwin Stanton and appointing a new Secretary of War without the consent of the Senate, challenging the authority of Congress to legislate reconstruction, and using  “with a loud voice, certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues, and did therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces … against Congress [and] the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers, and laughter of the multitudes then assembled and within bearing”.

The case then went to the Senate on March 4. The trial began on March 23 and the voting took place on May 16 and 26. This was not really the case of a somber Senate carefully considering each article. There were reports of political pressure and even outright bribery to persuade the Senators to vote to acquit or convict. In each case, the Senate voted 35 to 19 for conviction, just one vote short of the two-thirds necessary to convict.

President Johnson remained in office but was a lame duck for the rest of his term and did not run for reelection. He was, however, vindicated in the end. The Tenure of Office Act was repealed in 1887 and the Supreme Court declared a similar act unconstitutional in 1920, noting that the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 was also likely to be unconstitutional. Andrew Johnson was not a very good president, but he should not have been impeached. His impeachment was little more than a partisan attempt to remove a president that the Republicans saw as standing in the way of Reconstruction and divided a country that needed to be united in the wake of the most destructive war in its history.

I think that it is fair to say that the Republicans hated President Bill Clinton more than they had any previous Democratic president. Part of this hatred was personal, a sort of moral outrage against a president seen to be immoral. As his nickname, Slick Willie might suggest, Bill Clinton had a reputation for sleaze and corruption, and for escaping the consequences for his actions. Part of the dislike stemmed from thwarted political hopes. When the Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in forty years, after the 1994 midterms, the Republican congressional leaders, particularly Newt Gingrich, believed that they would be setting the national agenda, with President Clinton reduced to irrelevance. Clinton was more politically adroit than the Republicans expected, however, and was able to portray the Republicans as obstructionist extremists, by triangulating to the center, infuriating the Republicans, and easily winning reelection against the uninspiring Bob Dole.

Slick Willie

The Republicans spent most of Clinton’s term investigating Clinton’s various scandals, without making much headway with the public. The country was prosperous and at peace and Clinton was slick, so the people did not much care about his misdeeds. By 1998, however, the Republicans believed they had their chance with Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton. I would rather not get into the sordid details about Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as well as the exhaustive report by Ken Starr on Clinton’s numerous transgressions. It is sufficient to point out that Clinton made false statements to a grand jury and in a deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

He did not have sex with that woman.

On December 19.1998, the House of Representatives voted, largely along party lines to send two articles of impeachment, perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, to the Senate. The Senate trial lasted from January 7. 1999 to February 9. The Senate then considered the charges in a closed session until February 12 when they emerged ready to vote on the verdict. On the first charge, perjury, the Senate voted not guilty 45 to 55 and on the second charge, obstruction of justice, they voted not guilty 50 to 50, well short of the 67 guilty votes needed to convict. In each case, the 45 Democratic Senators voted not guilty with five Republicans defecting on the second charge.

Should the Republicans have impeached Bill Clinton? From a legal viewpoint, yes. Clinton was unquestionably guilty of the charges made against him, and more. He was a sleazy, corrupt man who was guilty of serial sexual assault. From a political viewpoint, no. Impeaching the president was a foolish act, considering that the Republicans did not have the sixty-seven votes needed to convict and there was no chance of convincing ten Democratic Senators to break ranks with their party. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was not popular with the American people. Neither were the investigations leading up to Clinton’s impeachment. This public dislike of Ken Starr’s investigations was certainly a factor in the Republican loss of five Congressional seats in the election of 1998 when the opposition party usually gains seats in midterm elections. Clinton’s impeachment may well have a cause for the closeness of the 2000 presidential election. Normally, it is not easy for one party to hold onto the White House and Al Gore wasn’t a particularly appealing candidate. If the Republicans had not impeached Clinton, George W. Bush might have won the election by a decent margin. A great deal of subsequent partisan acrimony would likely have been avoided.

Karl Marx once wrote, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” I do not know how that statement might apply generally, but it certainly applies to the history of impeachment in the United States. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was a high tragedy, based on fundamental constitutional questions on the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was tragi-comic, based as it was in the titillating details of Clinton’s sexual exploits and deceptions. The impeachment of Donald Trump has been simply a farce.

The Democrats have hated Donald Trump, probably even more than the Republicans hated Bill Clinton. Part of this is undoubtedly Trump’s brash and uncouth personality. Part of this might be due to dashed hopes. Most observers, including myself, expected Hilary Clinton to win the 2016 election, and the Democrats were looking forward to sweeping Congress and forming a permanent Democratic majority. Donald Trump’s unexpected victory enraged the Democrats.

Donald Trump

Whatever the reason, the Democrats began seeking causes for impeaching Trump even before he took office, but it was only after they gained control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections that they had any chance of impeaching him. A July 2019 telephone call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky gave the democrats their pretext. In this conversation, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate corruption charges against Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, allegedly threatening to withhold military aid to Ukraine if Zelensky did not comply. The Democrats seized on this story to begin an impeachment inquiry in October.

Donald Trump talking to Zelensky?

On December 17. 2019 the House of Representatives voted, along partisan lines, to send two articles of impeachment to the Senate, Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed actually presenting the articles of impeachment until January 15, 2020, and the Senate trial began on January 22 and on February 5, the Senate voted to acquit Trump 48 to 52 on the first charge and 47 to 53 on the second charge, along partisan lines with Senator Mitt Romney the only Republican voting guilty on the first charge.

The impeachment of Donald Trump was a supreme act of folly by the Democrats. Not only did the Democrats not have the sixty-seven votes needed to convict President Trump, but they also did not even have a majority in the Senate, so they had no control over how the Senate trial was to be arranged. Under the circumstances, Trump’s acquittal was a foregone conclusion, and the whole impeachment was a waste of time and money. The Democrats in the House of Representatives were so eager to appease their base by impeaching Trump that they didn’t bother to make much of a case against him. The impeachment investigation was hasty and partisan, without much of an attempt to include Republicans in the process. The Senate trial was a joke since the Republicans didn’t take the charges seriously. The whole affair was a trivialization of the impeachment process. I expect that the Republicans will take revenge by impeaching the next Democratic president over similarly trivial charges until impeachment becomes a regular part of politics and presidents are being impeached for jaywalking or tearing the tags off mattresses.

The Election of 1880

The election of 1880 was not one of the more exciting elections. That was, perhaps, just as well since the election of 1876 had generated enough excitement to last several election cycles. Neither candidate was particularly memorable and the party platforms of the two major parties were almost indistinguishable.

The Republicans met in Chicago, from June 2-8, for what turned out to be the longest political convention in the party’s history. Because President Hayes had decided against running for re-election, the Republican Party was divided between Stalwarts, supporters of Ulysses S. Grant, who had decided to try for a third term as president, and Half-Breeds, who supported civil service reform and opposed the spoils system and the political machines that dominated both parties. These Half-Breeds, so called because the Stalwarts considered them to be only half Republican, supported the candidacy of James G. Blaine, the former Senator from Maine. Some other Republicans supported John Sherman, a former Senator from Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury under President Hayes and the brother of General William T. Sherman. None of these candidates could win a majority of the delegates, so the balloting went on and on until people began to support a relative unknown, James A. Garfield. Blaine decided to throw his support to his friend Garfield and Garfield finally won the nomination on the thirty sixth ballot.

James A. Garfield was a Congressman from Ohio at the time of his nomination. He was, in fact, the only member of the House of Representatives to be elected president while still serving as a Representative. As a youth, Garfield had worked on a canal boat, earning him the campaign nickname, “Boatman Jim”. Garfield was smart and ambitious and began to consider a career in politics but when the Civil War broke out he fought on the side of the Union rising to the rank of Major General. Garfield was elected to Congress in 1862, where he served from 1863 to 1880. Garfield was probably one of the more intellectual candidates for president in the nation’s history, being the only president who proved a theorem in mathematics. He was also able to simultaneously write in Latin with his right hand and Greek with his left hand. Not very practical, perhaps, but still a neat trick.

Garfield’s running mate was Chester A. Arthur. Chester A. Arthur was almost a symbol of everything that was wrong about American politics of the time. Arthur was a machine politician, rising up through the New York Republican Party, taking various civil service/political patronage jobs such as Customs Inspector of New York from 1871-1878. He was a good friend of Roscoe Conkling, the Senator from New York who controlled the patronage in the state. Arthur was a creature of the spoils system that men like Garfield were trying to eliminate.  Chester A. Arthur did serve in the Union army as quartermaster, an important job, but again as a political appointee, and he made sure he was no where near any fighting.

The Democrats held their convention in Cincinnati from June 22-24. There was many Democrats who wanted Samuel Tilden to run again, but he didn’t really want to go through the stress and trouble of another presidential run. Instead, the Democrats nominated a Civil War hero, General Winfield Scott Hancock.

Winfield Scott Hancock had served his country in the Army from 1844, fighting in the Mexican War and the Civil War, rising to the rank of Major General. Hancock had fought heroically at the Battle of Gettysburg, taking command of the left wing of the Army of the Potomac on the first day of the battle. He played a critical role in stopping the Confederate assault on the second day and was wounded on the third day. Hancock had little political experience, but the Democrats believed that nominating a war hero who was known to have opposed secession before the war would insulate them from the usual Republican post-war charges of being the party of treason and secession.

Hancock’s running mate was William Hayden English, a conservative Democrat from Indiana. English had held several posts in the Indiana state government and served as Congressman from 1853-1861. During his terms in the House of Representatives, English was a voice of moderation, trying to prevent the country from breaking apart between North and South. After the election of Lincoln, English urged the Southern states not to secede. As a pro-Union Democrat, English would, like Hancock, deflect charges that the Democrats were the party of rebellion.

There was a third party running in this election, the Greenback Party. The Greenback Party was a populist party which, as the name might indicate, believed that print paper money, or greenbacks, not backed by gold or silver. The federal government had first begun to print greenbacks backed by federal bonds during the Civil War. Thus policy caused the first protracted period of inflation in the United States since the time of the Revolutionary War. This inflationary outcome was precisely what the Greenback Party wanted, since it would result in farmers receiving higher prices for their produce and debts to decrease in real value. The Greenback Party was also in favor of such radical proposals as an eight-hour workday and suffrage for women.

The Greenback Party met in Chicago from June 9-11, and nominated James B. Weaver from Iowa for president. Weaver had begun his political career as a Republican but had grown disenchanted with the party and switched over to the newly formed Greenback Party in 1876 and had served in the House of Representatives as a Greenback from 1879-1881. His running mate was the Texan, Barzillai J. Chambers

The two main parties were largely in agreement on the main issues of the day. Both the Republicans and the Democrats supported hard money, or money backed by gold. Tariffs were the major point of contention between the two parties, and even there there disagreements were mostly on minor details. In this time before the income tax, tariffs were the major source of revenue for the federal government. The Republicans wanted high tariffs to protect American manufacturers. The Democrats wanted lower, but still high, tariffs solely for revenue.

Immigration was another issue in which the parties were in agreement, in particular immigration from China. Everyone wanted to limit Chinese immigration because it was believed that the Chinese workers’ willingness to work for extremely low wages would depress wages for workers generally. No doubt prejudice against people who came from a very different cultural background also played a role. As far as I can tell, no one proposed building a wall along the Pacific coast and making China pay for it, though.

The election turned out to be a close one with James A. Garfield getting 4,446,158 (48.27%) popular votes against Winfield Scott Hancock’s 4,444,260 ( 48.25%) popular votes. James B. Weaver got only 308,649 (3.35%) votes. The Electoral College was somewhat more lopsided. Garfield swept the North and Oregon in the West gaining 214 electoral votes while Hancock won in the South, California and Nevada winning 144 electoral votes. There were some reports of irregularities, as in the election of 1876, but Garfield’s victory was decisive enough that it didn’t matter.

The Election of 1880

Garfield didn’t live to serve a full term as president. Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881, just three months after his inauguration. Garfield managed to linger until September 29 before finally dying. Reform minded people throughout the nation were dismayed at the prospect of the machine politician and Conkling crony Chester A. Arthur succeeding to the presidency. They need not have worried though. As soon as he took the oath of office, President Arthur underwent a complete metamorphosis in morals and politics. He turned against the spoils system and fully supported civil service reform, signing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883. He wouldn’t even give his old pal Roscoe Conkling the time of day. Arthur turned out to be a decent president, considering that no one ever really wanted him to get the job.

The Election of 1789

The election of 1789 was the first presidential election in the United States and it was unlike any election that followed. There were no debates, no campaigns, no popular vote and only one candidate; George Washington. The constitution had been ratified the year before by nine of the thirteen states. North Carolina didn’t ratify the constitution until later in 1789 and didn’t get a vote in this first election. Rhode Island held out until 1790 and likewise did not get a vote.

The rules for electing the President were slightly different in the first four elections. Each State had as many electors in the Electoral College as the number of Representatives and Senators, just as is the case today. Unlike the procedure today, each elector had two votes and the candidate who had the most votes would be President, while the runner-up would be Vice-President.The seelction of the electors took place between December 15, 1788 to January 10, 1789. As I stated, North Carolina and Rhode Island could nor participate in this election and New York’s legislature was deadlocked and was unable to name any electors. So, only ten states participated. Of these only six had any form of popular vote at all, and the franchise was limited by property requirements. In most states, the legislatures either appointed the electors directly, or divided the state into electoral districts. In Maryland and Pennsylvania the electors were elected at large. In no case did any voter actually vote for the president.

George Washington was the only candidate considered for the post. In fact, much of the debate over the Presidency at the Constitutional Convention had been shaped by the idea that Washington would be the first President. In a way, the job was designed to fit Washington. Washington was the most famous and popular man in America. He had been the indispensible man in the Revolution. He was well known in all parts of the new nation, and although he was from Virginia, he was not thought to be tied to any one section of the country. Of his contemporaries, only Benjamin Franklin could claim a similar national status. Franklin was too old, however, and although he had been a successful businessman, he had little experience as a political executive and none at all in military matters.

Washington, however, did not especially want to be President. He was getting older himself. Although he was only 56 at the time of the Constitutional Convention, he had lived a hard life and he was feeling it. Washington was also aware that the males in his family tended not to be long lived and he felt his time was running out. Washington preferred to spend his final years tending Mount Vernon over the

George Washington
George Washington

difficult job of establishing a new government, especially since unlike all of his successors, he could not blame his problems on his predecessor. Washington was concerned that every action of his would be taken as a precedent and he was not sure he was up to the task  of not just being the President, but of establishing the pattern of behavior for all subsequent presidents. Washington had a strong sense of duty and was somewhat vain about his posthumous reputation so he agreed to be the first president.

There was no suspense when the Electoral College met on February 4, 1789. Each one of the 69 electors cast one of his votes for George Washington, making Washington the only president ever elected by a unanimous vote. John Adams got second place with 34 votes and John Jay was a distant third with 9 votes. There were a number of other men who received a scattering of votes.

 

 

John Adams
John Adams

As the runner up, Adams became the first Vice-President. He was not exactly thrilled with his new job, as he told his wife Abigail,

“My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived”. Everyone else was confident that this election would prove to be a bright beginning to the grand American experiment.

Third Time Pays for All

I watched the third debate last night, but I was tired and didn’t really pay much attention. I got the impression that Romney was a little less steady than he was in the other two debates. I noticed that Obama really gave the impression that he did not want to be there at all. He was more aggressive in attacking Romney but his face settled into a frown while Romney was talking.

I don’t think that Obama enjoys the political process all that much. He likes giving soaring speeches to cheering crowds but he doesn’t enjoy being questioned or challenged. Or maybe he feels he is somehow above working at campaigning for re-election, or that sharing a platform with Governor Romney is demeaning somehow. Whatever the case, he is not enjoying himself and it shows.

I am not sure how much these debates actually tell us about the candidates. The skills needed to do well in the debates are not much like the skills needed to be a successful president. It is really not necessary for a president to know all the policy details, that is what his staff is for. It is also not necessarily good for a president to make quick decisions. No president ever says anything in public that is not carefully considered. Obama has been ridiculed for his excessive use of the teleprompter, but considering that any stray comment the president makes might have profound implications all over the world, it is probably better if he doesn’t speak extemporaneously.

On the other hand, perhaps the debates do tell us something about each man’s character. We see the candidate unfiltered by the media and his protective staff. His debating style might tell us what kind of president he is likely to be. In a way, the debates are like a trial by single combat, only with words instead of weapons. We might just as well have the two candidates arm wrestle. That might be more entertaining. It would be a whole lot easier to determine who won.

The Second Debate

I was only able to watch the first half hour of the debate last night. I don’t think I missed much since as far as I can tell, that first thirty minutes set the pattern for the rest of the debate. President Obama did a much better job than he did in the first debate, but then, he could scarcely do worse. I don’t think that Romney was quite as good as last time. Still, he was in command of all the details in a way that is simply not in Obama’s nature.

This was a “town-hall” format, in which an audience of undecided voters ask the questions of the candidates. The questions had to be submitted in advance. I do not know who picked the questions that were asked. I have to wonder about anyone who is honestly undecided at this point. Surely anyone who has been paying attention has a preference, either for or against one of these men.

I think that everyone accomplished what the set out to do. In general, Romney would speak eloquently of his plans for the future and criticize Obama’s record. Obama was combative and mostly said variants of, “you are a liar”. He kept repeating the charge that Romney wasn’t telling the truth, while saying little to defend his own record. He took credit for the expanding oil and coal production in the US, which is odd because he has been doing his best to shut down out fossil fuel industries. Romney pounced on Obama for that and for his plans to reduce the deficit. Romney made the very obvious point that Obama had doubled the deficit in the last four years so why should he be suddenly interested in balancing the budget. Obama responded with a reminder that Romney is rich and for the rich. The moderator, Candy Crowley, did her job well. She tried her best to tilt the playing field in Obama’s favor. Romney was really debating two people this evening, Obama and Crowley.

I understand that the debate grew quite bellicose after a time. It would have been quite a treat if they had actually physically attacked one another. I would pay quite a lot to see a fist fight between Romney and Obama.

So, who won? It’s hard to say. I am not sure if winning or losing something like this really means anything. Obama did well enough so the Democrats may think they have a chance in November. Romney held his own so Republicans need not feel despondent. More than that I cannot say.

 

The First Debate

By now, the pundits all agree that Mitt Romney won the debate. This time they are absolutely right. I think that this has been the most one-sided debate that I have ever seen. Romney put on the best performance possible. He was confident, polished, articulate and knowledgeable. He seemed to have a detailed knowledge of policies and statistics and was able to use that knowledge to articulate a positive vision for the future. He even seemed to be enjoying himself.

Obama, by contrast, put on the worst debate performance that I have ever seen, with the exception of Al Gore’s outbreak of Tourette’s Syndrome in the first debate of 2000. He seemed as though he would rather be doing anything else. He seemed unprepared and his statements were mostly recycled from his campaign speeches. He would attack Romney with straw man representations of Romney’s positions and then Romney would correct him. Romney, for his part, aggressively attacked Obama and kept reminding him and the viewers that Obama has been President for the last four years, something that Obama wanted people to forget. I was afraid that Romney might be perceived as too aggressive by some voters, but I don’t think that is the case. He managed to attack Obama without seeming to be a jerk. Obama is not used to being questioned or opposed. He does not like it and it showed.

In fact, Obama spent much of the time looking down at his shoes while Romney was speaking. He looked up when he was talking, but I think he was trying to pretend Romney wasn’t standing a few feet away, across the stage. Romney looked directly at Obama when he made his attacks, a tactic made more effective when the two men were shown on a split screen. Put simply, Romney seemed to know what he was talking about and Obama didn’t. If I were hiring someone to run my business, or my country, there is no question who I would trust.

Is this the end of the election? Can Obama recover? Of course he can. We still have a month before the election and a lot can happen. There are two more debates between the two candidates and we can be certain that Obama will be better prepared next time. I think, though, that the first debate will be the most important one in that it was the first chance for most voters to see the two men together, head to head, as it were. First impressions are important and even if Obama does well in the next two debates, he is going to have a lot of work to do to overcome the bad impression he generated in this debate.

Will the debates make a difference? I don’t think that very many people will switch their votes on the basis of who did better at any of  these debates. A good performance cannot help but be beneficial to any candidate, while a bad performance has to hurt. People like to back a winner and are more likely to get out and vote for, and more importantly contribute money to, a candidate they think is likely to win. Romney’s excellent performance will help with voter turnout, if he can keep the momentum going.

I have to wonder why Obama gave such an unimpressive showing. His supporters have given a number of rather implausible reasons, the most incredible of which is Al Gore’s contention that Obama had not had enough time to become  acclimated to Denver’s high altitude. Some have noted that as a sitting President who run uncontested in the primaries, Obama has had far less recent experience with debating than Romney, who must have sat through at least ten thousand of them. There is something to that, but Obama still could have been better prepared.

I think, that the reason has to do with Obama’s personality. He is not really well suited for the job of President, at least not in temperament. I think that he likes the idea of being President more than he likes the real job. If Ed Klein is correct in his book The Amateur, Obama has never been one to apply himself to policy details. His colleagues in the Illinois State Senate and later in the Senate noted that he seemed uninterested in the actual process of legislation, preferring to give stirring speeches to working on bills. He also seems to lack the kind of back-slapping conviviality of a Clinton or a Johnson and really seems to be something of an introvert. I think then, that a debate against an opponent over policy details and programs is simply not something Obama is good at and not something he particularly wanted to do, especially against an opponent he probably doesn’t like at all. He was probably over confident as well and I do not doubt he seriously underestimated Mitt Romney.

By the way, the most interesting spin from the Left, I have seen so far is that Romney only won because he surprised Obama with his constant lying. They want Obama to be more confrontational in the next debate, especially in bringing up Romney’s remarks about the “47%”. Good luck with that. I suspect that Obama didn’t bring that up, because they knew perfectly well that Romney would be ready with an answer and perhaps a comment about dwelling on irrelevancies rather than the nation’s future. Then too, there is always Obama’s “bitter clingers” remark to throw right back at him.

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Competing Visions

 

I like how Mitt Romney handled these hecklers in Wisconsin.

After several interruptions from a protester in the crowd at a Wisconsin campaign event, Mitt Romney said to the heckler: “You see, young man, this group is respectful of other people’s right to be heard. And you ought to find yourself a different place to be disruptive because here we believe in listening to people with dignity and respect.”

The heckler was also hit with several rounds of “USA! USA! USA!” by the crowd at the event.

Romney used the heckler as a chance to tell President Obama to take his campaign out of the “gutter.”

“Look, there is no question that if you follow the campaign of Barack Obama he is going to do everything in his power to make this the lowest, meanest, negative campaign in history. We’re not going to let that happen. This is going to be a campaign about ideas, about the future of America,” Romney said.

“This is a campaign about greatness, about America’s future for your children, for the world. Mr. President, take your campaign out of the gutter. Let’s talk about real issues that America faces,” Romney also said.

The gutter is all Obama has left. The last thing he seems to want to do is talk about real issues.

 

“Too many folks still don’t have a sense that tomorrow will be better than today. And so, the question in this election is which way do we go?” President Obama asked at a fundraiser in Chicago on Sunday.

“Do we go forward towards a new vision of an America in which prosperity is shared?” Obama asked. “Or do we go backward to the same policies that got us in the mess in the first place?”

“I believe we have to go forward,” Obama said. “I believe we have to keep working to create an America where no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what your last name is, no matter who you love, you can make it here if you try. That’s what’s at stake in November. That’s what is why I am running for a second term as president of the United States of America.”

Forward right off the cliff. The mess we are in couldn’t possible be due to the President’s own policies to “share the prosperity”. It has to be his predecessors. If you try the share the prosperity, you only end up sharing poverty.

 

Gallup Predicts Obama Loss

I saw this piece in the Washington Examiner last week and have been meaning to mention it. Essentially the argument is that if Obama wins only the states where he has a positive approval rating, he will be looking for a new home on January 20, 2013. Here is the map they provide.

Of course it is really to early to make any predictions, especially when it is not entirely certain who he will be running against. Yes, it looks like it will be Romney, but he hasn’t gotten the nomination yet. It looks like they got that map from 270towin. I’ve been playing around with the map and based on the past voting history of the states, I think it will be a whole lot harder for any republican to defeat Obama than this map indicates. In any case I hope no one in the RNC sees this. They do not need to be getting overconfident.