After spending five years watching a diffident political compromiser campaign for and occupy the White House, Democrats were still shocked that Wednesday's debate didn't reveal Barack Obama: Political Nut-Cutter.
They were dismayed, too, by the Republican candidate's brazen lies, and to pundits calling the debate a win for Romney. Like going to sleep every night with your wife and waking, every morning, aggrieved that you aren't in bed with all 53 members of the New England Patriots roster, the Democratic Party specializes in a kind of consternation devoid of object permanence. It's even unfamiliar with the numbing constancy of itself.
Before the debate, left-wing pundits clearly hoped for a flop-sweating Romney to amble deliriously into Obama's verbal garden shears, only to see his balls lopped off. But while having low expectations for Romney wasn't far-fetched, Obama's never been that kind of politician.
Politics makes for strange bedfellows; more importantly—like beer—it makes for bedfellows of diminished quality but increased ardor. Afflicted for most of our adult lives with seemingly terminal spiritual and intellectual blueballs, political-beer-goggles take hold, until someone objectively only mildly satisfactory seems like destiny. In the right kind of bar, Destiny is the candidate's name. In leftist politics, aching rescue takes the form of a career centrist like Obama—who winds up in besotted New Yorker cartoons depicted as FDR.
The same ardor that made 2008 Obama the proto-FDR that he never could be also allowed a few beautifully nasty 2012 campaign ads to convince Democrats that the debates might turn into a policy beatdown. Instead, Romney came out confident, effective and even affable, and Obama haltingly stumbled back to "inspirational" bipartisan wishful thinking. In retrospect, the soaring, cooperative vagueness of his speech to the Democratic National Convention—after Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Warren opened reasonable feints about fighting back against plutocratic class warfare—should have been the left's warning sign.
The death rattle for the Democratic Party, in every policy contest since Adlai Stevenson, has been the mistaken belief that stammering, "Wait, let me explain..." persuades people with convictions. The GOP gets it: persuading people to maintain the status quo, while demonizing change, is easy. Republicans ask people to affirm what they already believe they are. "GAY MARRIAGE THREATENS YOUR INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE" is easily accessible to anyone who grew up in a culture that celebrates traditional marriage—i.e. almost everyone in America. At the same time, "While traditional marriage is to be celebrated, the First Amendment protects people from having the religious standards of others foisted upon their lifestyle. Furthermore, the terms of 'traditional marriage' have evolved over four millennia, to the point that..." will never go on a bumper sticker. It doesn't stick in heads; it contains no absolutes; the nuance demands people begin making conditional evaluations even of themselves.
In the debate, Obama paired the worst of this "Just a moment, please..." tendency with the worst of the Democratic Party for the last generation: preemptively ceding ground to the right by moving rightward and claiming the middle. (This only works if the right stops moving rightward, which it hasn't, because why would it? The left keeps rewarding them for doing so.) Hence, his sudden agreement with Romney about some aspects of Social Security, even while Romney's VP candidate offers American seniors an economic version of serial castration.
But this has always been Obama. Transformative "bipartisanship" works in elections like 2008, after a genuine national catastrophe, where there are no incumbents. Change wins because any change is mandated. What nobody expected was that he actually believed his bipartisanship line. And he still seems to believe in bipartisan change—despite four years of being called a Muslim Commie Nazi—when he's the incumbent against whom "change" works, when he's seen the Republican leader in the senate literally pledge that his party would lift no finger to create ameliorative legislation, lest it result in Obama's reelection.
In 2008, it was just dangerous naiveté. The American right spent eight years under Clinton creating insurrectionary militias in wait for black helicopters, United Nations occupation, one-world socialist government and Clinton becoming Dictator for Life. And Clinton was a white dude from the south who liked doinking plus-sized women with feathered hair. What the fuck did Obama think those people were going to do with a black guy? The only explanation for the persistence of his attitude now is hubris—a dim, ineradicable faith in the transcendence of his own oratory, in spite of the fact that it's a mush-mouthed, knives-out, meathead reality that drafts the budget every year.
Watching the left-wing establishment's response to the debate only confirmed their complicity in what transpired in it. THEY BUILT THIS. They give a token quadrennial handjob to unions, before kicking them back to the curb—then have the audacity to be peeved that their candidate doesn't mention unions in a domestic policy debate. They rely on the fact that women and homosexuals have no other choice—then act stunned that they neither group is used as important leverage in a domestic policy debate. They take cash from the same Wall St. ghouls as the GOP—then seem aghast that a candidate spends no time embracing "the 99%." Well, no shit: to quote the vapid poster they probably tacked up next to Klimt's "The Kiss" in their dorm rooms a thousand years ago, Obama became the change you want to see in the world.
Watching left-wing pundits express shock that the GOP candidate lied his ass off for a couple hours is flabbergasting. They've had 44 years of the Republican Party doing this since Nixon's comeback: how is this not a default expectation? The American right masterfully effects profound sadness at the cynicism of political discourse before beating the shit out of amputee combat veterans—Max Cleland and Tammy Duckworth—as un-American whiners. What aspect of 2000-Present seems insufficient cause for massive, permanent distrust?
Of course, none of this is the problem, because, to hear far too many people on MSNBC tell it, Obama didn't really lose—or, if he did, he can "win the spin." Debates don't matter (really, they don't), but even if they did, Americans will see through all the shit Romney made up.
The Democratic Party regularly articulates a faith in American probity that is exactly the opposite of how people operate. The big, eye-popping headlines, the fantastic accusations, the pithy bumper-sticker moments—evidently they don't matter. What people will, apparently, really pay attention to is the 800-word article that appears on page A12, a day later, that clarifies some conditional untruths of a statement that is only 75% "Pants on Fire." DNC America is a nation of NFL referees throwing out unsportsmanlike conduct flags after 50% of the fight is over.
Obama went out and became the apotheosis of everything that went wrong to create him. He corporealized the planned mistakes. He ignored whole Democratic demographics and the progressive wing of his party, glommed onto available right-wing territory, conceded before any real challenge and, when pressed, fell back on, "Now, just a minute..." circumlocution. He assumed that there was a dialogue going on, that rational appeals and charisma would create political transactions along two-way streets, when the real stakes were bullying, ignorance, artless mendacity and, "No. NO. NO!"
In case you think this was a bad idea, the Democratic Noise Machine will correct you. Getting steamrolled by relentless prevarication could happen to anybody. Appealing to the same gutless concession-based "bipartisanship" that allows you to eke out pathetic non-mandates in various electoral slivers could seem like an absence of focus! There is always an explanation, and it's always someone else's fault, even as the Democratic party inexorably morphs into something totally foreign to itself from decades ago. The postmortem excuse persuades more than the actual platform, because at least that's a post-facto engagement with meathook realities. Until then, the failure to engage always falls on those across the aisle, who lack the courage to be persuaded by aspirational peroration utterly divorced from mechanistic real-world exigencies.
The Democratic Party has so thoroughly internalized and examined the depths of humiliation that they're like a Washington Generals team with a starting lineup made of 19th century romantic poets, and Obama is Magic. The only American phenomenon more perverse and insufferable at this point is the Confederacy and its admirers—another atavistic collection of failed experiments that extrudes contemptible "nobility" from unambiguous defeat. In a perfect illustration of the problem, the Democrats can't win the south.