No, I don’t mean that I’ve been president of the United States. Nor do I mean that I have somehow singlehandedly disappointed 20 million liberal Democrats in the course of 90 minutes on national television. Nor do I mean that I’ve ever covered up a deadly terrorist attack, or a gun-running program, or the actual consequences of statist policies.
What I mean, when I say that “I’ve been in President Obama’s shoes before,” is that I’ve been in a debate where the facts simply aren’t in my favor. It’s not fun.
As a practicing family law attorney here in South Carolina, I often explain to people that hearings in the Family Court in the Palmetto State are much like a presidential debate. Because family court judges here are overburdened with cases, because they don’t have clerks to read through materials before hearings, they often come into 15 minute custody hearings with little or no background on a given matter. Therefore, it’s up to the attorneys for each side to present their client’s perspective as quickly, succinctly and persuasively as possible, both in written affidavits and in oral argument.
Often, in court, soundbites matter. One-line “zingers” can often drive a point home and have lasting effects — if the theory of a particular case, for example, is that one spouse is a spendthrift and is seeking permanent alimony after just one year of marriage in order to sustain that limitless lifestyle, saying that
“the Defendant has a history of treating my client like her own personal ATM machine” can be a succinct way of whittling down a message into an easily visualized concept. (On the other hand, saying that the other party “treats her vagina like a clown car” is probably not the best way to get the judge on your side in an adultery case, as tempting as it may be.)
Anyway, I have been involved in cases in which the facts simply are not on my client’s side. Sometimes, there is nothing I can say or do that cannot be easily rebutted by my counterpart at the other table. In those cases, though, it is imperative that you remain outwardly confident, that you stick hard to whatever good points you have, and that you bring out your own weaknesses first in order to introduce them on your own terms rather than allow the other side to introduce them on theirs.
Here, good attorneys can mitigate the potential damage in cases in which the facts are not on their side. Lesser attorneys allow the facts–and their opponent–to dominate. Barack Obama was not a good attorney last night. He looked tired. He looked overwhelmed. He looked angry. He allowed Mitt Romney to define him. He allowed Mitt Romney to control the tempo of the debate. In fact, while Mitt Romney was trying to get more time out of moderator Jim Lehrer (the night ended up with Obama having four more minutes of speaking time), Barack Obama was busy waving the white flag and begging Lehrer to stop the bleeding. One of my favorite moments:
Frankly, I expect that to continue. Just as the facts are not on the president’s side when it comes to domestic and economic issues, the facts are not on his side when it comes to foreign policy. With regard to social issues, sure to be a focus of the remaining moderators, Obama can only demagogue, and the Chick-Fil-A story shows how America feels about that demagoguery. Where Obama will get help from this point on will be from the moderators.
Last night, for the most part, I thought that Jim Lehrer did a good job. Yes, he attempted to help Obama once or twice, but for the most part he asked open-ended questions and let the candidates duke it out. He didn’t try to pigeon-hole candidates. He didn’t ask “gotcha” questions. I don’t expect the next few debates to go the same way. As MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said in an epic meltdown last night, I expect the mainstream press to “have their knives out.”
So, what should Mitt Romney do? He should do exactly what he has been doing — stay confident, stay aggressive, and remember that the facts and common sense are on his side. Perhaps he should sit down with Newt Gingrich for a lesson in how to handle biased moderators asking “gotcha” questions.
People of all political stripes eat that stuff up. Most people don’t like overt bias, or “gotcha” journalism. I was at the debate during the second Gingrich video above; I’ve been at the SEC Championship with 50,000 football fans and I’ve never heard a crowd so loud. So long as Romney stays on the offensive, remains confident, and knows that he has the facts on his side, he’ll be fine.
In fact, there were only a few things that Romney could have done last night to make me a happier man.
- It took him a good ten or fifteen minutes to actually explain the Laffer Curve and the organic nature of fiscal conservatism; during the first segment, I was begging him to educate Obama and explain to the audience how lower taxes naturally expand the tax base and lead to higher revenue — until he finally did so, it seemed as though he was conceding somehow that reducing taxes adds to the deficit, when it clearly does not.
- He did not, in my opinion, adequately explain some of the more “inside baseball” elements of his arguments. While you and I might know how “Simpson-Bowles,” “Dodd-Frank” and “Solyndra” fit brilliantly into an effective argument, I am concerned with how much the ignorant undecideds–who might otherwise be swayed by an effective argument–really understand.
- He needs to do more to relate concepts to daily lives of average Americans. That’s not to say that Romney didn’t resonate with Main Street; he absolutely did, and he was brilliant. However, it would help if he dumbed down budgeting and spending better than he did — explain that we need government to adhere to common sense just like we all do at our kitchen tables, and explain how running for three-plus years without a budget is absolutely, unequivocally reckless
Overall, though, I was absolutely blown away by Romney’s performance. He was everything I was hoping he would be, and more. From this point on, Mitt Romney just needs to stay focused, and be prepared to bring the argument back to core values and tried-and-true facts in case he gets flustered, distracted, or trapped by the moderators. That’s what I do in court — if I find myself going on a tangent, rather than clutter my message, I get back to the theory of the case. It works beautifully, as I win far more hearings than I lose.
In the meantime, I am looking forward to next Thursday, and Paul Ryan’s face-off against Joe Biden. Can you imagine the exasperation on the Left, knowing that Joe Biden is your fallback option after the president roundly got hammered last night? Barack Obama got beaten so badly by Mitt Romney that, frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Attorney General Eric Holder deems it a hate crime.
The facts simply are not on their side, and truth and fact are the ultimate sources of sunlight. I guess that’s why I’ve been confident, even when the polls tell me otherwise. I guess that’s why I am sticking with my initial prediction of Romney by eight points on November 6.
Last night was a bad night for Barack Obama. And, as such, it was a good night for America. It’s amazing how that works, huh?