WASHINGTON — The presidential campaign, hitherto a plod through a torrent of words tedious beyond words, began to dance in Denver. There a masterfully prepared Mitt Romney completed a trifecta of tasks and unveiled an issue that, because it illustrates contemporary liberalism's repellent essence, can constitute his campaign's closing argument.
Barack Obama, knight of the peevish countenance, illustrated William F. Buckley's axiom that liberals who celebrate tolerance of other views always seem amazed that there are other views. Obama, who is not known as a martyr to the work ethic and who might use a teleprompter when ordering lunch, seemed uncomfortable with a format that allowed fluidity of discourse.
His vanity — remember, he gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod whose menu included two of his speeches — perhaps blinds him to the need to prepare. And to the fact that it is not lese-majeste to require him to defend his campaign ads' dubious assertions with explanations longer than the ads. And to the ample evidence, such as his futile advocacy for Democratic candidates and Obamacare, that his supposed rhetorical gifts are figments of acolytes' imaginations.
Luck is not always the residue of design, and Romney was lucky that the first debate concerned the economy, a subject that to him is a hanging curve ball and to Obama is a dancing knuckleball. The topic helped Romney accomplish three things.
First, recent polls showing him losing were on the verge of becoming self-fulfilling prophesies by discouraging his supporters and inspiriting Obama's. Romney, unleashing his inner wonk about economic matters, probably stabilized public opinion and prevented a rush to judgment as early voting accelerates.
Second, Romney needed to be seen tutoring Obama on such elementary distinctions as that between reducing tax rates (while simultaneously reducing, by means testing, the value of deductions) and reducing revenues, revenues being a function of economic growth, which the rate reductions could stimulate. Third, Romney needed to rivet the attention of the electorate, in which self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals two-to-one, on this choice:
America can be the society it was when it had a spring in its step, a society in which markets — the voluntary collaboration of creative individuals — allocate opportunity. Or America can remain today's depressed and anxious society of unprecedented stagnation in the fourth year of a faux recovery — a bleak society in which government incompetently allocates resources in pursuit of its perishable certitudes and on behalf of the politically connected.