The most revealing moment last night came as Ann Romney walked toward her husband onstage at the end. That expression on her face. I thought she looked like a woman in a binder.
It is, I suppose, poetic justice for Romney that an obviously misspoken phrase of that sort is the catch phrase from last night. But the phrase, while generating hilarious witticisms, is not the reason why Romney won’t recover. Instead, it is the binders that Romney has placed himself in that surely became clear to many of his new-found fans of the last two weeks—the binders that underlie his entire campaign.
Most significantly, in my opinion, that his tax plan is, rather than the new math—as he’s been claiming—actually is no math.
And that he takes contradictory positions at the same time—starkly, last night, for example, that he’s proud that because of him, virtually everyone in Massachusetts has healthcare insurance, yet Obamacare must be repealed because it’s keeping employers from hiring. (There were others that surely became clear to a lot of people, but this one just bowled me over, because he said these two things within a few minutes of each other.)
And—yes; finally!—that he habitually plucks statistics out of their context and misrepresents their meaning, although the most clearly illustrative one was one that Obama wasn’t able to make fully clear last night because of time constraints on his reply to Romney’s allegation. It will be easy for him to do so now, though.
That statistic: Romney’s claim that Obama has reduced oil production from drilling on federal lands by 14% by denying drilling permits and leases. Romney first claimed, falsely, that there has been a 14% reduction in oil production from drilling on federal lands since Obama took office. After Obama repeatedly interjected that that was false and that the level of that oil production actually had increased during his administration, Romney finally qualified his claim; production had decreased by 14% over the past year.
I loved it that Obama stepped forward—literally—and explained that the leases and permits that his administration had revoked were ones that the leaseholders and permit holders had not been using, and that that was the reason for the revocations; he wanted the leases and permits to be reissued to others, who would use them.
That was a great moment, albeit one that probably won’t get much attention. But even more important is that, as Andrea Mitchell explained during the NBC recap and analysis, the 14% reduction occurred (as Romney finally acknowledged) only in the last year—and that the reason for the drop was … a fire at, and consequent shutdown, of a major refinery in Texas! And, even with that 14% drop in the last year, production from drilling on federal lands has increased more than 10% since Obama took office.
I think the Obama campaign should do an ad on this, saying that apparently Romney thought it was Obama administration policy to have a fire at a major refinery. And that Romney’s so inept at math that he doesn’t know the difference between a 10% increase and a 14% decrease.
The public will get the point. Romney is trying to game them. Not a particularly attractive trait in a presidential candidate.
But one misuse of a statistic by Romney came earlier in the debate, and it downright shouted sophistry, thanks to Obama’s unmasking of it: Romney’s comparison of gas prices in January 2009 and gas prices now. When Obama pointed out why gas prices were so low when he assumed office—and why they’ve doubled since then—I knew Obama would win the debate. And when, later, during the discussion of the policy similarities between G.W. Bush’s policies and Romney’s proposed ones, Obama cleverly said Romney probably would send gas prices falling, by crashing the economy and thus lowering demand for oil, I thought then that Obama won the election last night.
And in the light of today, I’m pretty sure of it.