Final Debate Recap: Obama vs. the Land Shark
Most reasonably objective viewers (and even a few conservative ones) scored the third and final presidential debate as a solid win for Obama. After his widely panned performance in the first debate, the president rallied to take the best-of-three series. But presidential politics isn’t as simple as a baseball playoff, as we’ll see.
In that third debate, Obama never looked better: relaxed yet authoritative, appropriately serious yet animated by a mischievous wit. His “horses and bayonets” retort to Romney’s irrelevant lament about the shrinking size of our navy was sheer comedic inspiration:
You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.
Romney, for his part, played it safe and low to the ground. This was a foreign affairs debate, after all — and if the former chief of Bain Capital has an Achilles heel, this is it. His gaffe-a-minute overseas tour this past summer is still fresh in our memories. But Romney watched his words, committed no bloopers, smiled frequently (if a little nervously) and practically endorsed his opponent’s foreign policy.
Some observers noted that the Republican nominee was sweating in the time-honored tradition of Richard Nixon. I didn’t discern any telltale droplets myself, even on my high-def TV, but Romney looked as uncomfortable as the president looked assertive and commanding. It was the polar opposite of the first debate.
So shouldn’t the Republican faithful be panicking right now? Shouldn’t they be alarmed that their nominee gave the kind of passive, milquetoast performance that earned Obama such opprobrium in the first debate?
Of course not. It was all part of the plan, you see. Romney needed to boost his credibility among undecided moderates — and especially female undecided moderates. What better way to say “Vote for me, ladies” than to present yourself as a mild, peace-loving guy… a “safe” Republican, not one of those strident and bellicose apostles of American exceptionalism (not to mention unfettered capitalism and upward mobility for the already-rich). We were looking at a Mitt Romney who wouldn’t have been out of place talking to a women’s book group or chatting it up with Oprah (if Oprah were still chatting it up with anyone).
This carefully manufactured “safe” Romney,one of his many incarnations over the past year, reminds me of a classic skit from the early glory days of “Saturday Night Live.” There would be a knock at the door, followed by a garbled voice (SNL veteran Chevy Chase) asking incoherently for a Mrs. Somebody-or-Other.
Gilda Radner, stretched out on her couch, asks him what he wants. “Plumber,” comes the faint reply.
When Gilda tells him she hasn’t called for a plumber, the voice changes his story. “Telegram,” he mumbles. So Gilda rises from her couch, opens the door and is promptly devoured by the voracious “land shark.”
Later, in the forensics lab, a rattled John Belushi tells his associate (played by Dan Aykroyd) that the land shark is “the cleverest species of them all.”
In the next scene, Laraine Newman is lounging on her sofa when she hears the knock at the door. There’s the same mumbling, incoherent voice: “Flowers… plumber, ma’am.” But Laraine is on to him.
“I don’t need a plumber,” she retorts. “You’re that clever shark, aren’t you?”
“Candygram,” comes the faint reply.
“Candygram my foot!” says Laraine. “You’re the shark and you know it.”
“I’m only a dolphin, ma’am.”
That does the trick. “A dolphin? Well, OK.” Laraine lets him in and gets devoured on the spot.
Is Romney really a land shark? I don’t know… and that’s the problem.
Does anybody know who this guy is? All we know is that he’s been claiming to be the Candygram man lately — and frankly, I wouldn’t advise anyone to open that door.