Time to throw Grandma back under the bus

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Nobody felt especially zinged last night, but you can imagine that Barack Obama walked away from the first presidential debate of the season at least a little tingly, given the thrashing he took from Mitt Romney. Both candidates underwent a weird sort of position switching: Romney seemed during the debate proper—during the humanesque back-and-forth of it—to be comfortable and articulate, saving his beady-eyed-creep routine for the closing statements. His zingiest showing, "Mr. President, Mr. President, you're entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts," was an adaptation of the old Daniel Patrick Moynihan line, but updated for the modern era, when the man challenging the incumbent is a private-equity CEO irked that, of the two, he owns the smaller airplane.

Obama's strength has always been in his ability to occupy roles as storyteller, object of a good story, and policy-minded intellectual, but he gave all the wrong sorts of answers at all the wrong times. Or maybe they were right answers, badly timed. Remember his regret that, as president, he'd been too clinical—hadn't given a good enough sales pitch to the People? Whatever conclusions he drew from that realization, last night he misapplied them. Romney interwove some cogent arguin' with the sorts of boring platitudes we expect from our leaders, and Obama responded ineffectually: when he needed a little passion he delivered an econ lecture, and when he needed a reasoned defense he told the sorts of stories that even he doesn't seem to care about anymore. "You know, my grandmother—some of you know—helped to raise me." Oh, yeah? Your grandma? Some of us know. It's come up once or twice.

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