Mehdi's Morning Memo: President Gets His Ass Kicked

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** US Presidential Debate Edition ** President Gets His Ass Kicked ** GOP vs Big Bird ** Happy Anniversary Barack! ** Labour's C-Word ** Red Ed Or Rich Ed? ** Is Greening A Goner? ** Run Away, Run Away ** The Euro Ate My Ringfence ** Leftie Legends ** Oliver Out? **

Good - yawn - morning! I crawled out of bed this morning at 1:55am, exhausted, hungry and bleary-eyed. A couple of ProPlus pills later, I was comfortably ensconced on my couch, in front of my telly, tweeting away as the much-awaited first US presidential debate of the 2012 campaign kicked off in Denver, Colorado.

Wanna know who won?

Well...

Wait for it...

Scroll down...

Willard Mitt Romney. Yep, the GOP candidate and former governor of Massachusetts, landed several blows on a lacklustre, irritated and weak Barack Obama. "A pretty good night for Mitt Romney," said CNN's Wolf Blitzer, in perhaps the biggest on-air, post-debate understatement of them all. He went toe to toe with the president of the United States, known for his eloquence and intellect, and beat him. He didn't draw; he won.

Romney's people said he'd have some zingers ready; here's one that seemed to have worked in the very first half-hour of the 90-minute debate:

"I just don't know how the president could have come into office facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment and economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spent his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people."

Ouch.

Obama, agreed the pundits on the US television networks, was "rusty". Yep, he hadn't done a debate like this for four years; Romney did dozens during the race for the Republican nomination.

Obama was slow, subdued, listless and hesitant. When he did get going - for example, on healthcare - he produced verbose and overlong answers - and then got testy when he was interrupted by moderator Jim Lehrer!

During the debate, columnist, blogger and Obama fan Andrew Sullivan tweeted how it was "truly painful" to hear the president trying and failing to defend his record, after Bill Clinton had done such a brilliant and articulate job of doing so during the Democrat convention in August. (Sullivan, incidentlly, has mounted one of the best defences of Obama's record, in Newsweek - maybe the president should have read it on his flight to Denver.)

Perhaps Obama should have sent Bill Clinton in his place. Or Hillary. Or even Chelsea. Anyone named Clinton. Anyone with some cojones. Meanwhile, Labour's Diane Abbott tweeted: ‏"Obama should have sent Michelle".

What was more significant than what was said was what was NOT said - by the president. No mention of the 47% from Obama; no mention of Bain Capital, no mention of Romney's (lack of) tax returns or use of tax havens; no mention of the GOP candidate's Wall Street ties; no mention of Romney's lies on Obamacare (vs Romneycare). Why the hell not? Someone in the Obama campaign should be fired after tonight's disastrous performance.

Liberals on Twitter ventred their frustration. "I know where my Vicodin is: Obama took it!" declared Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy. "Is Obama even on the stage?" asked a frustrated Jeffrey Goldberg, of the Atlantic Monthly, on Twitter. Politico's Beth Frerking tweeted: "Big difference in body language alone. Mitt: aggressive, energetic, having fun. Obama: tight jaw, irritated, glum."

Romney who, remember, already looks like a US president out of Hollywood central casting, sounded decisive and enthused; he was appropriately aggressive and combative. Above all else, he came across as the candidate who wanted it more.

"It looked like Romney wanted to be there, and the President didn't want to be there," former Clinton strategist, James 'Ragin' Cajun' Carville, told CNN after the debate.

It was, overall, a deeply dull and boring debate. Zingers were few and far between. There was plenty of discussion of "Dodd-Frank" and "Simpson-Bowles" that, with respect, will have gone over the heads of most US viewers. Ironically, most critics of Obama, on right and left, accused the president of being "too professorial" during the debate. In my view, he wasn't even professorial enough - Romney cited more facts, figures, experts and studies than Obama did.

Nevertheless, this isn't about facts and figures, it's about talking to the American people directly, in a language they understand, with a passion they admire, in a frame of your own choice (not your opponent's). Obama needs to read up on his Drew Westen and George Lakoff. Fast. (As former Obama adviser Van Jones admitted on CNN, Mitt Romney, remarkably, astonishingly, proved to be "the better storyteller").

"This was a terrific debate," said a smiling president in his closing remarks. Er, no, Barack, it wasn't - not for you, not for the viewers.

Better luck next time...

GOP VS BIG BIRD

Perhaps the highlight of a tedious presidential debate in Denver was when Mitt Romney bizarrely went after one of America's best-loved children's characters:

"I'm sorry Jim. I'm gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm gonna stop other thing. I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too."

Could this line - rather than Obama's weak and ineffectual rebuttals - cost Romney the election? Here's hoping...

DO DEBATES MATTER??

An analysis by Reuters says:

"...debates rarely have much of an impact.

Opinion polls have shifted by an average of less than 1 percent in the wake of the 16 presidential debates that have taken place since 1988, according to research by Tom Holbrook, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

The biggest shift came in 2004, when Democratic challenger John Kerry gained 2.3 percent points on Republican President George W. Bush. Bush won the election.

People who have made up their minds to vote against Romney won't change their minds no matter how presidential he looks in debates, said Popkin, author of 'The Candidate: What it Takes to Win - And Hold - the White House.'"

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY BARACK!

The debate coincided with the president's 20th wedding anniversary. Obama called the first lady "sweetie" and wished her a happy anniversary from the debate podium. Perhaps that'll cheer him up. The media and public reaction to this debate won't.

LABOUR'S C-WORD

Sshhhhh. Don't say Labour might win the next general election, given the party's poll lead, given the (lack of a) boundary review, given the double-dip recession, etc etc etc. You'll get attacked as...COMPLACENT! Dare to suggest that Labour's poll lead might be a good thing? COMPLACENT! Dare to suggest, as I did at an IPPR fringe with Jim Murphy and Liz Kendall on Tuesday, that Labour might just win the next election, given the failure of austerity and the failure of any incumbent PM since 1974 to increase his or her share of the vote, and you get dismissed as COMPLACENT. Shame on you!

Speaking in his closing Q&A session at conference yesterday, Ed Miliband said he would be an "eternal warrior against complacency" and wouldn't be taking the next election for granted. As the Guardian's Andrew Sparrow notes, "This was a phrase that Tony Blair used to use about himself too before the 1997 election."

But, of course, as I pointed out at the IPPR fringe, the only thing worse than complacency is caution - Blair was so worried about losing (to John Major and then to William Hague!) that he squandered two landslide majorities. For Ed to be bold, as he says he wants to be, he can't be cautious/fearful/pessimistic/negative.

RED ED OR RICH ED?

The right-wing press will be salivating at the prospect of Ed Miliband attending the TUC's anti-cuts rally in London on 20 October. The Labour leader confirmed his participation at the TUC "A Future that Works" demo during his closing Q&A in Manchester yesterday. Last year, at the TUC's big anti-austerity rally in Hyde Park, he compared himself to Martin Luther KIng in his speech; will he go with Mandela or Gandhi this year? And will he get heckled by trade unionists for his Austerian stance on a public sector pay freeze?

Meanwhile, Miliband's decision to go after George Osborne's "millionaires' tax cut" and mention David Cameron's own income may have backfired a little...from the Daily Mail:

"Asked on BBC Breakfast how much he was worth, Mr Miliband replied: ‘I am not going to be getting the top rate tax cut.’

But pressed on whether he was ‘worth £1million’, Mr Miliband looked panicked and tried to claim he was not using the Prime Minister’s upbringing to gain votes. ‘I am not making an issue of David Cameron’s background.’

Mr Miliband, whose Primrose Hill home is reportedly worth £1.6million, criticised the Prime Minister for cutting the top-rate of tax and said he didn't think 'it was the kind of country we should be in'."

BRING ON BRUMMIELAND

The party conference roadshow now heads out of Manchester and onto Birmingham for the Tories' annual jamboree, which kicks off this coming weekend. David Cameron is said to be busy inside his Downing Street den memorising a three-hour speech in which he'll invoke Keir Hardie. #anythingEdcandoDavecandobetter

WINNING THE YOUTH VOTE

Who says the Labour leader isn't cutting through to the apolitical and apathetic? Ed Miliband told delegates yesterday:

"My younger son, Sam, who's not yet two, was watching my speech yesterday on television with his grandma, and my wife told me this story - I don't really know whether it's true, because he can't properly speak. My wife claims that after 15 minutes, he suddenly said 'One Nation'. "

One vote at a time, eh Ed?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan getting his own 'Obama-Girl'-style music vid...sort of...

IS GREENING A GONER?

Referring to the West Coast Mainline franchise fiasco, the Times headline reveals:

"Greening was told of mistakes days before losing transport job"

Uh-oh!

RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY

From the Telegraph:

"Andrew Mitchell, the Government chief whip who allegedly called Downing Street police officers “f****** plebs”, has pulled out of next week’s Tory party conference.

The minister has reversed his earlier decision to attend the party’s annual gathering in Birmingham because he does not want to be a 'distraction'."

Plebgate rumbles on...

THE EURO ATE MY RINGFENCE

In an interview with today's Spectator, new Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (aka the 'Minister for Murdoch') says a re-elected Conservative (or coalition) government may not continue to ringfence the NHS budget:

"I don’t think it’s possible to make a prediction because there is so much uncertainty in the economic outlook and no one knows what is going to happen with the eurozone."

LEFTIE LEGENDS

The Telegraph has published its annual "top 100 most influential figures" on the British left. In first place, shock, horror, is Ed Miliband again, and the other Ed (Balls) is in second place. The highest climber is the head of Labour's policy review Jon Cruddas, who has jumped from 32 to 3.

Yours truly has fallen four places, from 16th to 20th, but I won't be crying over my morning cup of milk as it seems I'm three spots ahead of...Tony Blair! Don't you live these silly lists?

OLIVER OUT?

The Spectator's new media gossip columnist, Steerpike, says Cameron's director of communications, Craig Oliver, who was appointed as Any Coulson's replacement in February 2011, "is expected to be gone by Christmas". The PM knows how to dole out Xmas gifts, eh?

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"Who the hell is Disraeli?" - former deputy PM John Prescott takes on Ed Miliband's latest (Tory) guru on yesterday's Daily Politics on BBC2. Watch the video here.

FACT(OID) OF THE DAY

"[I]f the minimum wage had kept pace with top pay since 1997 it would now be £18 an hour rather than £6.19" - Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves, speaking at a conference fringe yesterday

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@sullydish How is Obama's closing so fucking sad, confused, lame? He choked. He lost. He may even have lost election tonight.

@jonathanglennie For anyone who can't stand the thought of a Romney world, THANK GOD THERE ARE TWO MORE DEBATES!!!!

@BorowitzReport Romney: "I disagree with your decision to marry Michelle. On Day One, I'll reverse it." #debate

900 WORDS OR MORE

Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian, says: "Blair's New Labour and Miliband's one-nation Labour are different attempts to reach out to voters who turned away from Old Labour."

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says Cameron is "now a diminished figure, likely as things stand to go down in history as a one-term prime minister who never won a general election".

Stephen Glover, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "Maybe Middle England is tiring of seemingly out-of-touch posh boys, but I don’t believe it will prefer a Red Ed who twists the facts, and attempts to conceal his own privileged background, while stoking up the politics of envy."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Chris Wimpress (chris.wimpress@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @chriswimpress, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol