THE MITT ROMNEY who shone in Wednesday night's debate was the moderate Massachusetts governor, not the condescending presidential candidate who spent the past year pandering to the far right. The Barack Obama who phoned in a lackluster performance was the policy wonk president steeped in detail, not the fiery, eloquent campaigner who so inspired voters four years ago.
And to complete the bizarre pastiche, the once-incisive PBS newsman Jim Lehrer was a hapless bystander to a debate he was supposed to focus and control.
As a consequence, Romney got a virtual pass on trying to occupy every position at once, from the Everyman who feels the pain of the poor to the Ayn Rand free marketeer bent on again deregulating the financial industry and moving Medicare toward vouchers.
Meanwhile, Obama painted himself into a defensive corner. He let pass Romney's claim that he didn't work with Republicans, when in fact he has bent too far to try to compromise with a party whose publicly stated goal from day one was to make him fail. He floundered in the weeds of his policies instead of driving home his successful rescue of the auto industry, the need to educate the future workforce and the urgency of investing in America. No business ever thrived by only cutting costs.
The president approached this debate as if the audience knew all about the issues. Romney came in fresh, with an eye toward captivating independents who are just now tuning in. His was the smart strategy. Now the president has to play catch-up.
San Jose Mercury News