The first presidential debate, we hear, did not go well for Barack Obama. Mitt Romney, who has distinguished himself by uttering ill-advised and self-defeating comments, became the alpha dog and went after the President with all cannons blazing.
Of course, he had nothing to lose. He was behind in the trusted polls, he was losing in the key states and the American people kept saying that they liked Barack more than they liked him. His advisers took him into a sealed room, sat him down and rehearsed and rehearsed.
In the meantime, the president was out there being president. You know, dealing with those small things that have been turning his hair white, like international affairs, figuring out what to do about Guantanamo and the putting Americans back to work. We all know that the Congress has been obstructionist to the point of exasperation. But Obama was not the fiery, inspirational Obama from two years ago. He was professorial and matter of fact, but he lacked passion. So the same people who give us weekly baseball scores declared that this ballgame was won by Team Romney.
Americans like to be on the winning side. The last thing you want a couple of weeks before an election is to lose traction. The damage to Obama's campaign was substantial but by no means fatal. Remember, a man named Mondale was thought to have won his first debate.
Clearly, the Obama forces will have to do a quick turnaround. The vice presidential debate will become even more important since Paul Ryan is a real detriment to the ticket. No matter how he tries to run from it, his proposed budget does damage to Medicare. We know his position on Social Security. These are two of the most popular programs in American history. Obama obviously thinks that for myriad reasons, he has to remain intellectual and polite. His No. 2, on the other hand, is under no such restraints. As for the president, he will have to go into Rocky-like training.
So there I sat in the first week of our fund drive. As you can imagine, it's not easy to raise $1 million. It's a lot of work. Now, I have always believed in the concept of a higher power. Too many things happen that make no sense unless they are determined by something greater than ourselves.
I have to tell you, Mitt Romney helped the WAMC fund drive more than you'll ever know. When he turned on Jim Lehrer and lit into PBS and Big Bird and told the American people that he would cut the subsidies to PBS (and clearly to NPR because it all comes out of the same pot -- Paul Ryan has been very explicit about that), I just scratched my head.
I think I know why Romney did it. His conservative base hates PBS and NPR because they can't control them. They keep buying the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks and can change them at will. The last thing they want is a network that plays it straight.
Romney obviously made this attack to rile up his base, but what he may have forgotten is that he was riling up the public broadcasting base at the same time. The phones began to ring, I kept playing that Romney quote over and over again, and all I could do is look to the heavens with thanks.
Romney said he would not borrow money from the Chinese to pay for NPR and PBS, which is the smallest fraction of the budget you could imagine. I just want to thank him on behalf of all of us. Every child who has ever learned math, science and reading from Sesame Street should be furious.
So should their parents.
Thanks again, Mitt.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.