Michelle Gillett: Looking, sounding presidential

Tuesday October 16, 2012


Of all the reasons that declared Mitt Romney the winner of the first presidential debate, the silliest was -- Who Looked More Presidential. Based on what definition? What is the standard or example for this presidential look? All of our presidents before Obama have been white middle-aged (give or take) men. We'd never seen a bi-racial president before Obama's election four years ago. I am not saying race had anything to do with the debate, but I am saying it might have crossed people's minds.

How often have we seen Obama and Romney side by side? The proximity was all an audience needed to declare Mitt looked more "presidential." But everyone knows looks can be deceiving. While Romney looks whiter than Obama, what came out of his mouth were not white lies but big fat lies. But in the initial media feeding frenzy over who won the debate, nobody began by saying that lying is unpresidential. As Charles Blow wrote in a New York Times column last week, Romney's dishonesty "should be the focus of all of our attention and consternation. Obama's debate performance was disappointing, but Romney's allergy to the truth could prove disastrous."


A friend shared a Facebook post from a site called Sad Bastard Bar (for the ragged, wretched and loved) which reminded me why all the despair about Obama being too passive during the first debate he supposedly "lost" is misguided.

"For four years, for four years while you were antsy that he was playing the adult in the room, while you thought he was being too nice, he fought daily for every reform at every impasse. Bill Clinton, for all his talents, didn't do what Barack Obama did. Not for the uninsured. Not for the poor. Not for college students. Not for women. Not for the children of illegal immigrants. Not in a recession. This president has wound down two wars. He gave the kill order for Osama Bin Laden. He has promoted genuine efforts at democracy in the Middle East, in a region that is in the middle of a revolution that came under his watch."

Obama doesn't have time to suffer liars which might be one reason for his lack of assertiveness during the first debate. He might have been saving his energy for more important business.

No one wants to say race has anything to do with our impressions of the candidates. But Romney ads and supporters have been using race in all kinds of ways to try to influence voters. The Romney campaign keeps running ads about Obama "dropping the work requirement from welfare." even though it is completely untrue. But what is true is if you say "welfare" often enough, Republican voters start associating blacks with welfare and stereotyping them as people "who are poor because they don't work hard enough," according to a Pew Research Poll.

The Republican Party is 90 percent white which might explain why Ann Coulter told Fox News Host Megyn Kelly, "We're very happy we had the first black president, but don't make the same mistake again. It has not helped black people, white guilt has never produced anything good."

At the Republican Conven tion in Tampa, two people threw peanuts at an African-American camerawoman and taunted her, "This is how we feed the animals."


George Will wrote in his Washington Post opinion column on October 1 that, "Perhaps a pleasant paradox defines this political season: That Obama is African American may be important, but in a way quite unlike that darkly suggested by, for example, MSNBC's excitable boys and girls who, with their (at most) one-track minds and exquisitely sensitive olfactory receptors, sniff racism in any criticism of their pin-up. Instead, the nation, which is generally reluctant to declare a president a failure -- thereby admitting that it made a mistake in choosing him -- seems especially reluctant to give up on the first African-American president ."

Inciting racial fears in voters is anything but presidential. I am not giving up on the first African American president. Not because of his race but because he is presidential and has been leading us slowly but surely out of the messes we gave him to clean up. Let's focus on Romney's dishonesty during tonight's debate rather than how presidential he looks.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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