The Wall Street Journal
By Peggy Noonan
October 4, 2012
Out on a limb, where the breeze is best:
The impact of the first debate is going to be bigger than we know. It’s going to affect thinking more than we know, and it’s going to start showing up in the polls, including in the battlegrounds, more dramatically than we guess.
It wasn’t just Mitt Romney’s strong performance. It was President Obama’s amazingly weak one. He’s never been punctured before. But by debate’s end Wednesday night, if you opened the window this is what you could hear: Ssssssss. The soft hiss of air departing from a balloon.
And—amazingly again—he did it to himself. He didn’t fight, he didn’t show, he wasn’t awake and hungry. He just said the same-old-same-old and let it go. He couldn’t even meet Mr. Romney’s gaze, never mind his arguments.
Is all this dispositive? Has it changed everything? No.
Balloons can get patched. Opportunities can be squandered. Luck can turn.
But this whole race is on the move again, it’s in play again, and it’s going to get fun.
But it’s going to get hot, too. And probably dirty.
America got its first, sustained look at the good and competent Mr. Romney. And it really was a first. He wasted his convention but showed up for his debate, and an estimated 58 million people were watching. Many of them were taking his measure for the first time. What did they see? He was confident, gracious, in command of the facts. He looked like a president, acted like one. He was easily the incumbent’s equal and maybe more than that, so he became for the first time a real alternative to the incumbent, a living one, not just a name on a ballot.
He has been painted as Richie Rich, a too-tightly-wound reject from the Republican Animatronic Presidential Candidate Factory. But again, that’s not who he was. He was a normal, smart adult, and he knew things both about America and about public policy. He’s supposed to be extreme, but he was not in the least extreme. He spent his time talking not just to Republicans or conservatives but to the American people, a huge and varied lot. He reminded many of them of something they’d perhaps forgotten along the way: We don’t like the Obama economy! We don’t like ObamaCare! We don’t like not having jobs! Nothing personal, but this didn’t work!