Last Night's Debate: Mitt Romney's Weird Half-Smile Forever Seared Into Our Brains

The Face was somewhere between the look you make while waiting for a fart to dissipate on the subway and the countenance furnished when your father makes a totally weird joke in front of your girlfriend. Pained, embarrassed, and wonderfully awkward. It's difficult to pinpoint what, exactly, was the genus of Mitt's face last night. Oh, wait. Now we remember: It's his face all the time.

But his apparent petulance was strange for one reason. Historically, sitting presidents are the ones who exhibit annoyance when their ideas are challenged; they're not accustomed to being contradicted, and in such a confident manner. And to be fair, Barack Obama did display a lot of that irritation last night -- but it was Romney who, strangely, seemed more vexed. The lip-less look said it all.

Still, the confidence he otherwise displayed last night was extraordinary, undisturbed by the troubling fact that he was, well, vague as hell on everything. He wouldn't answer which tax loopholes he'd close to offset lowering taxes on the wealthiest citizens. He wouldn't answer which elements of the Dodd-Frank regulations he'd keep, and which he'd cast off. He wouldn't answer how he'd repeal Obamacare, but keep, magically, all the things people like. Cooperation, he explained, would be the panacea. Ah, yes. Cooperation. Because it works so well all the time in Washington.

But, somehow, he still won. This was a surprise to us, as our lynx-eyed readers have reminded us in several letters. Romney was aggressive, and his American flag pin was larger than Barack Obama's so he must love freedom more. Romney was abundantly prepared, while Obama stumbled and kept his head down during Romney's tirades like a repentant youth. It was a bizarre comeuppance for the president, because he didn't even try to fight back. He just took the beating. Like a chump.

His lack of preparation was, perhaps, because he's the president, and dude's a little busy. When the American's ambassador to Libya was tragically killed, it was Obama who took the call. When the Europeans can't get their act together, it's Obama who offers counsel. Meanwhile, Romney gets to study his notes, and try to wring from the ether some cogent explanation of how he'll increase government revenue without raising taxes one iota -- while simultaneously convincing us he's not a cyborg. (Obama, meanwhile, has given up convincing us he's not a cyborg a long time ago.)

So will Romney's apparent victory mean anything? Do these debates even matter? The resounding answer is no. They don't. Anyone who stays through the entire thing does so by and large to confirm their own loyalties. Those "undecided voters" -- wherever they are -- probably didn't watch too much. And if they did, they'll probably wonder, Who's this Mitt Romney guy? And why does he talk like one of the aristocratic cast members of Downton Abbey?

Don't forget to check out our behind-the-scenes coverage from Denver and our Twitter summary of last night's action.

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