Some Pittsburghers and supporters of Barack Obama elsewhere were disappointed by his showing in last week's Denver debate with Mitt Romney.
As a group, Pittsburghers can be nasty critics. For example, there is discussion of renaming our baseball team from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Nutting Stink Bugs. "Stink Bugs" based on the team's 2012 record, its 20th straight below-.500 season. The Nuttings are the Wheeling, W. Va., people who own the team.
Reflecting my own despair in the wake of last week's debate, I decided to rewrite part of it, making points that Mr. Obama might have made instead of the ones he did make -- or didn't make. In each case, I have used Mr. Romney's actual words, but have made up Mr. Obama's.
I should note that Mr. Romney is hard to debate. He sometimes lies and sometimes makes impromptu changes in his positions to try to please the audience he is addressing.
Adaptability on the part of a politician is not unusual or even necessarily a bad trait, but the former Massachusetts governor sometimes carries the practice a bit far, particularly as he dances around issues like health care and taxes. Mr. Obama's pursing his lips in response to Mr. Romney, of course, gets him nothing either. We thought he learned his politics in Chicago.
Real Romney and fictional Obama follow ...
Mr. Romney: "I want to bring down the rates, at the same time lower deductions and exemptions and credits and so forth so we keep getting the revenue we need."
Mr. Obama: I would like to ask Gov. Romney whether the lower deductions and exemptions and credits he talks about would leave in place the deduction of $77,000 he and his wife claimed on their tax return for their dressage horse, the famous dancing one he flew to London for the Summer Olympics this year? I also find it a little strange for him to be talking about taxes when he has not made most of his own tax returns available to the American people. What is it that he doesn't want us to see? Too much money in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands?
Mr. Romney: "I'd like to bring money from overseas back to this country."
Mr. Obama: By the way, how much money do you have stashed away overseas and where?
Mr. Romney: "My priority is putting people back to work in America. They're suffering in this country."
Mr. Obama: How many of the people that you are talking about as suffering fall in the 47 percent of the population that you said it is not your job to worry about?
How many people were victims of the unemployment that resulted when Bain Capital bought out their companies? For that matter, how many people's jobs did Bain Capital shift overseas? I think I hear the sound of crocodile tears falling from your eyes.
Also, how many jobs would have been lost if I had paid any attention to your advice to let the American auto industry fail? Someone like you who has amassed a fortune of $250 million in my view has no understanding whatsoever of the situation of America's poor and unemployed whom you are pretending to cry over.
Mr. Romney: "I'll make government more efficient and, to cut back the number of employees, combine some agencies and departments."
Mr. Obama: One of your opponents for the Republican nomination, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, said he wanted to get rid of government departments, too, but he couldn't remember which ones. Can you? I'd like to hear just which departments and agencies and services you think the American people don't need anymore. Mr. Perry finally remembered that the three he wanted to get rid of were commerce, education and energy. Do you think the United States can get along without an education or an energy department? Or maybe you think 47 percent of Americans don't need an education.
Mr. Romney: "No. 2, I'll take programs that are currently good programs but I think could be run more efficiently at the state level and send them to the state."
Mr. Obama: Would you put Social Security in that category and send it to the states?
Mr. Romney: "Look, we have to have regulation of Wall Street."
Mr. Obama: Did government regulation get in your way when you were piling up money at Bain Capital? How did you manage to get around regulation so effectively?
Mr. Romney: "In my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together. And we have to have a president who can reach across the aisle and fashion important legislation with the input from both parties."
Mr. Obama: Does that mean you plan to get rid of Mitch McConnell as Republican leader in the Senate? He said his primary objective was to see to it that I didn't get a second term as president.
Mr. Romney: "I do not believe in cutting our military."
Mr. Obama: I have worked day and night to end the war in Iraq and move us toward ending the one in Afghanistan, to enable us to shift our spending to rebuilding the American economy. Does your position on not cutting military spending mean that America will never have a peace dividend, no matter what we do to end our wars?
To return to as close to the real world as we can get, if Mr. Obama is going to win a second term in November, he will have to get his teeth into Mr. Romney. Some of Mr. Obama's fans think he is saving his toughest points for the second and third debates. We'll see. I found the first debate worse than useless as a serious exchange of views. We can do better.
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com, 412-263-1976).