For all his claims to the contrary leading up to last night’s presidential debate with Barack Obama– Mitt Romney proved himself a worthy adversary. Each of Governor Romney’s remarks, points and counter-points sounded thoughtful, rational and, at times, conciliatory. His delivery was measured. His eye-contact: solid. And even his body language exuded respect for President Obama.

In short, Romney scored a knockout and exited the arena looking and sounding more presidential than the president of the United States.

That he managed such a coup in 90 minutes is astounding. But that he also did so in spite of knowing that thousands of hours of his own soundbites, actions and policy positions having been recorded and broadcast, worldwide, while campaigning over the last nine months is probably something to which I am unqualified to speak, because I am not a psychiatrist. But I’m pretty sure the layman’s term for a person who is adept at changing their spots on cue– even if their audience just saw them looking and sounding like a zebra the day before they transformed into a leopard– is sociopathy.

According to Wikipedia: the term psychopathy derives from the Ancient Greek “psyche”, -soul, mind and “pathos” -suffering, disease, condition. The personality disorder is characterized by “shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.”

To be sure, most politicians would get high marks when measured on such a scale. Though it’s worth emphasizing that I have never regarded Mitt Romney as a parasite or a criminal– at least, not based upon existing US tax codes, as he likes to remind us. But what most concerns me about him is his duplicity.

As I watched Mittens unveil his shiny, happy new persona last night all I could think was “Where’s the man I’ve come to know and distrust?”

 I found it impossible to reconcile the breezy, jocular candidate with the cold hearted teenager who once pinned the most defenseless and marginalized person in his peer group to the ground, before cutting off the terrified boy’s hair against the his will.

Likewise, his numerous slights of hand in broad klieg lights had me wondering about the Republican nominee’s capacity for feeling guilt and/or shame.

When discussing the spending cuts he’d enact as president, for example, Romney bore zero resemblance to the political animal who came up with the individual mandate requirement for the uninsured. To the contrary, he actually threatened, “Obamacare is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President, I use that term with all respect.

As well he should, in light of the fact that “Obamacare” was Romney’s signature signature achievement as governor of Massachusetts.

No one trick pony: Mitt also flashed his superficially charming colleague-across-the-aisle side as he radiated pure warmth and goodwill toward his commander-in-chief for an hour-and-a-half straight, without once breaking character. My blood ran cold when Romney kept a straight face while stating: “I think something this big, this important has to be done in [sic] a bipartisan basis. And we have to have a president who can reach across the aisle and fashion important legislation with the input from both parties,” in reference to health care reform. Not only because everyone knows that Romney was the author of the policy he now dismisses as inadequate– not to mention that his is the party which once promised, “The single most important thing we want is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” But because Romney knows that we, the voters, know the truth about his political past– even as he proved his willingness to say whatever was politically expedient whether or not is was the truth.

Which leads me to conclude one of two things: either Romney’s definition of bipartisan is different from yours and mine, or the man speaks with a forked tongue.

To be fair, there were flashes of sincerity when Candidate Romney spoke about  his family. But how unfortunate for him (and his sons) that the one of the soundbites heard round the world last night was, “Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying things that aren’t true and hoping I’ll believe it.” Is this something a parent should be proud of? And where, for that matter, might all five of Ann & Mitt Romney’s offspring have learned that if you just speak a lie often enough it may pass muster as the truth one day?

Romney also scored points for being perfectly candid with the debate moderator when he vowed, “I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS… I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I’m not going to… keep on spending money on things to borrow from China to pay for it.

Now, call me a stickler for manners, but when the man to whom you are speaking is Jim Lehrer from PBS’s NewsHour you might want to refrain from threatening him with a pink slip while he’s in the process of hosting you. Then again, given Romney’s track record of “loving to fire people” part of me had to applaud his willingness to be consistent– even if it made him seem like a big jerk…

… who had no reservations about pissing off all of the little people.

As for the super-power rising in the east– Romney’s offhand remark was typically intemperate as he opened with a five-point plan for turning the US economy around: the second of which was to “crack down on China if and when they cheat.”

Not only was such a crack misplaced at a domestic policy debate, but it buttressed the President’s Democratic National Convention foretelling that his opponent “…might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if [he] can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.

When the topic turned to cuts in education funding, the feisty Mitt-of-old came across loud and clear as he sniped: “Mr. President, you’re entitled, as the president, to own your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts– all right?”

 Well, all righty then!

After digesting the before & after snapshots of Mitt’s makeover I am hard pressed to decide which is more disconcerting. Watching him come in like a lion of truth, justice and the American way while concealing entire swaths of his personality– and previously stated political beliefs– to the point where he seemed likable? Or, witnessing the cunning, duplicitous, self-serving, mean-spirited politician who is so adept at offending others put on a happy face and go out like a lamb?

And with so many faces to choose from, I still don’t know which one to trust.

I can live with a president whose policies are contrary to my own. But the thought of having a president with two faces (or more) representing me domestically and abroad, is a nightmare.

That said, I can see how Romney’s fiscal policies as outlined in Denver will appeal to millions of voters who are out of work and short on hope.

My hope was that Barack Obama would fill that void in this first of his three debates with Romney. But the president appeared to be MIA for much of the debate: scribbling notes non-stop, making little-to-no eye contact with Romney– in a gesture that struck me as uncharacteristically dismissive and ungracious, and could not have played well to independent voters.

As one friend observed in a morning-after email to me, “Obama seemed cranky, ill-prepared and his responses (though he has often been a strong communicator) were mumbled, jumbled, not compelling or “quick”.”

This, from a guy who loves Barack Obama.

But elections can be a funny thing, and as my friend points out, “It shouldn’t make a difference; a presidency is not a debate. But remembering the Bush “likability” that helped defeat Gore, one knows it might. And certainly last night Obama was the lesser debater.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I was in Washington DC for President Obama’s swearing in four years ago– and shortly after the historic event  watched Marine One lift off the White House lawn and into the clear blue yonder with George W. and Laura Bush aboard.

One can only imagine what the view of our nation’s capital must look like to a departing president. And after last night’s performance I fear that Barack Obama may find out sooner rather than later. Because in spite of all the respect he has earned for being smart, trustworthy, credible, likable and empathetic; if he doesn’t shape up between now and November 6th, the electorate will see to it that he too is shipped out, with minimal fanfare, in three months.

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