Showing Up for the Show in Denver.

It is a fact of modern public life that show biz matters. Or, put another way, that when up in front of a crowd, especially a large one, you have to deliver a compelling performance. So, to pile on, Mitt Romney schooled Barack Obama in that regard last night.

Content is, of course, a whole other beast.

But, I have to tell you I hadn’t seen either of the two guys on the stage in Denver Wednesday night. Here, at long last, was Mittens Romney the super salesman, the super CEO with all his homework done and ducks in a row for the big pitch to the next company he’s going to “harvest”. The obfuscations, mathematical sleight of hand and deflective narrative all … superbly rehearsed. The only other time we got a glimpse of that guy was in the notorious “47% video”.

By contrast, here was Mr. Cool, Mr. “I Got this One”, Mr. “I’m a Great Fourth Quarter Player” Barack Obama playing man to man defense full court, refusing to slap back and down at Romney’s most egregious assertions — “that $5 trillion in additional middle class taxes or deficit may not be in your plan, Governor, but there is no way it works without one or the other or both, unless of course you’d like to offer some details”. WTF?

I seriously doubt there’ll be any significant change in the end result of this campaign based on Romney’s performance — a “win” for him — in the first (and likely most-watched) debate. But the Obama performance is disconcerting.

As much as I admire what he’s been able to accomplish in the face of a wholly obstructionist Republican caucus (and partisan media), and the way he’s restored some honor to the country’s international standing post-the Cheney/Bush debacle (the drone thing is problematic), he is still too confident in and reliant upon a Lincolnesque attitude toward adversaries. Most liberals have been driven to distraction by his willingness to concede unearned territory to the Tea Party-inspired GOP. Likewise, in Denver, his biggest mistake — the essential fault of his performance — was the unwillingness (certainly not inability) to draw some of Romney’s blood.

Had he simply brought to the show the mantra, “The devil, Governor, is in the details. So I ask again, what exactly are you planning to do?”, he wouldn’t be taking a ripping today from the full run of the ideological spectrum.

And don’t get me started on Jim Lehrer. I may be in a very smallĀ  minority when it comes to a substantial re-think of how the established media covers politics, but even Lehrer’s set-up questions were broad to the point of pointless. Did anyone watching really not think Romney and Obama have “differences” on … every issue?

Old school, heavily self-modulated moderators like Lehrer are almost genetically incapable of asserting themselves and demanding a full answer to their question (assuming they asked something that had an actual answer, instead of eliciting a stump speech). They don’t want to be part of the show.

But … they are part of the show, and a critical part at that. By refusing to flash a bit of impertinence and impatience, their old school good manners merely allows the drama to spin off into a torrent of dubious claims, lofty-sounding pitches and salesmanship.