The Myth of Barack Obama's Jim Lehrer Plea

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 5 2012 9:13 AM

The Myth of Barack Obama's Jim Lehrer Plea

DENVER -- Barack Obama's debate night was so weak that it's taking on legendary status. People are remembering it as even worse, more pathetic, than it was. I noticed this yesterday when Sen. Marco Rubio addressed CPAC-Colorado, and informed his audience that Obama was so nervous about talking debt that he panicked.

"At one startling moment," said Rubio, "he turned to the moderator and said: 'Can you change the subject?'"

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It was a good line, and I've seen version of it (not from a top Romney surrogate) on social media. It's not true, though. Obama never asked Jim Lehrer to change the subject. He tried to extend the topic that he and Romney were talking about, asking Lehrer not to change it.

"We’re going to come back to taxes," said Lehrer, at the end of the tax discussion. "I want move on to the deficit and a lot of other things, too." Then, he let Romney wrap up his tax answer. Obama, who gnawed on the tax issue like a toothless daschund, took one more crack at it. "Jim," he said, "I -- you may want to move onto another topic, but I -- I would just say this to the American people."

Obama blew the segment, but not because he was begging Lehrer to change the subject. Lehrer was grudgingly allowing the candidates to finish their tax riffs.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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