Looking back at the debate

8 Oct

The subject of President Obama’s poor performance in the debate continues to be the number one political topic.

According to Politico.com, nobody had to tell Obama he had he had messed up when he walked off the stage – nor was he in the mood for a lot of advice.

Said one adviser: “You could tell he was pissed. At first, Obama didn’t think his performance was a complete disaster. But he began Thursday morning by watching excerpts of his own performance and was especially struck by his own tentative, grim demeanor — especially when he and a more relaxed Mitt Romney were broadcast in split-screen.”

The New York Times has an interesting article about all this.

They don’t allow so-called “fair use” , so we’ll summarize it and mix in our own thoughts.

Obama’s performance, the first of three debates, probably didn’t change the essential arc of the campaign, which was always going to tighten in the final month anyway.

But it does show something that many feel is missing from his presidency.

Some say Obama simply doesn’t love being president.

Not that he doesn’t want the job or believe he should have it, or that its challenges don’t give him plenty of cause for stress or solemnity — just that he doesn’t appear to actually enjoy the daily business of running the country.

Mostly, what Obama seems to get no joy from, and what debates really demand of you, is the opportunity to persuade people that you’re right, by making complex arguments sound simple and self-evident.

This is why Bill Clinton’s convention speech was so good.

It reminded everyone how powerful an enthusiastic presidential explanation can be.

With Clinton it’s always obvious how much he wishes he could have the big job for one more day, or one more hour.

Obama leaves the opinion he can sleep just fine either way.

It’s hard to imagine him looking back five years from now with anything other than relief at being home.

During his first campaign, this lack of neediness was a significant strength for Obama.

When compared to his Democratic challengers at that time Obama seemed healthy, a guy who approached the electorate on his own terms.

He didn’t appear to crave validation or to be exorcising some childhood memory at our expense.

But some who carry that baggage can actually be a better politician.

They want to explain themselves and prevail in the argument.
Their passion shows through.

If someone sees every day as a new opportunity to prove to millions of people that his or her ideas are the right ones, then the presidency is downright fun, because there’s no greater debate platform in the world.

If you don’t care to constantly repeat yourself or re-argue the point, then the job has got to be sheer drudgery.

There have been a few times in Obama’s term when he seemed to genuinely enjoy having the big argument of the day.

But these moments have been rare, which brings us back to the debate.

The problem for Obama isn’t that he seemed indifferent or peevish on stage, though he did.

The problem is that it underscored what has too often been his public perception in office.

He came to Denver with no larger vision he wanted urgently to get across, no story to tell, no apparent passion for the chance to make himself understood and make his opponent look silly.

He was there to defend his policies, but he wasn’t going to get all needy about it, and no one was going to make him have an ounce of fun.

Then there was Mitt Romney.

Eager to make his case, and showing some amount of apparent desperation, like the teenager who has 10 minutes to convince his girlfriend’s father to bless the marriage.

That desire to be understood counts for something.

Romney’s real goal was to make sure that no one walked away from the first debate saying it was over, and no one did.

Obama’s goal, it could seem, was to indicate his continued willingness to serve in a job he believes he can do better than the other guy, but that doesn’t really seem to energize or enliven him.

That’s a problem, not only for the rest of the campaign, but his chances to be re-elected.

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