Friday, October 12, 2012

President Obama: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In the last 8 days, this race has radically transformed. Before the first debate, the mood on the right was starting to sour, and the left was starting to grin. It was looking to be quickly sown up for President Obama, regardless of the sagging economy or sad state of affairs overseas.

Then something unexpected happened. A Republican did better in a presidential debate than any other in my lifetime. If you were a conservative in my generation, you were raised on stories of Ronald Reagan and "there you go again." But they were myths and legends. While Romney's performance was nowhere near as mythical, it was as if a young boy decided to take on some bullies with inspiration from King Arthur. To those of us on the right, it was a breath of the cleanest air we'd smelled in years.

On its own, though, it might have been just a little consolation amidst a big mess. But that same night, Barak Obama, arguably the greatest liberal politician in 50 years, had a bad night. There's been a lot of speculation as to why, but I think the issue is his handling team was so anxious to avoid the weaknesses of their candidate in the format (his 2008 debates against Hillary were not his best moment, whereas Romney came out the winner after 22 debates this spring). Obama couldn't look angry, he couldn't look condescending, he couldn't look mean. Perhaps they hoped Romney would be all those things and Obama would come out looking the bigger man. The problem is that while he might have looked young and virile next to the one-foot-in-the-grave John McCain, next to the extremely fit Romney (who, according to their physical exams, actually has the lower resting heart rate, regardless of the perception of Obama being the cooler cucumber), he seems thin and tired. Quite remarkable seeing as how he is almost ten years younger than his opponent.

The problem is, of course, that Obama couldn't look angry, but he has a temper (one that we usually see when he's confronted with what he thinks is ignorance or stupidity). He couldn't be condescending, but he's a professor, so he is naturally condescending; and, ultimately, he really wanted to be mean to Mitt Romney. His supporters would have loved it if he was because they hate Mitt Romney and everything he represents. But he needed to win over the moderates, the one's who wanted a "new tone" in Washington. Yet, in an attempt to deny his nature, he lost both.

That's what the media is not saying (but they are implying), that Obama went in to debate one to sow up any undecided moderates still out there. Instead, he disappointed his own base. You know this because ultimately the story coming out of the debate was not how well Romney did (and he did very well, historically well), but how bad Obama performed (this being the issue that is closer to the media's heart: he let them down). Biden, therefore, was not concerned last night with winning over the undecided independents, but with winning BACK the base. The fact that such a rude, blustering, outrageously patronizing and condescending performance could be greeted with statements on Facebook like "Biden kicked ass tonight!" is proof that the Obama ticket is trying to play to a very specific, angry, liberal group, without whom they cannot win the election. A group that felt unhappy and unrepresented in the last debate. Yet the values of that very group run contrary to those of the moderates. Usually, the liberal candidates play to the moderates and wink to the left. Usually the left accepts this. Not this time.

So, Barak Obama is caught between a rock and a hard place. Biden played to the angry left last night. But will Obama? The left hopes he will; they hope he will ream Mitt Romney and show him how stupid he really is. But Romney is not stupid, and such an outburst would terribly cripple the President with the moderates and undecided. Yet will the left settle for less? With his reelection bid falling to pieces a month out from the election, what does Obama do to save his campaign? What can he do?

I do not have the guts to predict a Romney win at this point (though I bet I could get good odds), but I will say unless Obama can find a way to reframe the race, he is going to continue to lose ground. Since 1960, we have only had three presidents serve out 2 full terms. I do not think it likely that we shall soon have four.

Post by Daniel Noa
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