Friday, October 05, 2012
President Obama hits his stride on the UW-Madison campus
Unwilling to stand and wait five hours (or more, to get a position close to the stage), we watched the President on TV. He did a great job of rousing the crowd of 30,000.
I thought he did pretty well in the debate, as well, but I clearly was in the minority. I understand Republicans saying their man "won," whatever that means in one of these things. However, I was disappointed so many liberals joined in the chorus, claiming their man "lost" because he wasn't animated or aggressive enough. To me, Romney seemed like an excitable, manic flibbertigibbet, while President Obama seemed calm and thoughtful. The debates are always less about the ostensible subject matter than about giving the public a chance to judge for themselves who has the temperament to represent them in the White House with all its pressures. And the winner is decided at the polls, not by pundits trying to launch a new narrative arc or flash polls of allegedly undecided voters.
To accomplish that, President Obama needed to demonstrate competence and maturity and not make any major gaffes. Mission accomplished. The last thing a sitting president wants to get into is a pissing match with his opponent. It not only tarnishes the dignity of the office, but it lowers the president to his challenger's level. Calling his opponent a liar face-to-face could only backfire. There's plenty of time to attack the challenger more directly on the campaign trail, at occasions like the Madison speech. And the most aggressive attacks are best left to surrogates in any case.
If Barack Obama had been more passionate and aggressive in the debate the pundits would all have accused him of being shrill and "unpresidential." He would have been accused of using the power of his office to bully his opponent. They would have said he lost because he couldn't control his temper. And, in that case, they would have been right.
It's not just President Obama. It's a dilemma all incumbent presidents running for reelection have faced, and the challengers usually seem to do well in the first debate. Ask Walter Mondale what it means to "win" the first debate, or John Kerry.
PS: If you want to see why it's important that we have a competent, level-headed president instead of an excitable flibbertigibbet, check out the excellent Michael Lewis profile of Barack Obama in the October Vanity Fair. It's an eye-opener.