Obama's Dismal Debate Showing
H ow in the world did President Obama manage to turn what should have been a slam dunk into an air ball? Political historians will debate that question for decades.
The Democratic president's surprisingly dismal showing against Republican challenger Mitt Romney Wednesday night deserves to rank on a level with - or above - the great presidential debate debacles of all time. Such as the one in 1976, when Ronald Reagan walked all over incumbent Jimmy Carter. Or the one in 1992, at which President George H.W. Bush looked longingly at his watch while Bill Clinton ate his lunch.
Actually, there may be a pattern here. All three of the above-mentioned debate losers were weary incumbents, facing energetic upstarts who had few heavy loads to carry around and therefore enjoyed the freedom to second-guess and run circles around the care-worn current occupant of the Oval Office.
Many Lost Opportunities
Ironically, though, it was Romney who appeared to be carrying the most baggage into the ring.
It was he who was the spoiled rich kid out of touch with everyday folks, he who had made so many missteps and misstatements as to become the butt of endless late-night TV jokes. It was he whose running mate wanted to abolish Medicare as we know it - he whose amazingly insensitive speech about the "47 percent" was thought to have been a fatal self-inflicted wound. And so on.
All Obama had to do was act presidental, maintain that normally breezy, articulate manner of his, and take advantage of every opportunity to poke his opponent in a weak place.
But none of that happened Wednesday night in Denver. The president - who normally warms to crowds and is capable of turning on a disarming charm, and who, like Romney, had supposedly spent days or weeks rehearsing for this all-important event - suddenly seemed unprepared and uncomfortable.
Romney, on the other hand, came across from the first minute as poised, raring to go and in charge - even if he blinked too much and many of his specific claims failed to hold water.
Bad Body Language
Obama did get in a few good lines. But all in all, his was a sorry showing. And you can't blame all - or even most - of it on a rather lame performance by the moderator, retired PBS broadcaster Jim Lehrer, who pretty much let things get out of hand.
Unaccountably, the president passed up any number of chances to zing his vulnerable opponent. He seemed unable, or unwilling, to maintain eye contact. And he kept signaling, with every subtlety of demeanor and body language, that he wished to be somewhere else.
One couldn't escape the impression that he would have rather been back in that White House bubble, where seldom does anyone have the temerity to get in your face and fling disrespectable accusations at you.
It seems a safe bet that Obama has negated his previously impressive lead in all the polls. And now, to mix sports metaphors, it's a horse race again.
Republicans can't be blamed for crowing. Democrats can only lick their wounds and take comfort from the fact that there are still two more debates before the people speak - two more chances to reverse this rather stunning setback.
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