Posts Tagged ‘Bush-Kerry Debates’

Debate Serves As Wake Up Call for Obama

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Like a lot of other Democrats, I spent Wednesday night yelling at the TV while watching President Obama debate Mitt Romney. Explanations for his performance abound, but I think it mostly comes down to complacency on the campaign and especially on Obama’s part. 

The President has been leading in enough swing states to win the election for over a year, got a very nice bump coming out of the convention, and the country has spent the past three months watching Mitt Romney self-immolate with a series of unforced errors.  When Jon Stewart recently did a bit on how Romney had seemed to get dumber as the election progressed, his audience cheered wildly. Stewart interrupted them to say “Really? Is that how you want to win this thing? The other guy tears his ACL?” That didn’t seem far from the truth, as a bruising Republican primary in which he sold himself out over and over, a brilliant negative Obama media campaign that destroyed his business record, and gaffe after gaffe, increasingly made Romney seem like an unviable alternative.

Given this set of circumstances, it’s understandable that the Obama campaign would have a conservative strategy in the debates, but that still doesn’t explain the many missed opportunities, the total lack of a strategy to tie the individual policy details they were arguing about into a coherent theme and the general lack of enthusiasm the President showed for being there. What it most reminded me of was George W. Bush’s first debate with John Kerry, when President Bush mostly seemed annoyed that he had to be there. His attitude was something like: I’ve been working my ass off here, making the tough decisions of governing this country while you’ve been running around doing nothing but complaining for a year and a half. I’m the president. Do I really need to explain myself to you? The answer, of course, is “yes.” No matter how lacking in credibility the challenger is, we still expect the President to defend his record voiciferously and with energy, like his job depends on it. Because it might.

To use a boxing analogy, Obama had Romney on the ropes before this debate and could have gone for the knockout punch. Instead, he danced around the ring, playing mostly defense, hoping to win on points. Meanwhile, Romney fought as if his political life depended on it, because it did. If the Obama team thought this was a viable strategy before, you can bet they don’t anymore.

Of course, one debate doesn’t erase an entire political campaign and Bush v. Kerry is proof that you can still lose the debates and win the election, but those debates also show the danger of that scenario. Kerry surged 8 points over the course of those debates and many thought he would win, even on election day.  This debate should serve as notice to the President and his team: this race is gonna be a dogfight. Playing defense and trying to win on points isn’t gonna cut it. If he wants to keep his job, he’s gotta fight for it.