For that handful of Americans who still think that a presidential debate is supposed to be a discussion about what is best for America and future generations between two proven leaders who place country over personal ambition, Tuesday’s debate had to be another disappointment. But let’s put that petty consideration aside and get on with a proper analysis of the Hunger Games.
Romney’s performance was strong in many respects, weak in some, but overall comparable to the performance he gave in his first debate, which was widely praised. Obama is the person who is of most interest here.
First, I’m still amazed at what this guy gets away with. One question was, essentially: Was our consulate in Benghazi denied additional security when requested, and if so, why? For an answer, Obama might as well have given his grandma’s recipe for corn muffins. The president never came close to even attempting an answer to the question asked. What he did say was that he appreciated all of our wonderful ambassadors around the world, which I’m sure was very heartening to everyone.
Neither Romney, nor moderator Candy Crowley, nor any of the commentators afterward was impolite enough to mention the lack of a response. It’s as if this kind of evasive gambit has come to be expected. And before I totally lose it, will someone point out in a debate that Obama’s entire economic position is based on a patently false assumption: that all we need to do is enact a few Obama spending cuts and tax the rich “a little more” and we can balance the budget and “invest” more in education, green energy, and infrastructure? And that his “millionaires and billionaires” include spouses who make $125,000 each? If Obama’s fondest tax fantasies were passed, they would cover about 5 percent of the deficit. And was anyone else surprised to learn that he is now a big supporter of coal and oil drilling on federal land?
Obama’s performance was more interesting for other reasons — reasons that say a lot about his campaign and his view of the American people. In a move that projected the exact opposite of the image he used to catapult into the presidency, Obama decided to do his part in the coarsening of American culture. Thanks to the president, Americans can now expect the two people selected by their party to vie for the most powerful position in the world to act in such a way as to cause parents to make their children leave the room. When a barrier to boorish behavior is broken, it is hard to go back. Especially when it is purposefully broken by the president of the United States.
Interrupting, bullying the moderator, talking over the other guy, and giving weird looks is one thing when coming from Joe Biden. It’s quite another when it comes from the president. From him, we are not used to it. Those 99 percent who live outside the Beltway were not expecting it. And for that Obama will pay a political price.
One might say that Romney engaged in some of the same behavior, but the president announced what he was going to do before the debate, and when one guy decides to mud-wrestle, everybody else is going to get dirty.
So why did Obama decide to take the presidency where no man has gone before? Because his base demanded it, and the media rewards it. Because of the president’s poor performance in the first debate, the Obama team decided that aggressiveness and machismo were more important than anything else. They forgot that the mere contrast between Obama version 1.0 and Obama version 2.0 would be unsettling to people. But union bosses, precinct captains, and swing-state, big-city party hacks were squealing, “You let him run over you,” and, “Show him he can’t talk to you that way.” Those are things that no man (or boy) can stand to hear. If you’ve ever been a boy, it’s a dynamic that you’ve seen play out again and again on the playground. Up until now those playground buddies were not advising presidents of the United States. Apparently that has changed. Never mind that Romney did not run over Obama in the first debate. He just out-debated him. And with no moderator help, like Obama got on Tuesday. The Obama-ites let their anger get the best of them.
Obama’s advisers had to know that the president’s new demeanor would be a turnoff to women who had not made up their minds. I think that their decision to take that risk has to do with the electoral process. This race is probably down to less than a handful of closely contested states. Turnout, especially big-city turnout, is key for Obama. That means that the enthusiasm of the aforementioned bosses, leaders, and party hacks who bust their butts on Election Day is vital. And they thought Ol’ Joe Biden was just great, if perhaps a little too restrained.
As for the women, Obama’s advisers probably figure that there are enough women who can be persuaded that Mitt Romney will take away their contraception that none of the bad behavior or foolishness about the future of our country will matter to them.
So you see the Obama debate strategy makes sense. A hyper-aggressiveness and a firm reliance on playing to the envy and ignorance of the American people. Then, when this little election is over, he can get back to bringing us together.
— Fred Thompson represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2003.