Time—actually, Tuesday night—will tell, but when I hear that President Barack Obama will “be more aggressive in his next face off with Mitt Romney after their last encounter gave the Republican challenger a boost,” following what is widely regarded as a poor (if not disastrous) performance in his first debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, I am reminded of the controversy following Obama’s victory in 2008 about his forthcoming appointments. I wrote then,
Reading several articles about Obama’s law classes, I have the impression he believes strongly in debate. It is not a bad skill for a lawyer. No matter what an offense, justice demands that every side, popular or not, should have an advocate.
The most stigmatized group in the United States is not blacks or poor people. It is certainly not evangelists, who have dominated policymaking since the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Rather, it is the group included by the initials GLBT–gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.
But it is the evangelists whom Obama invites to the debate rather than the queers. He takes queers for granted just as he does progressives; after all, queers and progressives have no other (major) candidate to vote for. He selects as regressive a team of advisors and cabinet members as we might expect from a Blue Dog Democrat and claims that he’s the one who is responsible for coming up with ideas.
Obama is supposed to be about change we can believe in. He surrounds himself with a widely-touted team of rivals. And drawing all this together, progressives are to envision Obama at the center, hearing all these arguments for the status quo, in some grand debate, perhaps a little less rules-oriented, but with Obama in his vast wisdom meticulously picking apart the arguments, leading everyone to a conclusion that each of these situations demands a new approach.
“Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost,” [Obama] said. “It comes from me. That’s my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing [that vision].”
But lest we think Obama takes upon himself the role of a singular fountainhead of ideas, we have Change.gov, in which the people will supply what will surely prove to be an unmanageable glut of ideas, while Obama informs us that “promoting science . . . [is] about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology [and] listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient.”
Do you get the feeling it’s all a bit much? I sure do. One impediment to communication is–and by now you’re probably way ahead of me on this–information overload. Obama’s crackberry isn’t going to help him on this. What’s far more likely is that he will simply shine on all these ideas; as with forensics, superficiality displaces depth, just like at his inauguration, where “inclusiveness” excludes queers.
Just as Obama was arrogant then—and as it turns out, disastrously so—I suspect he is being arrogant now. In the second debate, he will need to take Romney to the woodshed. But as Maureen Dowd wrote of the first debate,
Even though Obama was urged not to show his pompous side, he arrived at the podium cloaked in layers of disdain; a disdain for debates, which he regards as shams, a venue, as the Carter White House adviser Gerry Rafshoon puts it, where “people prefer a good liar to a bad performer.”
To the extent that Dowd is right—and I tend to think her perception is as good as her writing—we may be seeing just another form of arrogance, an over-confidence that will doom him in a different way from his performance in the first debate.
Romney has been doing well in the polls since the first debate, leading Jonathan Chait, who is far from persuaded that Obama’s performance will improve in the way it needs to, to write,
The scary thing for partisans of either side is that it’s getting frighteningly easy to envision a scenario in which the electoral college ties. Of the swing states, Obama’s lead appears safest in New Hampshire and Ohio. That plus his safe states would bring him to 259 electoral college votes. And in Wisconsin, with its ten electoral votes, he’s at the dread 269–269. If we must stick with a preposterous electoral system that encourages both parties to ignore three quarters of the country — and some of us would argue we mustn’t — can’t we at least have an odd number of electoral votes?
The odd part about this is that because of the way that votes are allocated, the electoral college tends to value rural votes at the expense of urban votes, and that has worked to conservatives’ advantage in previous elections, where they have won the presidency despite losing the popular vote. Chait’s arithmetic notwithstanding, I don’t see any reason to expect it to work out differently this time. If Obama loses the popular vote, I would expect he will lose the electoral college.
It may well be time to plan for a Romney presidency.
- Jeff Mason, “Obama plans more assertive debate, cites ‘great’ prep,” Reuters, October 14, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/14/us-usa-campaign-debate-obama-idUSBRE89D09Q20121014↩
- Mackenzie Weinger, “Press agree: Obama ‘rusty,’ Romney ‘strong’,” Politico, October 4, 2012, http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2012/10/media-agrees-obama-rusty-romney-strong-137459.html↩
- David Benfell, “Arrogance in picking a preacher,” December 20, 2008, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=673↩
- Maureen Dowd, “Barry Trails Off . . .,” New York Times, October 9, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/10/opinion/dowd-barry-trails-off.html↩
- Jonathan Easley, “Romney ahead in four new national polls,” The Hill, October 11, 2012, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/polls/261537-romney-ahead-in-four-new-national-polls↩
- Jonathan Chait, “Lessons From Obama’s Debate Scare,” New York Magazine, October 11, 2012, http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/10/lessons-from-obamas-debate-scare.html↩