The reviews of the first US presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are in and the general consensus seems to be that the president’s performance sucked. I thought he was too aloof to even look aloof. He seemed too disinterested to even fully smirk.
The default expression on his face was a half-executed smirk that suggested a man who would rather that the election was just handed to him without so much fuss. I am surprised that people are surprised at his sense of manifest destiny about how his life ought to be because that is precisely what has gotten this far in life. If Obama was not who he is, he would not be where he is. So there is really no point complaining.
I have always wondered whether in his profoundly private mind where no one, and I mean no one, including his wife, is allowed, he even regards US presidency as an accomplishment. I say all this not as a criticism but as a possible explanation of why he conducts himself with such detachment.
I am not quite sure what it is that his critics and detractors expected Obama to do at the debate—grab Romney by his tie and threaten to let him go off the stage? I thought his demeanor was that of a man who had already served the better part of his first term and expected people to maturely assess its strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures without turning it into a gladiatorial jousting between two knights trying to unhorse each other. There are many other TV shows for that audience.
I thought both Obama and Romney presented their positions rather adequately within the flexible context of electoral politics. What that means is things politicians say in the run-up to elections are attractive approximations of what they actually stand for. They are not necessarily unadulterated truths but pronouncements that could become truths with a little help from facts and honesty.
For me two moments stood out for their smallness. One related to Obama referring to billionaire real estate pleonast Donald Trump and the other was Romney talking about the public broadcaster PBS generally and moderator Jim Lehrer personally. At least Obama’s comment had the merit of being accurate unlike Romney’s which was simply small in its meanness.
Talking about Romney’s and his republican party’s tax plan the president said, "Under Governor Romney’s definition, Donald Trump is a small business. I know Donald Trump doesn’t like to think of himself as small anything."
Romney, on the other hand, said this to establish his credentials as a ruthless cutter of government spending: "I’m sorry Jim (Lehrer), I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I like PBS, I love Big Bird, I actually like you too, but I’m going to stop borrowing money from China to pay for things we don’t need."
“I actually like you too”? What is that supposed to mean? Does it mean ‘I like you too but I will screw you anyway’? Because that’s how it sounds to me.
In keeping with treating any reference to him anywhere on the planet as part of an unceasing reaffirmation of his enormous and continuing greatness, Trump said this about being mentioned by name in the presidential debate. In an email response to HuffPost Small Business he said, “It is a great honor to be representing free enterprise in this Country as a tremendous job creator.I greatly appreciate being mentioned by the President and Governor Romney on such an important event."
As for the debate, let’s not treat it as anything more than what it really was—two men publicly cleaning their plumage.