I think its safe to say that the reason President Obama seemed so disengaged last night is... BORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRING!
Was it the natural tendency of old campaigners to play it safe in the opening quarter? Or the tendency of longtime adversaries to score points off each other rather than illuminate their differences?
Or was it that the issues on which the presidential campaign will turn are so complicated — the economy, taxation, healthcare — that it's a challenge for anyone to make them accessible for average listeners?
Whatever the reason, Wednesday night's initial debate between President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, provided red meat for wonks, but perhaps not so much for voters.
Now, I consider myself to be a little wonky, but even I glazed over (and ultimately fell asleep) in the first half hour.
That could be a good thing for the president or not, and vice versa for Romney. I'm betting most people felt the same way I did and tuned out quickly, missing first hand the president's lackluster, almost disinterested performance. That could be good.
Or bad, since that means most people are catching up to it the way I did: watching a replay after catching some of the "analysis" or, worse, watching just the Monday morning quarterbacking.
Romney was surprisingly good in my book, although to be fair, I didn't see a single primary debate so I have no basis to judge. Too, when you have five months to absorb and memorize talking points, it's easy to come off as well-prepared and informed.
Many liberals chided Obama for not being more forceful, like mentioning the 47% or bringing up Bain Capital. He did contrast what Governor Romney's definition of "small business" was, however.
I think this was a deliberate tactic. He knew Romney was going to try to get in some zingers and it was more likely those zingers would be tossed when he was on the defensive. There's plenty of time to talk about "presidenting half the nation."
Besides, the economic performance of the country is clearly weighing heavily on Obama's mind, as was evidenced by his body posture. If anything, he was the stronger for being patient, not defensive. He made Romney look like an adolescent on stage, voice rising, arms flailing, fingers pointing.
Obama stood and took notes, much like a trial judge would do while the prosecution levelled charges and brought evidence. He reacted even while he took notes (here's a tip for the next debate: do not watch the speaker; instead, watch the other guy) and showed he was taking Romney seriously, even if Romney and his party were not.
I mean, really, when a network puts Larry The Cable Guy out as a morning-after pundit, how seriously can we take them?
Obama may have overplayed this, to be sure, but letting Romney win the first debate could also end up being a masterful stroke. Remember 2004? Kerry pretty much mopped the floor with Bush ("He forgot Poland!" he whined) and won that debate handily.
Didn't help him much, did it?
Romney will get a bump out of this, maybe five points nationally and possibly place himself in a statistical tie with the president.
And that's the last hurrah.
(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)