Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 30, 2012

Libya Attack Still an Inexplicable Failure

All of the back and forth over whether the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi was or was not a “terrorist” attack (can there be any doubt that it was?) has obscured attention from the real issue: Why wasn’t the consulate in Benghazi afforded better protection? There was obviously a grave breach of security. The Washington Post reveals the depth of unpreparedness:

U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.

A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.

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All of the back and forth over whether the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi was or was not a “terrorist” attack (can there be any doubt that it was?) has obscured attention from the real issue: Why wasn’t the consulate in Benghazi afforded better protection? There was obviously a grave breach of security. The Washington Post reveals the depth of unpreparedness:

U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.

A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.

This lapse is all the more shocking given the fact that the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security is known for taking an ultra-cautious approach to protecting America’s representatives abroad. Heads should roll over this failure. (They should also roll over the Anglo-American military failure to protect Harrier jump jets at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.) And senior officials in the Obama administration, starting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, must explain how this inexplicable failure took place.

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No, Obama Didn’t Call Benghazi “Act of Terror” in Speech

Now that the Obama administration’s initial narrative that the Benghazi assault was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam film has collapsed, the new spin from the White House is that President Obama has actually called it a terrorist attack all along.

“Well, first of all, Candy, as you know, the President called it an act of terror the day after it happened,” David Axelrod told CNN’s Candy Crowley this morning, referring to a speech Obama made in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12.

Axelrod’s claim has been pushed by journalists over the past few days, most notably Josh Gerstein at Politico, in a blog post headlined “Obama talked of Libya attack as ‘terror’ 2 weeks ago”:

Despite a drumbeat from the right and even independent fact-checkers that President Barack Obama has been unwilling to label as terrorism the attack on a United States diplomatic mission in Libya, the president indicated just a day after the killing of the American ambassador there that the assault was part of a series of “acts of terror” the U.S. has faced.

Mark Landler made the same claim in an otherwise solid article at the New York Times:

The White House maintains that its account changed as intelligence agencies gathered more details about the attack, not from any desire to diminish its gravity. Mr. Obama, his aides point out, labeled the assault an “act of terror” in his first public response, in the Rose Garden, a day after it happened.

Gerstein and Landler are simply wrong on this.

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Now that the Obama administration’s initial narrative that the Benghazi assault was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam film has collapsed, the new spin from the White House is that President Obama has actually called it a terrorist attack all along.

“Well, first of all, Candy, as you know, the President called it an act of terror the day after it happened,” David Axelrod told CNN’s Candy Crowley this morning, referring to a speech Obama made in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12.

Axelrod’s claim has been pushed by journalists over the past few days, most notably Josh Gerstein at Politico, in a blog post headlined “Obama talked of Libya attack as ‘terror’ 2 weeks ago”:

Despite a drumbeat from the right and even independent fact-checkers that President Barack Obama has been unwilling to label as terrorism the attack on a United States diplomatic mission in Libya, the president indicated just a day after the killing of the American ambassador there that the assault was part of a series of “acts of terror” the U.S. has faced.

Mark Landler made the same claim in an otherwise solid article at the New York Times:

The White House maintains that its account changed as intelligence agencies gathered more details about the attack, not from any desire to diminish its gravity. Mr. Obama, his aides point out, labeled the assault an “act of terror” in his first public response, in the Rose Garden, a day after it happened.

Gerstein and Landler are simply wrong on this.

Obama said during the speech that “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation” — but at no point was it clear that he was using that term to describe the attack in Benghazi. He’d also spent the previous two paragraphs discussing the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath. “Acts of terror” could have just as easily been a reference to that. Or maybe it wasn’t a direct reference to anything, just a generic, reassuring line he’d added into a speech which did take place, after all, the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Here’s the line with some additional context:

Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.  We mourned with the families who were lost on that day.  I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed.  And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.

As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it.  Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.

If Obama wanted to call the Benghazi assault a terrorist attack in that speech, he had plenty of opportunities to do so. Instead, he described it as a “terrible act,” a “brutal” act, “senseless violence,” and called the attackers “killers,” not terrorists. It’s also important to consider the context. For a week after this speech, the White House would not call it a terrorist attack. The official position was that Libya was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam film, not a premeditated or preplanned act.

Some may wonder why it even matters. Maybe Obama really was referring to Benghazi as an “act of terror” in the speech, and he just failed to make that clear enough — so what?

Actually, this is much more than an issue of semantics. Calling it a terrorist attack would have given Obama powers under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) to use military action, including drone warfare, against the perpetrators. If he were serious about “bring[ing] to justice the killers,” which he vowed to do in the speech, then labeling this incident a terrorist attack (if he believed that’s what it was) would have been critical. Instead, we now have the FBI sitting with its hands bound in Tripoli, unable to move forward with a serious investigation.

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Gwen Ifill Preempts the Presidential Debate

Sure sign that President Obama’s media cheerleaders are worried about his upcoming debate performance?  Four days before the first debate, Gwen Ifill of PBS has an op-ed in The Washington Post downplaying the importance of . . . debates.  Or, as she puts it, “debunk[ing] five myths about presidential debates.”

Myth Number One: Voters use debates to decide.”

As Ms. Ifill explains, “Gallup polls going back decades show precious little shift in established voter trends before and after debates.”

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Sure sign that President Obama’s media cheerleaders are worried about his upcoming debate performance?  Four days before the first debate, Gwen Ifill of PBS has an op-ed in The Washington Post downplaying the importance of . . . debates.  Or, as she puts it, “debunk[ing] five myths about presidential debates.”

Myth Number One: Voters use debates to decide.”

As Ms. Ifill explains, “Gallup polls going back decades show precious little shift in established voter trends before and after debates.”

Her article consists largely of some pretty pallid pabulum, the tired clichés you might expect from a public television host whose expertise on the subject arises from her experience as moderator of the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates.  The moderator shouldn’t argue with the debaters, for example; the candidates don’t get to approve questions in advance; the best zinger doesn’t necessarily win a debate.  Yada yada yada.  Her point about the impact on voters of debates isn’t exactly hot news, either.  But timing is everything, isn’t it?

So, given that we all know that Mr. Obama doesn’t exactly shine without his teleprompter, and that Mr. Romney is pretty good in a debate, would it be too cynical to suggest that Ms. Ifill and The Post are engaging in a bit of preemptive self-comforting?

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Is Abbas Israel’s Necessary Enemy?

As we noted on Thursday, the main point to be gleaned from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the General Assembly of the United Nations was his utter irrelevance. That Abbas was reduced to pleading with a friendly audience not to ignore his cause was both pathetic and a clear sign he is painfully aware that the international community has lost interest in him, if not the Palestinians as a whole. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke from the same podium shortly after Abbas spoke, confirmed Abbas’s insignificance by only briefly mentioning the Palestinians in remarks that were centered on the Iranian nuclear threat. But the PA head’s latest insults directed at Israel did not go completely unanswered by Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, never one to pull his punches, pointed out the obvious when he said, as Haaretz reports:

Lieberman characterized Abbas as “the biggest obstacle to peace…everyone who heard Abbas’s speech understands that he does not intend, and does not want, to be a partner in a peace agreement,” while in a meeting in New York with foreign ministers of France, Spain, Russia and others.

Lieberman is right about all of this, but his desire to see Abbas replaced as head of the Palestinian Authority generated a response from his cabinet colleague, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who characterized Lieberman’s statement as detrimental to Israel’s interests. Barak said the alternative to Abbas’s rule in the West Bank is Hamas. That both men are basically right about Abbas sums up Israel’s peace process dilemma in a nutshell.

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As we noted on Thursday, the main point to be gleaned from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the General Assembly of the United Nations was his utter irrelevance. That Abbas was reduced to pleading with a friendly audience not to ignore his cause was both pathetic and a clear sign he is painfully aware that the international community has lost interest in him, if not the Palestinians as a whole. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke from the same podium shortly after Abbas spoke, confirmed Abbas’s insignificance by only briefly mentioning the Palestinians in remarks that were centered on the Iranian nuclear threat. But the PA head’s latest insults directed at Israel did not go completely unanswered by Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, never one to pull his punches, pointed out the obvious when he said, as Haaretz reports:

Lieberman characterized Abbas as “the biggest obstacle to peace…everyone who heard Abbas’s speech understands that he does not intend, and does not want, to be a partner in a peace agreement,” while in a meeting in New York with foreign ministers of France, Spain, Russia and others.

Lieberman is right about all of this, but his desire to see Abbas replaced as head of the Palestinian Authority generated a response from his cabinet colleague, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who characterized Lieberman’s statement as detrimental to Israel’s interests. Barak said the alternative to Abbas’s rule in the West Bank is Hamas. That both men are basically right about Abbas sums up Israel’s peace process dilemma in a nutshell.

Though Lieberman is generally dismissed as a bull in the diplomatic china shop, his disgust with Abbas is entirely justified. The Palestinian’s stated desire for negotiations is given the lie by the fact that he has refused to negotiate for the past four years, even during a period when Israel adopted a West Bank settlement freeze. That followed his refusal even to discuss a generous peace offer from Israel in 2008 that would have given the Palestinians an independent state in almost the entire West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas has neither the interest nor the will to make peace. Whatever his personal inclinations, he knows the Palestinians won’t accept any accord that legitimizes a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, and he will never sign any treaty that would conclusively end the conflict. The PA leader sanctions the fomenting of anti-Semitism and hatred for Israel in his official media. Abbas is also corrupt and undemocratic, as he is currently serving in the eighth year of a four-year presidential term because he is afraid of facing his Hamas rivals in a free election.

But Barak is right when he notes that the alternative to Abbas is far worse. Were the Islamists of Hamas who currently run Gaza to extend their rule to the West Bank, it would produce a security nightmare for Israel. Abbas is an obstacle to a peace settlement. But the choice for Israel is not between peace with the PA or war with Hamas, but between the unsatisfactory status quo and a worsening security situation with a Hamas that has gained strength at Abbas’s expense.

The notion of a “Palestinian Spring” in which West Bankers would rise up and throw out a corrupt Fatah would not lead to either democracy or peace, but a Hamas government that would be a formula for further instability and violence.

Critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu like to blame him and Israel for the stalemate in the peace process, but Israelis understand that peace simply isn’t an option until there is a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that might make it a possibility. The best scenario they can hope for is a continuation of a situation where terrorism is under control. For that, as Barak argues, they need Abbas and Fatah. He may be an enemy, but under the current circumstances, he appears to be a necessary one. That’s a hard truth that both left-wing Israel-haters and Israeli right-wingers must make their peace with.

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Obama Poll Surge Doesn’t Jibe With Democrats’ Registration Decline

Many Republicans are not buying the numbers produced by national polls in the last few weeks that show President Obama padding his lead over Mitt Romney. Some of this sentiment can be put down to wishful thinking by conservatives who can’t fathom why so many Americans want to re-elect Obama. It is only human nature that we tend to think polls that verify our views of the way things should be are credible while dismissing those that contradict as bogus. Indeed, with the president taking the lead in so many national as well as swing state polls recently it is difficult to argue that the race hasn’t shifted in his direction. However, there are those, such as former Bill Clinton advisor/pollster and current pundit Dick Morris, who have consistently argued that the polls are wrong because their turnout model is incorrect. Morris believes that all of their numbers reflect a belief that the Democrats will be able to match their historic turnout they achieved in 2008, something he argues is not remotely likely to happen.

Morris’s argument was widely dismissed as mere spin by a conservative-leaning analyst, but recent reports showing a huge decline in Democratic registration when compared to four years ago should give even the most sanguine liberals some food for thought. As Fox News reports, several studies have shown that the number of voters declaring themselves to be Democrats has dipped precipitately in swing states, particularly in Ohio. The same is true, as I noted back in July, in Pennsylvania. That leaves us with a conundrum. If, as even left-wing think tanks agree, Democratic voter registration is in decline, why are pollsters assuming that the electorate will largely resemble the messianic “hope and change” outpouring that elected Barack Obama? And if they are wrong about the turnout model, does that mean their forecasts showing the president cruising to re-election are also incorrect?

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Many Republicans are not buying the numbers produced by national polls in the last few weeks that show President Obama padding his lead over Mitt Romney. Some of this sentiment can be put down to wishful thinking by conservatives who can’t fathom why so many Americans want to re-elect Obama. It is only human nature that we tend to think polls that verify our views of the way things should be are credible while dismissing those that contradict as bogus. Indeed, with the president taking the lead in so many national as well as swing state polls recently it is difficult to argue that the race hasn’t shifted in his direction. However, there are those, such as former Bill Clinton advisor/pollster and current pundit Dick Morris, who have consistently argued that the polls are wrong because their turnout model is incorrect. Morris believes that all of their numbers reflect a belief that the Democrats will be able to match their historic turnout they achieved in 2008, something he argues is not remotely likely to happen.

Morris’s argument was widely dismissed as mere spin by a conservative-leaning analyst, but recent reports showing a huge decline in Democratic registration when compared to four years ago should give even the most sanguine liberals some food for thought. As Fox News reports, several studies have shown that the number of voters declaring themselves to be Democrats has dipped precipitately in swing states, particularly in Ohio. The same is true, as I noted back in July, in Pennsylvania. That leaves us with a conundrum. If, as even left-wing think tanks agree, Democratic voter registration is in decline, why are pollsters assuming that the electorate will largely resemble the messianic “hope and change” outpouring that elected Barack Obama? And if they are wrong about the turnout model, does that mean their forecasts showing the president cruising to re-election are also incorrect?

While all polls are merely a snapshot of public opinion at a given moment, the registration numbers can’t be debated. Voter registration in Ohio is down by 490,000 from 2008 when, as was the case around the country, there was a flood of young and minority first-time voters eager to elect the first African American to the presidency. That decline in Ohio appears to be largely concentrated in the three largest counties that contain urban cities like Cleveland, where Democrats predominate. That same trend is reflected elsewhere. As Fox notes:

Ohio is not alone. An August study by the left-leaning think tank Third Way showed that the Democratic voter registration decline in eight key swing states outnumbered the Republican decline by a 10-to-one ratio. In Florida, Democratic registration is down 4.9 percent, in Iowa down 9.5 percent. And in New Hampshire, it’s down 19.7 percent.

Does this mean that the polls that show Obama ahead are, by definition, wrong? Not necessarily. After all, the president may be gaining among independents, something that the Fox story points out may be driven by Obama’s support for the auto industry bailout. It is also true, as liberal analyst Nate Silver pointed out last night in a New York Times blog that was intended to answer conservative skeptics about the Obama surge:

Party identification is not a hard-and-fast demographic characteristic like race, age or gender. Instead, it can change in reaction to news and political events from the party conventions to the Sept. 11 attacks. Since changes in public opinion are precisely what polls are trying to measure, it would defeat the purpose of conducting a survey if pollsters insisted that they knew what it was ahead of time.

If the focus on “oversampling” and party identification is misplaced, however, FiveThirtyEight does encourage a healthy skepticism toward polling. Polling is difficult, after all, in an era in which even the best pollsters struggle to get 10 percent of households to return their calls — and then have to hope that the people who do answer the surveys are representative of those who do not.

It seems reasonable to assume that turnout in 2012 will not be fueled by the same passion that drove his 2008 campaign and that Republicans will not have the same advantage they had in 2010 when discouraged Democrats stayed home and the Tea Party revolution powered the GOP to an equally historic victory. The decline in Democrat registration would seem to back up these conclusions.

A biased media may have exacerbated Romney’s recent difficulties but it would be absurd to deny that he has lost ground. To assume that all the polls are wrong may be wishful thinking by conservatives. But blind faith in their accuracy on the part of Democrats might be equally foolish. The turnout models may have baked in a pro-Obama bias that makes Romney’s plight look worse than it really is. Should the president start to widen his lead, that skewing of the numbers won’t be that meaningful. But if Romney uses a strong debate performance to turn the tide and the race tights back up, then it will be important.

Just as Republicans must guard against indulging in fantasies that reflect their desires rather than reality, so, too, must Democrats understand that if they allow a poorly constructed poll model to feed their overconfidence, they may regret it on Election Day.

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Sex, Gender and Culture on Campus

Meanwhile, on the lighter side, back in Academe . . .

The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, was about to create a “hostile work environment” for Assistant Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine by running a story about her breastfeeding her baby during the opening lecture of her intro “Sex, Gender, and Culture” class. It seems the baby woke up sick that day and couldn’t be sent to daycare. So, rather than cancel the class, Ms. Pine brought her daughter to the lecture room, where she crawled around on the floor, tried to eat a paper clip, made a beeline for an electrical outlet, and ultimately needed to be breastfed.

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Meanwhile, on the lighter side, back in Academe . . .

The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, was about to create a “hostile work environment” for Assistant Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine by running a story about her breastfeeding her baby during the opening lecture of her intro “Sex, Gender, and Culture” class. It seems the baby woke up sick that day and couldn’t be sent to daycare. So, rather than cancel the class, Ms. Pine brought her daughter to the lecture room, where she crawled around on the floor, tried to eat a paper clip, made a beeline for an electrical outlet, and ultimately needed to be breastfed.

A student — perhaps sadly inhibited about public nipple displays, or possibly arrogantly assuming that his or her $50,000-a-year tuition might have earned a professor’s undivided attention — alerted The Eagle, which promptly dispatched a reporter to get Ms. Pine’s side of the story. Was it appropriate to nurse in class? Was anyone made uncomfortable? Had she crossed a line? Ms. Pine — with visions of tenure dancing in her head — couldn’t have a story about her breasts circulating in an endless loop on the Internet. She tried womanfully to convince The Eagle that this was a non-story: “I tried to explain that in most other societies, people don’t have the kind of ridiculous Puritanical hangups that would turn a working woman breastfeeding into a newsworthy ‘incident,’” she reports in “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet,” published on CounterPunch, the news site once edited by the late Alexander Cockburn, RIP.

When it looked like The Eagle was going ahead with the story, Ms. Pine simply had no choice but to get out ahead of it and write that CounterPunch piece — all 3,800 words of it. There were, after all, principles at stake here. “I was being targeted as a working woman in a way that would permanently tie my reputation to my perceived biological condition.” And “[t]o be honest, if there were an easy way I could feed my child without calling attention to my biological condition as a mother, which inevitably assumes primacy over my preferred public status as anthropologist, writer, professor, and solidarity worker, I would do so. But there is not.” (Um, maybe a bottle?)

Well, there never was a story in The Eagle. But, thanks to Ms. Pine’s Counterpunch piece, the story did make it onto:

The Washington Post

ABC

Huffington Post

The Washington City Paper

Salon

Slate

Tenure, anyone?

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If Overconfident Obama Plays Not to Lose Debate, the Advantage Goes to Romney

With only three days to go before the first presidential debate, each campaign is, as Politico points out, already busy trying to depress expectations for their candidate and inflate those for their opponent. That means Democrats are hyping Mitt Romney’s extensive experience and preparation while Republicans are pointing to the president’s reputation as an eloquent orator even if they don’t really believe him to be all that great. But the really interesting items leaking out of the two rival camps is not so much their spin about who should be the favorite or the underdog but the candor about their approaches to the contest.

If the sources for the New York Times’s front-page debate preview story are to be trusted, President Obama seems to be preparing to play it safe on Wednesday night while Romney is going to be trying to win it outright. This may reflect their current standing in the polls, but if the president really is approaching the debate in this manner, it’s a mistake. If he really thinks that he merely needs to show Americans he feels their pain, rather than defend his record, it will allow Romney to seize the initiative. One Democrat quoted in the story says that “the sale has been made … He just needs to reaffirm it. He just needs to not get in the way.” But that approach will set him up as a standing target when what he needs to do is to try demonize Romney.

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With only three days to go before the first presidential debate, each campaign is, as Politico points out, already busy trying to depress expectations for their candidate and inflate those for their opponent. That means Democrats are hyping Mitt Romney’s extensive experience and preparation while Republicans are pointing to the president’s reputation as an eloquent orator even if they don’t really believe him to be all that great. But the really interesting items leaking out of the two rival camps is not so much their spin about who should be the favorite or the underdog but the candor about their approaches to the contest.

If the sources for the New York Times’s front-page debate preview story are to be trusted, President Obama seems to be preparing to play it safe on Wednesday night while Romney is going to be trying to win it outright. This may reflect their current standing in the polls, but if the president really is approaching the debate in this manner, it’s a mistake. If he really thinks that he merely needs to show Americans he feels their pain, rather than defend his record, it will allow Romney to seize the initiative. One Democrat quoted in the story says that “the sale has been made … He just needs to reaffirm it. He just needs to not get in the way.” But that approach will set him up as a standing target when what he needs to do is to try demonize Romney.

While one shouldn’t take expectations spin too seriously, the fact that Romney’s spent most of the last winter on the debate hot seat with a gaggle of opponents trying tear him down has to help him be ready for what will come this week. By contrast, Obama has not had to debate anyone in four years, and even then he did not face the kind of concentrated assault in his primaries that Romney experienced.

But perhaps even more important than that is the fact that the debate will subject him to something Obama has rarely experienced since taking the office: a direct and sustained face-to-face challenge from a determined opponent. This president has been largely insulated from questions about his policies. He rarely holds press conferences and generally confines his dealings with journalists to sit-downs with friendly writers. His arrogance has increased the longer he is in office, meaning the debates will be an ordeal for him and a test of his famously cool temperament. While the GOP candidate has reportedly been subjected to grueling insults in his prep sessions from sparring partner Ohio Senator Rob Portman, it is the president who is more likely to show impatience and anger than the affable Romney.

Even more to the point, if Obama believes the polls and demonstrates the kind of over confidence that his supporters have been spouting this last week, it could lead him to think he must only not lose rather than having to win. Just as Americans may not like the fact that much of the media has declared the election over several weeks before the votes are cast, the reaction to a demonstration of Obama’s well-known smugness will be very negative.

Romney is smart enough to know that he can’t play for a tie, especially in a crucial first debate. If the president thinks that’s all he has to do, he’s in for a rude awakening that could create the momentum shift that his party dreads.

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