This week’s “Saturday Night Live” had a sketch portraying “Day 3″ of MSNBC’s coverage of “the worst thing that has ever happened anywhere”—the debate on Wednesday night. This brilliant bit of parody (no, my wife doesn’t work there any longer, so this does not require a disclaimer) captured one of the strangest aspects of the liberal response to Barack Obama’s performance: The masochistic insistence on going over and over and over just how bad and awful and terrible Obama was.
But was Obama really that terrible? The argument he was rests on the presumption that he failed to make his case and failed to call Romney out. He did fail at those, but as Yuval Levin argues in today’s must-read blog post, that may be due more to the fact that he doesn’t have a case to make and can’t call Romney out so easily; he’s spent the year running against a caricature of Mitt Romney, not on the grounds that he has a positive agenda for a second term. Romney did not let Obama’s distorted descriptions of his policies go unchallenged, and Obama’s inability to come back at Romney is in part the result that all Obama has are allegations, not substantial criticisms.
There’s a reason why Democrats, liberals, and Obama camp followers are concentrating on the debate. They want to isolate it, scapegoat it, and push it over the cliff. They want to say it was a bad night, an off night, a misfire, a lousy game…because anybody can have one of those.
This inadvertently hilarious New York Times story this morning lays out the apologists’s explanation: “Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship….Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said.”
On the face of it, this is absurd: If he views Romney with disdain, why wouldn’t he relish the opportunity to crush him in a debate? Debates aren’t dates or dinner parties or business meetings; they are contests, and Obama is a very competitive person. Why would he only “endure” one, given how utterly wonderful he is? As for “media-driven gamesmanship,” what does Obama call going on David Letterman’s show, or Jay Leno’s, both of which he seems to enjoy mightily?
Oh, and don’t forget that “Obama’s debate preparations were hindered by his day job, his practice sessions often canceled or truncated because of events.” Yeah, because Romney wasn’t at all busy in the weeks leading up to it.
But, see, now Obama has seen the game films. Now he knows where he went wrong. Now he can come back strong. That’s the comforting thing about focusing on Obama‘s performance. A performance can change. Don’t forget, Ronald Reagan had a bad first debate in 1984 and a great second debate and won by 20 points.
Well, yes, Reagan did, but the economy was creating a million jobs a month and growing at an annual rate of 9 percent that year. Walter Mondale wasn’t going to win that election unless Reagan coded on stage during the second debate. What are the comparable national conditions that call for an Obama reelection? That the unemployment rate is now where it was when he took office four months after Lehman collapsed? That three-fifths of the electorate says the country is on the wrong track?
Obama can do better in the next debate, to be sure…but how? By calling Romney a liar? Does the Obama team think Romney will have no effective response to that accusation in the next two debates? The desperate way Obama and his team are harping on Romney saying he wants to cut funding for public broadcasting shows the condition in which they find themselves. Is his case for reelection that he wants to save Big Bird?
The president didn’t lose the debate on Wednesday because he performed badly on Wednesday. He didn’t perform well, to be sure, but others have done much worse with less fallout.
He lost the debate because he’s been a bad president.