Four years in Oval Office and never been dissed: Obama's wake-up call
ANALYSIS:Obama may have won on substance, but Romney beat him on tone
IT WILL take several days for the damage to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign to be fully assessed. But as praise continued to pour in yesterday for Mitt Romney’s surprisingly good performance in Thursday night’s presidential debate, one question came up over and over. In the words of a caller to C-Span radio’s morning talk show: where was President Obama?
Within moments of the debate starting, it became obvious that the incumbent was not in top form.
The split television screen showed Romney smiling as he watched Obama intently. Only once, at the end of an hour and a half, when Romney made his closing remarks, did Obama even look at him.
For most of the debate, Obama looked in the opposite direction, as if absent, sometimes nodding incongruously or grinning at someone in the audience while Romney berated his performance in office.
The most oft-heard explanation was that for nearly four years in the Oval Office, no one has dared to challenge Obama.
The president often refers to the “bubble” that surrounds him; Romney burst it. Even Bill Maher, the liberal comedian who donated $1 million to a pro-Obama “super-pac”, joked: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Obama looks like he does need a teleprompter.”
Obama may have been the victim of incumbent syndrome. At least four times in recent decades, presidents have botched their first debate against a challenger.
In 2004, the Democratic senator John Kerry – who prepared Obama for his dismal debate – obliterated George W Bush in their first contest. Bush nonetheless went on to win re-election.
Another theory is that Obama, whom Republicans often portray as an arrogant elitist, had been coached to hide his contempt for Romney. He looked angry during the debate, as if he were thinking: Why do I have to go through this nonsense? How dare this man say such things?
Whatever the reason, Obama was not in a fighting mood. He was defensive and never mentioned the topics hammered home in advertisements that gave him a lead in the swing states: Romney’s disdain for the 47 per cent of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax; his refusal to release more than two years of tax records; alleged “vulture capitalism” at Bain, the private equity firm Romney founded.
That lifetime of clean Mormon living appeared to pay off for Romney on Thursday night. The vivacious, concentrated and competitive 64-year-old chipped away at the tired, 51-year-old president.
Sixty-seven per cent of respondents in a post-debate CNN/ORC poll said Romney won the debate; only 25 per cent said Obama did.
Obama struggled to convince viewers that the economy is improving.
“Under the president’s policies, middle-income Americans have been buried,” Romney said, exploiting vice-president
Joe Biden’s latest gaffe.
“They’re just being crushed. Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300 . . . gasoline prices have doubled under the president. Electricity rates are up. Food prices are up . . . ”
One of Romney’s most vicious attacks focused on the Affordable Care Act: “I just don’t know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table and spent his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people.”