Cool Hand Barry
By CHARLES M. BLOW
Well, that was odd.
President Obama’s stylistic strategy during Wednesday night’s debate seemed to be to try to stay right above the rancor, to appear dignified, presidential. The problem with that approach is that the line between dignified and presidential and anodyne and weak is the width of a cat’s hair.
Romney, on the other hand, went on the attack, interrupting and rambling on, which to some will read as confidence and command of the facts, even if many of his statements were riddled with the, um, nonfactual. (Instead of larding this post with these points, I direct you to The New York Times’s fact-check of the debate.)
The president didn’t call him on these issues. Why? The president let Romney interrupt and talk over him. Why? The president didn’t even mention Romney’s secretly recorded statement about the “47 percent.” Why?
The passion that the president exhibits on the campaign trail never showed up on the debate stage. To my mind, that was a mistake.
This is the closing argument of a campaign. The jury has heard all the evidence that it’s going to hear. The candidates needed to deliver a strong, moving summation. We all know that Obama is capable of stirring oratory, but in the first debate he failed to deliver. The guy with the weaker case made the stronger statement, falsehoods and all, and that is a dangerous thing to allow so close to Election Day.
The Obama campaign must learn from this blunder: stronger is better. The last phase of the campaign is about impressions more than it is about policy.
It is unfortunate, but at this stage, for the undecided people in the middle, substance is a casualty of style. By that measure, Romney outshone the president at this debate.
There are two more chances for the president to change tactics, or at least to show up to the debates energized and nimble: President Xanax just doesn’t cut it.
The question is whether he will.