As one writer in the Washington Post put it, “The Barack Obama who stood on the debate stage in Denver Wednesday night was virtually unrecognizable to the person who swept to victory in 2008 or even the man who had built a narrow-but-clear edge in the 2012 race.”
With polls showing that the American public saw Gov. Mitt Romney as the decisive winner of the Denver debate, it is easy to answer the question who won. Commentators on both sides of the political spectrum called it a Romney victory and expected it to boost his support in the polls and his fundraising ability.
Perhaps the more interesting and the more difficult question to answer is why did the president perform so poorly? After all he is allegedly one of the best political orators on the planet. So why was he so ineffective in the debate?
Let’s first dispatch with the absurd.
Al Gore posited that because Obama prepared for the debate in Las Vegas which is at a relatively low altitude that he couldn’t adjust to Denver, “the mile high city,” and it doomed his performance. This is on its face silly. Every day business men and women fly to Denver to conduct business. There is simply no evidence that otherwise healthy business leaders suddenly lose their abilities to communicate upon arriving in Denver. Plus, only four years ago, Obama gave his acceptance speech in front of fake Greek columns in Denver. The altitude didn’t bother him then.
Another absurd point is that the moderator, Jim Lehrer, of PBS somehow was not fair to Obama. For the record, Lehrer allowed Obama to go over the time limit time and time again. In fact, Obama got substantially more time than Romney did. The stopwatch doesn’t lie.
Some say Obama was too tired and lacked the time to properly prepare for the debate. They argue that since he is the president, he is too busy leading and working for the public to rest and be ready for the debate. This is actually less credible than Al Gore’s goofy explanation.
This is the same man who has attended well less than one-half of his national security briefings. This is the same man who refused to meet with world leaders about a week ago so that he could be “eye candy” on the View, a fluffy daytime entertainment show with Joey Behar, Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters. This is the same man who went to sleep early on the night of Sept 11, 2012 after having been told about the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, but not knowing if the ambassador was safe. This is the same man who could not make time in his schedule to meet with the Prime Minister of our strongest and best ally in the Middle East, but had time for fundraisers with movie stars and singers and to appear on David Letterman’s show and do an interview with a rap DJ known as “the Pimp with a limp.” A careful review of his White House schedule shows that this is not a particularly busy president. He is a busy fundraiser. He is a busy campaigner. But he is not a busy president.
Some have said that perhaps he isn’t a good debater. While I suspect that he is better at reading a speech from a teleprompter than debating, the truth is most commentators say he beat John McCain handily and held his own against Hillary Clinton. So while he may not be an all-world debater, he isn’t a slouch either.
Here’s the truth of the matter. Barack Obama is intellectually lazy. He doesn’t have real debates. In fact, he avoids them. He is practiced at debating only fake opponents of his own making. Not surprisingly, he can defeat the faux opponents he chooses to complete with. In his speeches, he creates flimsy straw man arguments and he places these poorly constructed arguments in the mouths of his imaginary opponents. Then he conducts a faux debate, not with real arguments or real opponents, but with the weak straw man arguments he carefully created. And Obama wins the faux debate every time!
But on the stage in Denver, Obama couldn’t play this lazy and disingenuous game. He had to debate a real person who had real ideas. And this real person didn’t cooperate by using Obama’s weak and flimsy straw man arguments. Romney came prepared to give sound reasons for his plans and policies and for opposing Obama’s polices. So when Obama tried to place his absurdly weak straw man arguments in the mouth of his opponent, it didn’t work. Obama tried that approach several times on stage in Denver. But Romney simply corrected him on the facts and made Obama look small.
Obama is small. His thinking and vision are small and sharply limited by his doctrinaire way of seeing the world. Facts which do not support his views are simply ignored or avoided. A prime example of this is his complete inability to see what happened in Benghazi as anything other than an out of control protest motivated by an obscure YouTube video. He said that that his inauguration would cause tensions and hostilities in the Middle East to subside. Yet after four years of his presidency, the Middle East is in flames and the Muslim Brotherhood is on the rise. But Obama either cannot see it, or he cannot admit it. So he tenaciously holds to the absurd narrative that a spontaneous protest over an obscure youtube video just got out of hand. His mind is so small or so closed that he cannot see what everyone else could see almost immediately. Now even weeks later, he is still focusing on an idiotic YouTube video. Most of world quietly laughs at Obama’s blindness. He is obvious to the laughter.
Obama overestimates himself and underestimates others. If his staff can be believed, Obama sees himself as the smartest man in every room. He’s said he can do the job of his advisors better than they can. He believes he has little to learn so he doesn’t meet with his jobs council or his cabinet with any frequency. He doesn’t need national security briefings because he already knows it all. Or so he thinks.
Yet, the truth is, we’ve seen nothing in the last four years to justify Obama’s very optimistic self perception. Certainly, nothing he did or said on the debate stage supports his rosy self-appraisal. Interestingly, the day after the debate, Obama was back to debating straw men and doing much better. It would seem that Obama is well-suited to debating imaginary opponents. He just doesn’t do so well when he must confront reality and a real opponent, with real ideas. This only highlights what a lightweight Obama really is.
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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.