President Obama’s candidacy for president in 2008 and, to some extent, his entire presidency, has been built on an aura of grandeur. Big, bold ideas by a big, bold man — or so he would have us believe. It has always been a case of political tulip-mania, but nothing burst the bubble with the American voters in his first four years.
The Colorado debate was the first dent in Obama’s inevitability strategy. Mitt Romney looked and sounded more informed, energetic, and presidential. But what has happened to the Obama campaign since can only be described as self-inflicted wounds. Sesame Street and Big Bird, binders full of women, bayonets and horses, these things called aircraft carriers. These aren’t the utterances of mindless surrogates who spew talking points on command, but instead, have been stump lines and debating points perpetuated by the president of the United States.
The net effect? President Obama looks childish and churlish. His challenger looks and sounds presidential. In most elections, a presidential candidate seeks to remain above the fray, letting others do his dirty work for him. But not President Obama. He seems to relish the insignificant, the one-liners, the zingers. This has led many to declare that Obama has won the last two debates “on points.” But elections are not about debating points. Obama can rack up all the technical victories he wants in debates (and for my part, I actually don’t think Obama won last night’s debate, but we don’t need to debate the debate too much today). In the process of winning style points and landing jabs, he has diminished his “aura” and more importantly, his office.
Time will tell whether his debating approach was the right one, and whether Romney’s above-the-fray approach was appropriate. I’ve been wrong about these things before. I tend to think, however, that Obama has made a compelling case to be Emperor of Lilliput, while surrendering a claim to retaining his current office along the way.