Today’s WTF: The first Obama/Romney debate – where was Luther?

It’s late. I mean, it’s LATE. I’ve made it through the pre-game commentary, the post-game analysis, and the debate itself. There was a lot of ground covered in tonight’s face-off between President Obama and Mitt Romney, and there was a lot to process after I finally turned off the TV and sat alone with my thoughts. Out of everything that went running through my mind, one question kept needling me over and over again.

Where was Luther?

For those of you who don’t remember (or for those of you who missed it), I recently posted a video from Comedy Central’s sketch show, Key and Peele. It’s a recurring bit that they do where Jordan Peele plays President Obama, and Keegan-Michael Key plays Luther, Obama’s “anger translator”. The idea behind the gag is that Luther gets to vocalize the more politically incorrect things that might be running through the president’s mind. When Obama calmly and factually addresses his success in ordering the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, Luther is there to add some serious “BOOYAH!” to the discussion:

And when the president’s sandwich arrives without the extra mayo he ordered, he takes it in stride…but Luther does not:

In real life, President Obama doesn’t have a sidekick like Luther to do his dirty work for him. But I have to believe that there’s a little bit of Luther hiding way down deep in our president’s psyche, under all the presidential decorum and the super-cool exterior that he usually displays to the public. I have to imagine that, at least once or twice a day, Obama must think to himself something along the lines of, “Well, of COURSE muthafuckas are better off then they were four years ago!!! What kind of BRAIN-DEAD, PUNK-ASS BULLSHIT kinda question is THAT? Did I get you Obamacare? You damn RIGHT I did!! That’s right, insurance companies – you can take your PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS and SHOVE THEM UP YO ASS!! And how about the fact that we had George “WORST PRESIDENT IN THE HISTORY OF EVER” Bush leavin’ this place with HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of muthafuckas losing jobs EVERY DAMN MONTH!! But now, well, what do you know – 30 STRAIGHT MONTHS with JOB GROWTH EVERY DAMN MONTH!!! That’s right, America – how you like me NOW?? Oh, and I don’t know if you remember this, but I ALSO had to SAVE THE U.S. AUTO INDUSTRY and STOP THE GODDAMN ECONOMY from blowing up like a MUTHAFUCKIN’ MACY’S PARADE BALLOON!! Y’all remember THAT?? Uh-huh, that’s what I thought. Oh, by the way – YOU’RE WELCOME, bitches!!!”

I mean, am I the only one who thinks Obama might be having a moment or two like this, every once in a while?

I guess Luther had the night off tonight, though. And I gotta say, that was some really unfortunate timing for the president. He could have used some Luther during that debate. Maybe he didn’t need all the cursing – after all, it was a political debate, not a Tarantino movie – but there are some elements of Luther that I wish Obama had tapped into. Some sense of indignation at hearing the blatant lies Romney put out there over and over again (“I am NOT looking for $5 trillion  in tax cuts!” “I am NOT raising taxes on the middle-class!” Yeah, right, whatever you say, Willard). Some strong defense of his own accomplishments, and some pride in how far he has led this country in overwhelmingly difficult circumstances. Some fire, some heat, some spark to show this country that the past four years haven’t gotten the better of him. Something…more.

I know the president was intelligent, poised and in control. And I know that this demeanor is one of the things many Americans like about Obama. Hell, I like that about him too, 99% of the time. But tonight was one of those times where style mattered as much as substance. This was an opportunity for the president to do more than hold his ground. It was also a chance for him to defend his turf. Millions of voters were watching tonight, and many of these viewers are people who have only been watching Romney for the past several months. This was an event where BOTH candidates had to share a stage and where BOTH candidates had the ear of every American who is interested in this election. There needed to be a clear contrast drawn between the Obama presidency and the Romney candidacy. Unfortunately, there was a contrast but it may not have worked in Obama’s favor: Obama got the points for the substance of his comments, but Romney got the points for energy, and for sheer balls. FactCheck.org will have a field day with most of what Romney said, but he really doesn’t care about that, as we all know. He understands that if the message sounds convincing enough, people will buy into it without asking too many questions. In the moment, and in the heat of the debate, the key to gaining the upper hand is as simple as believing your own bullshit, and Mitt truly seemed to believe his 100%. And Obama…well, Obama sort of let him do that, without calling him out for most of it.

As our president would say, let me be clear. I think Obama had a respectable performance tonight. He did come prepared in terms of the facts and figures. He did lay down the realities about what he has done so far, and what he wants to do in his next term. He did emphasize, very clearly, the areas where Romney has failed to provide solid details about his plans. And he pointed out that Romney has yet to truly give voters  a compelling reason to choose him as a better alternative. I don’t think Obama was flat-out bad in this debate, the way some critics have already been saying he was. But I also wouldn’t say he was flat-out great, and I wouldn’t say that any new votes came his way as a result of anything he said tonight. Maybe he thought he wouldn’t need to worry about that, based on recent polling, but I suspect he might start seeing those polls tighten up after tonight. This will put Obama exactly where he doesn’t want to be: on defense. And once you’re on defense then you’re the one facing the odds. With any luck, Obama will have someone on his team who can help him figure out a new game plan before the next debate. And hopefully, that someone will be named Luther.

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13 thoughts on “Today’s WTF: The first Obama/Romney debate – where was Luther?

  1. Great post Chris.
    Do you know the expression ‘speak to power’? It refers to staff, employees that either can or can’t tell their boss the truth.
    Luther speaks to power.
    But aside from Biden, no one on the Presidents staff WILL speak to power. Tell him he’s wrong.
    Between the two candidates, this election is not about details. General policies for ‘visions’ but very sparse on actual details.
    But that’s between the candidates.
    For us, most of us, we want details.
    Look for the President to use an attack he has started already and going off of Romney’s ‘test’ for what he will cut.
    Romney will cut NPR. Cut Obamacare. Will he also cut school lunch programs? Or will he cut the tax subsidies to big oil?
    This is the ‘vision’ Obama has to lay out.
    Perception without details.
    I think you and I have talked about this before.
    Obama now, REALLY needs to be the President he was last September.

    • Yes, Luther is all about “speaking truth to power”. And I really don’t want or expect the president to go off and channel Luther in these debates, but someone does need to suggest to the president that there are effective ways to reply to Romney’s BS which will not lower the tone of the debate. I think the best thing the president can do is ask questions. When Romney says he won’t ask for $5 trillion in tax cuts, Obama needs to ask exactly how much his tax cuts WILL cost. Romney can say all day that he’s not going to do this or that, but until Obama counters that with, “OK then, what ARE you going to do?” then it’s a lost opportunity. Don’t let him off the hook, make him explain what he means until it becomes clear that even HE doesn’t know what he means.

    • I know. Calling out Mitt on his lies – while they’re both on the same stage, in front of the same audience – is so important. If the president is relying on viewers to do their homework and fact check Romney’s statements after the fact, he might be expecting a bit too much of many Americans. It’s easier to take things at face value, and Obama needs to make sure he calls Romney out more consistently in the next debate whenever Romney starts with the BS again.

    • Ted, that’s it in a nutshell. Took me a lot longer but it boils down to exactly what you said. And I know the president is not interested in giving “performances”, but whenever you’re on TV in front of an audience, that’s what you’re doing, whether you’re a politician or a weatherman or an actor. Having all the facts in black and white is only half the battle – you then have to put those facts in a nice frame so people can see them better, and pay them a little more attention. If he can just frame his arguments in a more effective way next time I think he’ll be golden.

  2. I think the problem was his campaign staff thought that the dog-on-the-roof man would lose the debate without any help from Obama. These repugnants really mean business, they have to be met head on and exposed for the racist mysogynous war mongers that they are.

    The 47% deserve better.

    • I think you’re spot on, Bill. The 47% are relying on Obama to come back and fight for them for 4 more years. We can’t afford to let the GOP back in the White House, just when we are seeing daylight after the Bush years, and taking Romney too lightly is not a good plan this close to the election. But I am willing to bet that Obama’s campaign team have already learned this lesson after the debate reviews started rolling in, and I also expect to see some revamped strategy when the president shows up for the next debate. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Pingback: Mike Luckovich cartoon: The great debate « TheConfirmationFiles

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