I have to say, I am getting tired of this post-debate debate that is playing out within the Democratic party.
On one side, we have the media pundits who, immediately after the end of the first Obama/Romney debate, set upon the president’s performance like vultures on roadkill. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was the most vocal of these commentators, delivering an impassioned takedown of Obama’s debating style that came scarily close to a psychotic episode:
On the other side are the apologists, who have been alternating between spin (Obama campaign spokesman, David Axelrod commented after the debate, ““The president was talking to the American people about some of these fundamental issues. As I said, treating the American people as adults.”) and excuses (Bob Woodward said the president was too “distracted” to be aggressive against Romney, and Al Gore blamed Obama’s problems on the altitude in Denver).
Some say Obama lost, others would claim he won. And both sides are very immovable and very vocal in their opinions. Which begs the question: which group got it right?
The honest answer is that they’re both wrong.
Look, folks, this is not something that requires rabid partisanship. You can be a dedicated supporter of the president, and still recognize that he had an off night. And you can say he had an off night without resorting to hyperbolic, panic-stricken critiques, as Matthews and other pundits did.
The fact of the matter is that our president was thrown off his game quite a bit by the way that Romney aggressively and blatantly misrepresented facts and his own positions. It wasn’t the altitude, and it wasn’t a case of being “distracted”. He just didn’t know exactly how to respond to this sudden shift in Romney’s tone and proposals, and it showed. When he DID have a handle on what he was saying, he said it with authority, clarity, and resolve. Obama’s composure in the face of Romney’s unpresidential antics did not go unnoticed. He never acted rudely to moderator Jim Lehrer, as Romney did more than once. He knew how to explain his ideas, and he knew how to point out the stark contrasts between himself and Romney in a favorable way. He scored several points using the style he had chosen that night, no doubt about it. But it is equally certain that he lost a few points too.
And it should be OK for anyone who is supporting Obama to note this reality. This is politics, y’all – sometimes candidates deserve some criticism, even if you’re criticizing the candidate you’re supporting. Nobody’s perfect, so the idea that Obama could, possibly, have done a bit better shouldn’t cause the president’s supporters to have brain aneurisms in any way. All it means is that Mitt Romney will expect to have free reign and a lock on people’s attention again in the next debate, and that the president needs to focus on making sure that doesn’t happen.
Barack Obama is not a child. He is a grown-ass man, and in case you forgot, he is also the leader of the free world. Nobody out there needs to protect him, nobody needs to make excuses for him, nobody needs to worry about all those “meanies” who would dare to suggest that he has some room for improvement before the next debate. In fact, it appears that he has already figured this out for himself, so those who are pulling out their hair and calling this the disaster of our political age need to chill the hell out, too. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and even if Romney gains a momentary lead it is in no way a sign that he will eventually win the race.
So I’m begging you, Democrats – enough with the internal squabbling. Enough with the circular firing squad. Enough. Those of you who find yourself on one end of the spectrum or another, please try to make your way toward the middle. Until we all agree to stop rehashing what happened last week, we won’t be able to move forward through the critical weeks ahead.