Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What went wrong with Obama's debate number one


Gaffes. Bloopers. We've all been there. I've done it (oh, how I've thrown myself into some of these). You've done it.

Imagine, then, the pressure involved while sixty or seventy million people are watching you - roughly half of them wanting to see you fall flat on your face, and roughly half of them desperately hoping that you'll wipe the floor with the other guy.

That's a US Presidential debate for you. No pressure, then. In a race that's basically tied up, on Mitt Romney and Barack Obama's attributes, and geographically at both state and at national level, that eye-watering, blood-pressure-inducing ratchet can only get stronger and stronger.

But it needn't have been like this. On the eve of the first debate, President Obama basically had re-election in his grasp. He led in every swing state bar one, and by a stretch in the national polls. But there was a fatal weakness in his strategy. It was based on fear, and not hope. Basically labelling his Republican opponent a uncaring, job-destroying, un-American machine businessman who couldn't care less whether less fortunate Americans earned enough to feed their families. When polite, measured, articulate and reasonable 'Moderate Mitt' showed up, the whole case blew up in the Democrats' face. What's why Mitt's makeover has been so important - even if it is ultimately disingenuous in the extreme.

What did I say way back in July? Er, this:

...Obama ran in 2008 as the candidate of 'Hope'. Of changing Washington and its culture. Part of his appeal is that he's reasoned, calm and good in a crisis. And his likeability ratings are almost certainly buoying up his numbers even among voters who don't like his policies. Will slinging mud and pointing the finger at his rich, 'privileged' opponent really help him all that much?

I stand by every word. If Mr Obama would only present a bit more of the case for actually re-electing him, and he might do pretty well in the last two debates, and seal the deal. More finger-pointing and name-calling behind a rival's back, matched only by an apparently weak refusal to call him out to his face, and he's sunk.

There you go - the Presidential race in two sentences.And when it's likely to be as close as 1960, 1976 or 2000, these things do matter.

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