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Some possible explanations for Obama’s poor performance

While we’re waiting for the party apparatchik at Digby’s place to recover from his post debate depression, can we give a plausible explanation for what went wrong?

Paul Krugman’s take on it was that Barack Obama has reverted to The Capillary Man he was in the aftermath of the convention in 2008:

People tend to forget how close the 2008 presidential race looked as late as August, and the immense frustration many Democrats felt with Barack Obama at the time. He seemed weirdly unwilling to drive home his case against Bush/McCain economic policies; his instinct, as people said, was apparently to go for the capillaries.

At one point, Jeff Jarvis tweeted:

I dare anyone to parse Obama’s statement on preexisting conditions. Didn’t he used to be articuilate? #debate

Ah, yes, another urban legend, Obama’s famed rhetorical skills, dies an ignoble death.  I have always noticed that without a teleprompter, or over-rehearsal, that Obama’s speaking style consists of sentences with multiple, labyrinthine prepositional phrases that lead listeners down blind alleys until they are lost.  Whether he does this intentionally to baffle us with bullshit or whether it comes naturally is debatable.  You shouldn’t have to do this if you are familiar with and committed to the concepts you are talking about.

By the way, I’m surprised Jeff got away with that tweet.  In 2008, he would have been branded a racist and driven out of polite society.  He would have spent the rest of his career in a house in the country, holed up with a couple of servants and never called on by the local gentry.  This year, he might just have a point.

The Guardian’s review of Obama’s performance looks like it was written by Frank Rich when he was still considered the Butcher of Broadway:

Barack Obama on the other hand appeared nervous, distracted and unprepared. After four years in the Oval Office, he’d lost his voice. Gone was the charisma, the optimism and the eloquence. Defensive, halting and verbose – he looked tired and that made his presidency look tired. Both campaigns set low expectations, but only Obama met them. If you were watching without knowing who was the president, you wouldn’t have guessed it was him.

Did The Guardian see the transfer of remains ceremony after the Libya disaster where he fell back on his 2008 habit of repeating everything Hillary had already said and relying on his penis years to appear more presidential?  I think she out dignified him anyway but she also seems to have retained her passion for what she believes in.  See for yourself.  Here’s the video link.  Her speech starts at minute mark 7:14 and she looks pretty grave at first but has a very strong, uplifting ending.  Obama’s speech follows hers and it seems like he’s copying from her paper again but his remarks don’t come from the heart the way hers do.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but it took me right back to the 2008 debates where she kicked his ass and the moderators always let him have the last word.

So, why did he blow it last night?  Here are some possible explanations:

1.) The dog ate his homework.  He didn’t take debate prep seriously, went to the debate prep session but spent most of the half hour shooting the breeze with his coach, forgot to take his book home, blah, blah, blah…

2.) He was tired from being all presidential throughout the day.  This is possible.  But we’ve seen Obama fresh as a daisy during other presidential appearances after long days and he wasn’t just tired last night, he was off.  As I commented during the debate while watching his body language, he looked dweebish.  His facial expressions and the smallness of his gestures reminded me of Michael Dukakis.  Capillary Man indeed.

3.)  He’s playing 11 dimensional chess!  We should expect to hear a variation of this theme from thereisnospoon after he takes his medication.  It was all a setup so he could look like the underdog coming from behind in the last couple of weeks.  Rejoice, comrades, for the glorious triumph of our leader is near!  And Romney lied!  It’s all fact checked!  See?!?

Give it up, guys, debates are visual experiences, Blink! moments.  You can follow them up with facts but it’s too late to stop the first impression from forming.  Hey! Why don’t you get on the White House’s case and tell Obama to actually start talking like a true Democrat or you were going to desert him, like you should have been doing for the past couple of years??  No?  Ok, well don’t waste your time trying to convince US to accept subpar performance.  We’ve got standards.

Ahhh, I see that Mr. Atkins has already posted an excuse.  It seems that everyone who thought Obama tanked last night was a white southerner over 50.  It’s not Obama’s fault at all.  It’s the voters’ fault for being rural, ignorant bigots!  Sooooo, that would make Jeff Jarvis, Paul Krugman and the Guardian redneck racists. It’s reassuring to know that the campaign *is* going to fall back on accusations of racism after all. The Obama campaign pulls out that sledge hammer when all else fails, just like in 2008.  Well, my equilibrium is restored.

4.) He’s worried.  He’s looking at the poll numbers and they seem to be obstinately sticky.  He can’t seem to take a commanding lead over Mitt despite Romney’s own fuckups and a steady stream of negative characterizations from the Obama campaign.  He’s even unmasked himself as a true moderate Republican to reach out to the independent swing voters and blue collar women the advisors are always telling him to target and it’s not getting him the space he needs between Mitt and himself.  God, what do they want from him??  And where is the disaster that would make him look good?

5.) He needed to be primaried for his own sake.  He’s been living in an insulated and isolated bubble, surrounded by the 1%’s henchman who keep telling him that the banks need to be saved above all else and that austerity must be imposed.  In the process, he lost touch with his base and has forgotten that it’s also necessary to fight.  The debates are the whole campaign thing again and he’s not in shape and doesn’t seem to remember that he has to differentiate himself from Mitt, not agree with him.  If he had been primaried, he’d have more of an idea of what the base thinks is important instead of constantly discrediting it, and he might be more energetic.

Or, it’s a combination of some or all of the above.  Any other theories?  Put them in the comments.

In any case, he’ll look better next time, because it’s hard to imagine him doing worse.  There’s a lot of money riding on this race and the Democrats put all their eggs in this basket for the whole duration.  Stupid, in retrospect, but even though many, many people are kicking themselves for gleefully murdering Hillary’s career (I’m talking to you, Chris Matthews), they’re stuck with Obama now.

The honeymoon is over

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37 Responses

  1. He was expecting Jim to fluff is pillow and bring him coffee. Jim is a racist. It’s all Jim’s fault.

  2. Obama was never a good debater. Hillary whipped him silly in five out of six debates because she can convey both concern and information. Obama cannot do that. He phoned it in last night and I think that it was, in part, because he’s actually a moderate Republican but he knows, at this point, that he has to run as a Democrat. He was suffering from cognitive dissonance.

    • You know, I don’t think he *does* know that he has to run as a Democrat. He’s suffering from capture by the very people who drove the economy into the ground but he apparently has no idea that there are Democrats out here who disagree with him strongly enough to be genuinely upset with his performance.
      I think he’s going to get a visit or two from some very important people today to shake him out of his torpor.
      Can I just add that having had a terrorist attack on our embassy a couple of weeks ago, it is greatly unsettling to see the president looking so haggard and disconcerted by a stupid debate. It doesn’t inspire confidence and it emboldens our enemies. This just doesn’t look good.

      • I agree with the last bit and think this has the potential to be more of a problem for Obama than his fanboys think. They write it all off as theater, but part of pulling the lever for a guy for president is whether or not he seems to act like a president, with some sense of authority and command and confidence. If he lacks that, whether or not you agree with him more than the other guy (and I think the country probably is more in tune on the merits with Obama than Romney), voters may decide that they can’t trust him as an individual to do the job. We don’t like around here because we think he’s a warmed-over neoliberal Vichy Democrat, and the GOP doesn’t like him because they think he’s a Kenyan Muslim socialist. The voters may decide they don’t like him because he comes off as a callow schoolboy or like a deer caught in the headlights.

      • Agreed. What I saw was the narcissism. In that worldview, there is no need, because in the mindset he has about himself, policies, etc — that is the sad part and the part I researched heavily back in 2008. Also I want to add this morning that I am seeing Hillary be savaged for what just happened. In headlines. Right. All she has done is defend him — it is so humiliating to me that I can hardly stand it. All she has done is work and work and work. It makes me so sad. You guys, I’m not voting for any Dems. Yesterday I thought about all the ones I have voted into office over the years. Women. The truth of the matter is that they all let her down in the Party in 2008. I am at ZERO respect. Not kidding. R wasn’t even there? Not with that level of narcissism. I really mean that. The Dems that follow him cannot even be reasoned with on logical levels. So? I could care less about the little twerp newscasters, but yeah. Tingledude. Go cry now and think what you orchestrated in 2008.

      • Is there any law . . . any actual legal force-of-law LAW that says that Obama is forBIDDen from resigning the nomination to spend more time with his family?

  3. I was painful listening to the pair of them. I endured it for three whole minutes before I turned the car radio off.

    Part of being an O-bot is not even realizing the damage you did to the D brand by smearing Bill and Hillary back in 2008. Like the dinosaurs two seconds after the meteor impact, they know something isn’t right but can’t see the reason for their impending doom.

    As for Matthews, what can you expect from a people that starve trying to grow something that sprouts in your pantry if you leave it sit too long?

  4. Damn. I just lost my long response because I’m old and heavy-fingered on the keyboard.

    Here’s your answer in brief: Obama was never ever any good at debating. Never. All ums and ahs and tangential clauses that led nowhere. All those Bots (who are the real racists) projected onto him qualities and abilities he never had, so that they could pat themselves on their collective backs and feel oh so cool backing the half-black raised-white candidate. Hillary wiped the floor with him in their debates and he had to crib answers from her blatantly. But the Bots are not only racists, they’re sexists as well.

    The fact that the Bots are now beginning to see that the Emperor has no clothes is a devastating reflection on their inability to do critical analysis. And, to top it all off, Obama is a blatant war criminal. He has appropriated the right to kill any of us any time, any place.

    Oh, and finally, he has nothing to defend. How can he defend Social Security and Medicare when he intends to destroy those programs?

  5. Gene McCarthy said years ago that , “Charisma is a striped tie,” And Obama was wearing a tie with dots while Mitt had that red striped tie. And next time, Obama will trot out a different tie, and … watch the excuses roll.

    The most obvious difference was that Romney came off with more energy while Obama seemed “cool”, detached and bored. He was always more about being the President than actually doing the job that needed to get done. Perfect for a ceremonial role, but not so good for President.

    The race card won’t help so much this time because he’s trying to play to a general audience, not the Democratic oligarchs.

    He has to at least fake some sincerity out there, After all, Obama has always been good at faking, hasn’t he?

    • And excellent at taking credit for others’ work–study his part-time job in the Illinois State legislature in which he was given the work of others by Emil Jones, Jr. to carry their bills over the finish line so he would have a “record.”

      When the “Great Orator” rockstar politician arrived in India to speak in Parliament, Indians were befuddled. Why was there a team setting up tele-prompters everywhere? Indian politicians have to know what they are talking about. Reading a speech and having convictions are two separate things as Riverdaughter points out.

      Where is his 20-something speechwriter he borrowed from Kerry? Still partying with cardboard cutouts? Where are the stadiums of swooning crowds that so “energized” him?

      I’ve avoided seeing and hearing the man since he gave his laundry-list acceptance speech in front of the stryrofoam Greek columns. The speech mimicked a Clinton State of the Union template, and the idea was to have O come across as presidential.

      Last night I felt that Obama hasn’t learned much in his four years in office or he’d be more in command. Is this a man who actually goes out and lobbies personally for political support in the House and Senate, or someone who outsources this task? He always came across as a man too propped up by others based on his “historic” background to really have learned the ropes had he been a natural leader, which he is not. Even the rules were changed when he was awarded his Law Review appointment. Not first in the class, but because of racial tensions, the right person to moderate because he was older, non-100% white, male, and didn’t have a fiery temperament.

  6. I notice that neither Atrios nor Digby, not exactly rabble rousers but not shills either, has commented on last night. Too painful? Choosing their words carefully so as not to offend the True Believers?

    • Atrios has. Basically his take is that Romney is a meanie and you don’t want to elect a meanie to a leadership role. LOL, oops.

  7. If you were watching without knowing who was the president, you wouldn’t have guessed it was him.

    Indeed. Any time I see a photo of the Obama family, he’s by far the least dynamic of the four …

    What came out of the debate was we are in really big trouble since our “choice” is between these to mopes who can’t wait to carve up and hand over what’s left of the middle class . Greece here we come.

  8. If his staff told Obama it was actully a fundraiser, I believe he would have seemed less bored and tired.

  9. So I loved Paul Krugman’s line about the debate last night too
    “there was Obama going for the capillaries again”
    are only nerdy scientists amused by this?

    Every time these elections come around I have to reminisce about what could have been if the super delegates hadn’t undemocratically stolen the primary from Hillary Clinton and we had a real democrat in the White House. Sigh.

    Of course the other side is bat$hit crazy with Romney repeating to himself I will NOT lower the percentage that the wealthy pay in federal taxes with my plan. And Obambi just sat there staring into the headlights instead of pointing out why should you have to lower those percentages when millionaires already only pay 11-13% of their income in federal taxes and the rest of us who actually work for a pay check pay rates up to 35.8%?

  10. Tingledude is having a meltdown. I’ve never seen anything quite like last night. I remember the debate with Hillary, RD & Co. Something else happened last night. It was unreal to watch.

  11. Looks like the Obots in the media have been in love with their own illusions given the reality of the Obama who showed up to the debate last night. So do they keep expending the energy necessary to prop him up? Why? They have to sacrifice their own integrity to do it.

  12. Basketball strategy is what he uses, I suspect, not 11-dimension chess. But I don’t know anything about basketball strategy (or 11-dimension chess for that matter).

  13. Great post, Riverdaughter. One more theory — not as opposed to the ones you’ve laid out, but maybe underneath them:

  14. Sorry — I inadvertently posted that comment without, er, the comment. Here it is: At some level, Obama doesn’t want to win, doesn’t want to do this anymore. His affect certainly suggested he didn’t want to be there. He couldn’t find the energy to mix it up with Romney. And his closing statement — the thing he presumably had prepared ahead of time, the thing he could most control — was the weakest argument for re-election I’ve ever heard: “I never promised that I was perfect. But I did promise to try. If you want to give me the chance to keep trying, vote for me.” In fact, I think the subtext was actually: “Don’t vote for me. Free me from the need to keep trying. I’m tired. I want out.”

    • That sounds right. It’s hard work. That’s never been Obama’s thing.

    • That affect was the one I saw on display in Chicago in 2007 when the kossacks were falling all over him to lick his toes. He looked bored and detached. There are no surprises here. The only time he was really animated was when he was strutting on the stage in front of and in mockery of Hillary Clinton. You can make what you want of that but I can’t think of anything good to attribute it to.

    • That is what I was saying today to my significant other. I really do not believe that Obama wants the job….it’s too much like work and the perks are not that great. He gets the pension and the contracts with all the rich people. He gets a presidential library of the mist historic variety. What does he need with another term? Presidentin is hard.

  15. Maybe he has already achieved a lot of what his owner backer sponsors wanted him to do. He has enshrined the Simpson-Obama Catfood Plan into Washington policy circles. If the TeaPuglan House doesn’t obstruct the Grand Catfood Bargain during the lame duck session out of spite, the bipartisan Depublicrat Senate will pass it for Obama to sign. He has made the BushCo tax cuts permanent by default, exactly as he intended right from the start . . . along with his co-conspirators Boehner and McConnell. He has discredited the whole concept of “stimulus” so that a Real stimulus will never be tried.
    He has probably discredited the concept of re-regulation by conspiring with the gang banker Depublicrats to pass a bunch of velvet nerfhammer laws and call them “regulation”.

    Maybe he feels he has already “done enough”. Maybe he has quietly been assured that he will already collect his post-presidential payoffs for services already rendered and that it is now time for him to let Romney take the grand looting opportunity which Obama has teed up so nicely for Romney.

    All this is pure speculation of course. One of the two Depublicrat candidates will win, and America will lose either way. In two different ways, of course.

    I will vote Aboor for president, and Democratic downticket just to see what the so-called “Democrats” do under a President Romney if that is what happens.

    And if the Dakotas and Nebraska vote for Romney, the rest of us can laugh last after the Keystone XL Pipeline (or whatever its called)
    explodes and fills the Oglala Aquifer with bitumen and high powered carcinogens like benzene and others which are used to “dil” the “bit” and keep it flowing. I would suggest that even people who can’t stand the thought of gardening learn how to garden anyway. In the future, the food you don’t know how to grow may just be the food you go without.

    • “Maybe he has already achieved a lot of what his owner backer sponsors wanted him to do.”

      That’s what I’ve been thinking. In 2008 they needed a DINO to blunt the liberal reform drive of 2006, block Hillary, and block the GOP’s possible reform ticket WMNBM. Now they can bring in an open Republican.

  16. In 2008, he had the wind to his back. Fear and loathing of the GOP made him the candidate of the moment. Now he has an actual record to run on, and his record stinks. If he has any conscience at all, he has to know how badly he betrayed his base. Maybe he can’t handle the dilemma his job presents: incessantly lie to your core constituency while serving your campaign donors. That would take a toll on anyone who isn’t a complete sociopath.

    • I believe Obama is a sociopath. Yves Smith says narcissist. Matt Stoller says narcissistic sociopath, which is probably right: there’s nothing antithetical in narcissist and sociopath. Anne Applebaum says egotistical egomaniacs, the lot of them, and most of their spouses, as well.

  17. What you saw is what he is. Everything else is myth making. As to why he’s that way, Naomi Klein is right: we spend too much time psychoanalyzing Obama. Not useful, but perhaps understandable when someone in whom so much has been invested fails so badly.

    Never fall in love with a politician. They’re all hugely flawed characters and need constant adult supervision. The baggies have the supervision part down pat and they are effective because they’re always on the case. I can’t endorse their nastiness, but their persistence and willingness to remove offending office holders works.

    • For me the confusion is/was that so many people I respect(ed) fell so hard for him. I never liked his speech at that Democratic Convention. And his rhetoric has never inspired me. His policies (when all-to-rarely) state leave me cold. What’s there to like?

      • Concur. I didn’t see the convention speech, but I’ve asked about it on various forums and nobody who replies liked it. I call him Windy City. A friend referred to him as a marvelous orator, so I tried, really, I did, to listen him, but I just can’t get past his chicken in every pot cliches and pompous, conceited gasbag delivery. The first minute or two just does me in and I paid too much for my TV to wreck the screen. His only accomplishment in Chicago was making some of his coterie big bucks from a miserably failed “public-private partnership” in a Chicago housing project: http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2008/06/27/grim_proving_ground_for_obamas_housing_policy/ Accomplishment, that is, aside from even further grinding down living conditions for the occupants of the projects. Cost taxpayers impressive millions.

        Notice that’s a Boston Globe article.

  18. strutting on the stage in front of and in mockery of

    Superb!

    ” I call him Windy City. blockquote> Excellent! Perhaps he’s too into his Homeboy shtick actin’ all folksy and “likeable” in front of those adoring fans, so’s he can’t get back into his articulate skin and carry off all that “clean” story book stuff Biden called it.

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