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VP debate tonight and stray thought from 2008

Tonight is the Vice Presidential debate between Joe “the cop between my brain and my mouth is at the donut shop” Biden and Paul “Ayn Rand is my goddess” Ryan.  We should do another live blog but since the body language thing has become chic this year, maybe we should watch and listen this time.  OR, we could turn off the visuals and just listen.

Anyway, it just occurred to me that maybe one of the reasons Barack Obama did so poorly in his first debate appearance this year is because in 2008, he was actually running against Sarah Palin.  Oh sure he was.  That’s all the general campaign was about, how much smarter and more qualified Barack Obama was compared to Sarah Palin.  John McCain hardly entered the picture at all.  I think I noticed it back then too but it didn’t occur to me that this might be why his debate performances in 2008 were not a fiasco.  He was all confident and cocky about beating Sarah, that was the real race that his campaign had set up in everyone’s mind.

Plus, he was running a game of “whack a racist”.  ANY criticism of Obama was twisted to be a racial slur.  It was quite effective.  Combined with his race against Sarah, how was a liberal supposed to effectively evaluate Obama?  Any legitimate criticism of him was muted and he was running against a woman who the left had dehumanized and characterized as the stupidest person on the planet.

This year, it’s different.  Visually, Mitt is very presidential.  He’s a big, tall man with presidential hair and an engaging vital manner.  He’s also a Republican, which in my humble opinion, is unforgivable.  But that’s not the point.  As Obama supposedly believes, debates are sideshows.  From a policy perspective, they’re meaningless.  But I think they serve a purpose that can’t be underrated.  In the modern debate, we get as close as we can to hand to hand combat between chieftains of competing clans.  It *is* physical.  That’s why it was important that Michael Dukakis looked short, that Richard Nixon sweat and that Barack Obama looked like he didn’t want to be there.

It might have also done in Hillary because at 5’7″, she had to look feisty to compete with his taller frame and longer limbs. He took up more space and with a female opponent, he strut his macho stuff and acted dismissively when she talked. It might not have been enough that she was the smartest person in the room who had done her homework and could whip up a policy in 30 seconds flat.  To the liberals and progressives who were afraid of losing again, she had to look more like Boudicca than Hermione Granger.

Boudicca, ass-kicking queen of the Britons
(bears striking resemblance to Julia Gillard)

Nevertheless, she took him on and won her debates with him to such an extent that he refused to debate her again during the primaries after she beat him in Pennsylvania. He sought out a friendlier crowd in NC the next day to lick his wounds, flip her the bird and brush the dirt off his shoulders.  It has often been said that he doesn’t like confrontation and that NC appearance showed that he was much better at acting like the mean BMOC when he was with his adoring fans than taking her on and losing to her again.

It’s been awhile since I read MoDo but I dropped into her column yesterday and she seems to have matured ever so slightly.  She’s not so flip these days, probably because her mancrush in 2008 turned out to be far worse for women that the woman she mocked for two decades.  Maybe she’s learned her lesson.  She also seems more than a little alarmed.  Oh sure, Obama will do better next time.  Someone will have figured out how he’s supposed to debate a real general campaign opponent.  But MoDo suggests it’s more serious than that:

Just as Poppy Bush didn’t try as hard as he should have because he assumed voters would reject Slick Willie, Obama lapsed into not trying because he assumed voters would reject Cayman Mitt.

The president averted his eyes as glittering opportunities passed, even when Romney sent a lob his way with a reference to his accountant.

Obama has been coddled by Valerie Jarrett, the adviser who sat next to Michelle at the debate, instead of the more politically strategic choice of local pols and their spouses. Jarrett believes that everyone must woo the prodigy who deigns to guide us, not the other way around.

At a fund-raising concert in San Francisco Monday night, the president mocked Romney’s star turn, saying “what was being presented wasn’t leadership; that’s salesmanship.”

It is that distaste for salesmanship that caused Obama not to sell or even explain health care and economic policies; and it is that distaste that caused him not to sell himself and his policies at the debate. His latest fund-raising plea is marked “URGENT.” But in refusing to muster his will and energy, and urgently sell his vision, he underscores his own lapses in leadership and undermines arguments for four more years.

The debate was an uncomfortable window into Obama’s style in all things presidential.  What is urgent to you is not an emergency to him.  He’s smaller than we thought, less secure, confident and sure of his experience.  He doesn’t look like the alpha male commanding his clan.  He’s the guy who seeks assistance from the moderator with ingratiating comments.  That Obama doesn’t stand a chance against a real presidential candidate and not the carefully crafted illusions his campaign spun for him to do battle with four years ago.  And that is the weak prince we have had in office for four years while the barbarians knocked down the gates.

In a way, a strong showing by Joe Biden this evening might just do Obama in.

And here’s another quote from that MoDo column that I find deeply disturbing:

Once during the 2008 campaign, reading about all the cataclysms jolting the economy and the world, Obama joked to an adviser: “Maybe I should throw the game.”

Can someone confirm whether he really said that?

14 Responses

  1. I think Biden’s in a tough spot. Perform well and he outshines the President; a poor showing just makes the ticket look even weaker. I think I’d pick the former over the latter, obviously, but we’ll have to wait till tonight to see what kind of performance he turns in.

    • Agree. I think he should go with looking strong. That way, if Obama has to “spend more time with his family”, we’re not left with a power vacuum.

  2. How typical that MoDo found a woman to blame for Obama’s fail. And as for “throwing the game” I vaguely remember a tiff where he complained – during the primaries about the “sacrifices” he made for this, namely living in hotels for one year, away from his family.

    • I remember Obama complained that the primaries were like the Bataan death march. Poor Barry, I think he would like to win without working for it (sitting on the bench) but then not necessarily have to do the job either.
      Can’t he please just eat his waffles now?

  3. RD:
    Great posting. A reminder of the prevailing misogyny in our political scenarios. Dicks are afraid of Wombs; they might get lost inside of them…

  4. I can imagine the President and/or his advisers instructing Biden to do “not very well” in order to not “embarrass” the President by “upstaging” him. I can only hope that Biden is more invested in his own personal pride and posterity’s view of the meaning of his career than by Obama’s concern for Obama’s appearance-by-contrast with Biden.

    • Also, I hope that Biden is able to soak Ryan down with lighter fluid and light a match to him so convincingly that Ryan’s presidential chances are as thoroughly destroyed even if Romney wins as Quayle’s presidential chances were destroyed by Lloyd Bentsen even though Bush won.

  5. Great post, and a good spot about the disdain for “salesmanship.” For a working politician not to understand the value of salesmanship and the importance of being able to do it is just professional malpractice. Four years ago, maybe he didn’t have to do a lot of it because the Bush Administration was crashing in flames. Now he does. He’s got a lot of people who will help carry the load for him, and his campaign (just on the tactics) did a good job over the summer selling the differences between himself and Romney. But he can’t outsource all of it. In one of my poli sci classes a ways back, the professor had actually worked on campaigns before and said that one thing he always insisted his candidates do in some very public forum like a debate was humbly ask the voters for their votes and explain why they should do it in pretty concrete ways. The idea was that no one is entitled to political power by charisma or divine right in a democracy – you have to ask the source of authority (the voters) for it and convince them that doing it is a good idea. That’s not “salesmanship,” that’s Basic Democratic Civics. He’d better get his brain around it pretty soon, too, or He. Is. Toast.

    • Agree totally with the “ask” tactic. When he told the audience in Columbus Ohio to get on those buses and vote I thought that he should be “asking” for their votes not assuming them. He did that same “telling” routine four years ago; it sounded off then too.

  6. Doesn’t like salesmanship? Mr. “Sell Hope’n’change and deliver SameOldDowners while people cheer” Obama? Please.

    He just miscalculated. He thought everybody despised “Cayman Mitt” and was going to carry him over the finish line, like last time.

    I gather he needed to be told he’d lost the debate.

  7. I am not having fun installing this new faucet. It is very unfun. Every step is its own separate ordeal.

  8. I begin to think both Ryan and Biden will be equally fun to watch with the sound off … Ryan flashing his blue searchlight eyes and Biden baring his wild wolf teeth. It will probably matter what they say and how they say it, so watching with the sound up might be indicated.

    • you have to hear what Biden says, that 3/4s of the fun with Biden. You never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. People call his statements gaffs, I call them great comic timing.

      • Well . . . if he can combine that great comic timing with a very keen alertness of when/whether Ryan unwittingly exposes his “soft white underbelly”, perhaps Biden will be able to leave all kinds of bleeding teethmarks all over Ryan’s face and neck.
        I won’t be able to watch it, being at work as I am (and just on my lunch break now).

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