As with the vice-presidential debate and Joe Biden, Barack Obama's attitude in Monday night's debate spoke more clearly than anything he said. No, he didn't laugh like Bozo the Clown, giggle like a schoolgirl, shake his head, and roll his eyes like Jokin' Joe did. But he looked petulant, perturbed, and on edge (and was occasionally rude) throughout much of the night, despite three days of debate preparation at Camp David. It seems Barack Obama just can't help himself.
It wasn't that he was under withering attack by Mitt Romney. In fact, I was struck by how Romney opened the debate with general statements as to what our overall approach to the Mideast should be as opposed to hitting Barack Obama on where he's weak on foreign policy (everywhere). Romney could have mentioned the president's contradictions on Benghazi, something with which Obama probably feared he'd be confronted. Romney could have said, powerfully and in no uncertain terms, "Under Jimmy Carter in 1979, there was an Islamic revolution in Iran, which has led to many of the Mideast problems we have today; now, under Barack Obama, radical Islam is on the rise from Egypt to Mali to Libya to Yemen. And now some in Egypt, like the government of Iran, want nuclear weapons." But it seemed that, for good or for ill, Romney's strategy was to appear presidential, impress upon the viewer that he possessed knowledge in foreign policy, and then whenever possible connect America's foreign fortunes and influence with her economic health. Nonetheless, most likely due to a tactical decision to be aggressive, Obama often acted like a man under assault. Perhaps this was because he felt as if he should be.
And that is the point. There were no big gotcha moments in the debate, but Romney looked presidential where Obama at times seemed small, largely because the president has a record to not run on. And no amount of running on at the mouth can change that.
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