One comment repeated by different analysts following Tuesday night’s second presidential debate was that “Barack Obama at least showed up this time.” Indeed, his figurative failure to do so in the first round against Republican contender Mitt Romney caused everybody to wonder whether the president was actually capable of appearing on any show other than “The View” or “Letterman” without his teleprompter in tow.
Undoubtedly, his campaign managers and advisers went into overdrive to put such speculation to rest. They probably coached him as long and as hard as they could, the same way they had to coach Vice President Joe Biden to prepare him for his debate against Paul Ryan last week. Having the wisdom of hindsight — having seen Biden follow their script pretty well, but bomb by behaving abominably — they now had two challenges. The first was to teach Obama what to say. The second was to caution him against appearing too arrogant.
Still, Obama is nothing if not a quick study when it comes to putting on an act. Let us not forget that four years ago he made a surprise entrance on the scene, swiftly side-swiping Hillary Clinton, and becoming the Democratic nominee for president before the former first lady had time to change her hair style and makeup.
This was not merely because Obama is black and beautiful, though that definitely gave him an edge — even over a woman, and a Clinton, to boot. Democrats were thrilled to be able to elect a young minority member promising “hope and change.” Furthermore, Obama was so skilled at playing the role of messiah that he managed to camouflage, if not hide, his truly radical roots from the general public.
Of course, he was aided and abetted in this ruse by the sycophantic mainstream media. Nevertheless, credit should be given where it is due. Even a “Manchurian Candidate” has to present himself as someone who fits the bill. And voters did put him in the White House by a distinct margin, after all. So, getting him to memorize his lines and strut his stuff in the lead-up to the debate was probably not as tough a task as some Romney supporters, including myself, might have hoped it would be.
As soon as the debate began, it was clear that Obama had decided not to let his coaches down or to let Romney get the upper hand. It was equally apparent that he was buoyed by the “town hall” setting, which enabled him to parade around in front of the audience with a microphone in his hand, fielding liberal-leaning questions from the “undecided voters” in attendance. This is a style less suited to Romney, who is stiffer and therefore better suited to a podium or a seat at a table.
Most encouraging of all for the president was that he had the next best thing to a teleprompter at his disposal — the moderator, CNN’s chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, who jumped in with an assist every time she feared Romney was making headway.
All of the above served to plunge Republican viewers into a state of apoplexy. Well, that and the fact that Obama lied shamelessly about every issue, particularly the Benghazi terrorist attack (uh… the YouTube clip-inspired protest, or was it lack of credible intelligence? Hmm, it’s still being investigated.)
To make matters worse for the Romney camp, when the debate was over, Democrats asserted that Obama had emerged the winner. This was a departure from their previous despondence over his poor performance the first time around. And no Frank Luntz data attesting to the contrary could lift Republican spirits.
But here’s the thing. This was not a college debate, in which one team was competing to receive a higher mark than the other for its ability to articulate a given position. This was a genuine fight between the president of the United States — who has enacted actual policies that have had genuine and measurable consequences — and his rival for the post. Though the burden rests on Romney to persuade the electorate that he will do a better job than the incumbent, it is Obama who bears the brunt of his record. No smooth-talking on his part can alter that fact.
No fibbing about how many jobs he has created can sway the millions of people who are unemployed. No fabricated figures about green energy can convince car owners that gas prices have not skyrocketed. No blaming George Bush for all inherited ills can coax those whose condition is worse than it was four years ago to ignore their current reality. And no lying about what he said can erase the multitude of transcripts and footage of his speeches. He may still have the bulk of print and broadcast journalists in his corner, coddling and covering up for him; but he does not control the Internet.
In the words of America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln — whose heritage Obama has cynically been trying to claim — “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring,’" available on Amazon and in bookstores in Europe and North America – and now on sale at Pomeranz Bookseller in Jerusalem.