But vice presidential debates rarely alter outcomes. It is the president, at the top of the ticket, who must do the heavy lifting, as this president has belatedly started to do. But before last week’s debate slides into history, a few brief observations.
What I did not expect to feel at the end of the debate, which felt like a boxing match with the challenger nearly knocking out the champion, was not sorrow at my preferred candidate’s loss. Rather, I felt anger at how he conducted himself, coupled with questions about who he really is.
First, the anger. I, together with many Obama partisans, had invested much energy, psychic and otherwise, in Obama’s Presidency and his reelection. Not only is he America’s first black President; he has been a welcome contrast to an inarticulate, war-prone, economically disastrous George W. Bush. Obama is also a respite from an ever-whiter, ever-more- segregated and buffoon-laden Republican party. We need him.
Or do we?
Yes, we need an alternative from an extremist-dominated Republican party. But Obama’s debate performance made me wonder whether he is the one for the job, or whether we are saddled with an academic when we need a fighter.
Four years ago, I, like many others throughout the country, hosted several MoveOn “phone parties” promoting Democratic candidates in close elections and/or swing states. Our names may not be up on the ballots, but our lives and futures are. The November election, in short, is not just about the future of the Obama presidency, but the future of all of us pushing America on a more liberal path.
Since electing Obama four years ago, we have been fed the narrative of obstreperous Republican leaders who have blocked him at every turn with charges of birtherism, his being a “secret Muslim,” and so forth. And yes, Republican leaders have tried to block him, often using outrageous tactics.
But was the fault entirely with Republican leaders, or was the Obama we saw at the debate the same one who showed up in negotiations – an academic who does not care to mix it up, and is easily rolled? Has that lack of chutzpah, a necessary quality in nearly every successful President and a quality Romney displayed in spades at the debate, led to our political gridlock? And if so, what would really change in a second Obama term?
But there is more. The man at the top of the ticket is running not only for his own reelection. The margin by which he wins – a healthy projected margin before the debate, a considerably narrower one now – helps down-ticket candidates for the Senate, the House and in state races. The larger the Presidential candidate’s margin, the more candidates from his party will also be elected to support him. Even if Obama manages to get reelected by a thin majority, he may now have fewer Democratic allies, and thus less clout to carry out his policies.
Romney, on the other hand, exhibited definite leadership qualities. No, I don’t buy the direction in which he would take the country. But he is hungrier for the job and will, at least in his current incarnation, let nothing stop him in getting that job, or in ramming through his policies – on abortion, on tax cuts for the rich paid for by the middle class, or on wielding a meat ax at the social safety net, including food stamps. This reduces Democrats to play defense, a losing proposition at best.
No, I am not about to vote for Romney. I would, however, like to see a more aggressive Obama not only during his final two debates but, should he get re-elected, over the next four years. If Obama can not channel his inner mojo, if he can not let go of his academic detachment and lead in the rough and tumble, then we are stuck with four years of mediocrity. This is better, perhaps, than four years of destructive Republican policies. But is it enough to invest ourselves in this President?
Obama is reputedly a quick learner. If that is true, now is the time to put that quality to the test. We’ll be watching.By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist