Wednesday night’s presidential debate had quite a few surprises. No one expected that the rising star of the event would be “Sesame Street’s” Big Bird, thanks to Mitt Romney. Nor did viewers anticipate that the biggest joke of the night would be President Barack Obama, who was outshone by his opponent.
After months of hard-hitting campaign ads attacking Romney’s history as a businessman and governor of Massachusetts as well as his plans for the U.S. economy, it seemed obvious that the president would be just as uncompromising on stage during the one-on-one. Yet not only did Obama compromise, he also remained passive, which enabled Romney to thrive during the 90-minute broadcast.
Where was the passionate, charismatic Illinois senator from four years ago? Not at the debate. Despite having been president for the past four years, Obama should have seized the opportunity the debate presented to convince new voters and remind those who pledged allegiance to him in 2008 why he is still the ideal man to lead the country.
Instead, he fell short in making his case and in disproving Romney’s and appeared out of his element in contrast to the governor. The usually poised and dynamic Obama barely had the capacity to look into the eyes of his challenger as he spoke.
He possessed even less conviction (none, in fact) in confronting Romney about his flip-flopping throughout the debate — his policies regarding women’s rights, Bain Capital and the footage of Romney claiming that 47 percent of Americans are government moochers. The president looked like a man defeated.
Romney, on the other hand, looked like a man coming into his own on the stage. His presence and assertiveness (or rudeness) turned a rather dull event into one full of promise, particularly for himself. Standing upright with a sly smirk, Romney appeared confident in front of America as he played Obama’s game and beat him at it.
In this Twilight Zone of a presidential debate, Romney became Obama, using personal anecdotes from his campaign trail to get into the hearts of undecided voters in Colorado and Ohio. Calm and cool, Romney proved that he could beat Obama at his own game at being both America’s every man and its superman.
The popularity contest between Romney and Obama may be on hold for now, but not the race for the presidential seat. If President Obama wants to maintain his spot in the White House, he needs to abandon his “take the high road” approach.
Presenting himself as a man of integrity is one of the reasons voters fell in love with Obama initially. Sticking to that tactic on Wednesday night, however, only made him appear weak and passive beside a man who really is weak and incapable of moving the country forward. If anyone can play Romney’s game of throwing cheap jabs in the political ring and still come out clean, it’s Obama.
He has two more opportunities to prove to undecided voters that he’s capable of bringing the country into a promising future. To seal the deal for one more term, the president should not rely on his credentials acquired over the past four years to make his case, nor should he bow down gracefully while Romney beams under fluorescent stage lighting. He needs to bring back the zeal from 2008 and remind everyone who the real Obama is.