I’m thinking of the Sept. 30 Huffington Post story that began like this:
Ahead of the first presidential debate this Wednesday, the Obama campaign has rejected the idea that the president will be hurling any “zingers” at opponent Mitt Romney.
That was the political understatement of the year. It wasn’t just the absence of zingers that made Obama look so infuriatingly weak. It was his obvious determination to avoid any responses that might be construed as over-aggressive, even in the face of Mitt Romney’s numerous self-contradictions.
Maybe Obama took the advice of advisers who warned him not to appear “un-presidential” — i.e., indignant in the face of Mitt Romney’s lies. More likely, Obama was simply being what many of us already thought he was — a smart, smooth technocrat who is temperamentally incapable of the combativeness that a genuine leader must summon at those moments when the policies and principles he has espoused are under attack.
Why didn’t Obama make the obvious point that Romney’s attempt to present himself as concerned about average Americans was and is ludicrous? Why did he not even mention Romney’s infamous dismissal of 47 percent of the electorate?
Pardon the boxing analogy, but here was a man so concerned about staying ahead on points that he wouldn’t even trade punches with his opponent. He could have knocked Romney out of the ring but instead spent much of the contest backpedaling and literally looking down, as if his only goal was to make sure he didn’t trip over his own feet.
Obama may well survive his timid performance in the first debate — he didn’t even defend Social Security in a spirited and convincing fashion — but he has again reminded us why there often doesn’t seem to be a dime’s worth of difference between himself and Romney, or between the two major parties as they exist today.