According to an article in the Daily Mail UK, President Obama walked off the stage after his underwhelming debate performance convinced he was the winner. Against the intuitive grain of 60 million viewers and a breathlessly fawning press who winced through a painfully dismal showing, Obama was content that he had delivered the rhetorical goods. He only realized he sank like a Chevy Volt dropped in water after his senior aides broke the news to the surprised, and disturbingly oblivious, Commander in Chief. Apparently, the most transparent President in history in also the least self-aware.
Senior aides had been wrought with anxiety for weeks that Obama wouldn’t fare well since he stubbornly refused to rigorously prepare: “’President Obama made it clear he wanted to be doing anything else – anything – but debate prep. He kept breaking off whenever he got the opportunity and never really focused on the event.” While campaigning in Nevada, Obama even poked fun at his own reluctance to hunker down: “ It’s a drag. They’re making me do my homework.”
Some aides anonymously revealed that Obama’s disdain for Romney runs so deep he considered preparation for the contest, and Romney as well, beneath him. His dripping contempt was palpable on the stage, as he refused to make sustained eye-contact with Romney, looking down at his shoes as if they were outfitted with a teleprompter.
In fact, the President spent much of the debate rambling through vapid talking points like he was lost in a fugue-state, tongue tied and generally torpid. It was obvious that he did not adequately prepare but now we know it wasn’t because of a demanding schedule (the day before the debate he visited the Hoover Dam instead of practicing, much to his advisors’ chagrin). He shirked what would seem like a top priority duty because he couldn’t muster even the duplicitous feint of respect for an opposing viewpoint, disgusted that someone has the audacity to challenge his ex officio proclamations.
But we learned even more than that, or at least had our growing suspicions about Obama dispositively confirmed. Despite all the contentless folderol about the virtue and wonder of bipartisan cooperation he spouted during his first campaign for president, Obama loathes dissent and only begrudgingly and condescendingly tolerates being contradicted. His brand of strident confidence crosses a line into elitist hubris, shorn of every follicle of humility, convinced that all who disagree with him are benighted fools or evil adversaries.
In other words, there is something at the heart of Obama’s animating ethos that abhors democracy, which necessarily gives free reign to a spirited exchange of competing ideas. His famous thin-skinned hypersensitivity is a symptom of a lack of self-reflection–criticism shocks him like personal offense since it never really occurs to him that he might be wrong.
And given our persistent economic doldrums, our embassies across the world on fire, Iran’s inexorable march towards a nuclear bomb, the increasingly bombastic assertiveness of China and Russia, and an unemployment rate that could only be lowered on his watch by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are good reasons for him to reconsider his convictions. But alas, he marches on into blissful oblivion, convinced he’s winning the war of ideas effortlessly, assured his floundering is perceived by the world as triumph.
This raises, even shouts out, the question: what other issues only appear to him through the filter of happy self-deceit? Does Obama really believe our enemies in the Middle East are so charmed by his swagger that they would never coordinate at attack on our embassies? Is he convinced we are grateful he has kept us unburdened by the crushing demands of regular employment? Is he under the impression Americans are thrilled they have skyrocketing health care costs, byzantine bureaucracy, and increasingly limited insurance options to cheerfully distract them from the despair of disease? Who are these nameless senior aides and why aren’t they correcting him more often?
It is hard to imagine Obama will do much better in the next debate, unless better means meaner and more aggressively mendacious. His biggest vulnerability at the podium is his dour resentment for having to be there in the first place, piqued that he should have to account for his himself before the people that elected him, that he now, at least purportedly, represents. Obama will attempt to feign interest but will only manage angry indifference–debates are for disciples of democracy, not technocratic kings.
Ivan Kenneally is Editor in Chief of the Daily Witness.