Anatomy of a Disastrous Debate Performance

Works and Days » Anatomy of a Disastrous Debate Performance.

Obama’s real preferences are instead for brief puff appearances on favorable, celebrity TV and radio showsthat tend to enfeeble rather than sharpen his own analysis. And even those are rare, given his propensity to offer gaffes (in this regard, the “you didn’t build that” and “the private sector is doing fine” sort are as frequent as or more common than the far more notorious fare from Joe Biden). In such an attenuated career, we forget that Obama’s prior debate appearances have been rare, and against undistinguished debaters in group fashion during the Democratic primary and John McCain, and, in fact, were themselves largely just workmanlike and just enough to get by. His real and only political interests (and skills) are in caricaturing opponents, in a sort of trash-talking sports fashion (“you’re likeable enough, Hilary,” “fat-cat banker,” “corporate jet owner,” the limb-lopping, tonsil-pulling physicians, etc.) or in whipping up a crowd (“get in their faces,” “gun to a knife fight,” “punish our enemies,” etc.)

Yet perhaps the reason for Obama’s reluctance to face questions and counter-argument was not just that Obama is not very good at it and resents doing his homework (“a drag”), and not just that his economic and foreign policy records are dismal and would be hard to defend under scrutiny, but largely that he has had scant need to work on debating or sharpening his analytical skills — given the investment of the media and popular culture in his success.