Did hubris catch up with Team Obama?

posted at 2:42 pm on October 4, 2012 by Mary Katharine Ham

As the Republican primary process wound down and Mitt Romney emerged as the likely candidate in spring of 2012, President Obama was itching to take him on, according to Glenn Thrush’s inside look at the Obama campaign, “Obama’s Last Stand.” How to take Romney on was another story, as the campaign waffled between pegging Romney as a man with “no core” or a “rotten core.” But the issue wasn’t just one of a strategy disagreement, as Thrush explained:

“Inside the White House, Romney was such an object of ridicule that it was hard to take him seriously, difficult to narrow the mass of contempt into a single, coherent narrative for not electing the presumptive GOP nominee.”

Was that the attitude President Obama brought to his three days of debate prep in Nevada? Obama certainly seemed to have trouble Wednesday “narrowing the mass of contempt into a single, coherent narrative for not electing the presumptive GOP nominee.” He meandered and stuttered in lengthy answers the media is generous in calling “professorial.” He sounded unprepared, pulling the same lines from his stump speeches again and again. He reached for straw men Mitt Romney had already dismantled.

The president inexplicably took Social Security off the table as a campaign issue, declaring, “You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.” That exchange came after Romney had already dominated a large portion of the debate, batting back hard at Obama’s description of his tax plan and pulling anecdotes and factoids together effortlessly. Obama reminded me of a wide receiver who’s been hit hard on a couple of attempted catches, and starts hearing footsteps every time he runs a route. The normally confident president got alligator arms on the Social Security issue and was afraid to lay out for the ball.

Obama supporters were blaming moderator Jim Lehrer just minutes into the debate for letting Romney control the clock. But the truth is Romney didn’t have the ball for longer, as the MSNBC crew kept claiming in their post-debate coverage; he just did more with it. Obama spoke for fully three minutes longer than Romney, according to the CNN live clock.

A parody Twitter account was created to embody liberals’ frustration with a debate that veered from its intended structure. Silent Jim Lehrer mumbled his way to almost 10,000 followers.

But how silent was Jim Lehrer, really? A check of Wednesday’s transcript shows he spoke about 1,400 words. When Lehrer moderated the first McCain-Obama debate in 2008, he tallied about 1,200 words, so his performance wasn’t out of character. The transcript also indicates he interjected more often than the average presidential debate moderator over the past three cycles. Transcripts show most moderators interject between 60 and 70 times, but Lehrer’s tally was in the 80s Wednesday.

Whatever the numbers, it did feel rough-and-tumble while remaining civil and substantive, and that’s what I appreciated about it. What happened to the days when windy, contentious Lincoln-Douglas-style debates were upheld by the media as the debate ideal? What happened to bemoaning a showboating moderator or a public that doesn’t digest in bigger chunks than soundbites?

Back in 2010, NBC’s Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell were using the free-wheeling, high-minded Lincoln-Douglas debates as a foil for novice Tea Party candidates’ performances in Senate races in Nevada and Delaware. As with discussions about entitlements after Ryan was added to the ticket, the press only wants a substantial conversation when Obama’s guaranteed to win it.


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The next debate is supposedly foreign policy. We know this is a topic about which Obama has zero interest and even a distaste, he came into office with a big goose-egg for knowledge and experience and hasn’t learned much since. Will the administration let us know who’s coaching him? I really can’t imagine them bringing in Hillary, Panetta’s got a useful background, but if he relies on the rest of his national security idiots – Clapper, Donilon, Rice, Power – he’s gonna get a thin, academic, and ideologically blinkered preparation that should lead to him being plunged dramatically into the washwater again.

JEM on October 4, 2012 at 3:45 PM

All Romney has to say is “Arab Spring”…….

redguy on October 4, 2012 at 7:02 PM

matthew8787 on October 4, 2012 at 5:54 PM

You deserve your 15 minutes, you nailed it.

Take a bow. /no snarc

itsspideyman on October 4, 2012 at 7:03 PM

Oh, and Romney should say –

Mr. President – didn’t YOU kill Osama Bin Laden???

And isn’t there a Hollywood film coming out about that?

Will the premiere be in Tehran??

redguy on October 4, 2012 at 7:04 PM

Nothing less than affirmative action caught up with Obama, as it does with virtually every unprepared, uneducated minority beneficiary.

He’s a fraud.

Jaibones on October 4, 2012 at 11:05 PM

The normally confident president got alligator arms on the Social Security issue and was afraid to lay out for the ball.

My respect for you just doubled.

jaime on October 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM

Know what tastes good with Hubris?

- Arugula.

BigAlSouth on October 5, 2012 at 5:11 AM

The experts are coming out of the woodwork when in reality it was only the 90 min. unedited video that was the trump card. People saw what an unedited video does to the truth and the left’s agenda enforced by the msm for the four years of fiction.

mixplix on October 5, 2012 at 6:17 AM

Of course Nemesis came out of hiding to give the hubristic Obama the trip to the woodshed he had earned.

But it would also be hubris to presume that Obama and his team can’t or won’t learn from the experience and change their tactics. Before he entered the debate, reporters indicated that the president was bored by the debate-prep process. He probably found it to be unnecessary, seeing that he can outwrite his speechwriters, out-think his policy wonks, and so on; why should he even have to prepare to beat the shiny Brioni pants off this overstuffed Republican fat cat?

But now he knows that’s not the case. He has to prepare. You think he won’t? You think he will continue to stare down at his podium as he crosses his legs? You think he’ll keep smirking? No, he won’t. He’s as smart as the next guy (even if he’s not the omniscient godlike being that the press made him out to be); and he must realize that Romney’s a more serious opponent than dull-as-dishwater John Kerry, the preparatory stand-in, made him appear to be.

I only hope that Romney’s team recognizes this is only round one of this boxing match, and that Obama was not a TKO but will return for round two, prepared and ready to go to the mat.

PLEASE, PLEASE,

slknoerr on October 5, 2012 at 10:32 AM

Whoops. My cri de coeur went unfinished as I hit the wrong button.

PLEASE, PLEASE, Mitt Romney’s team, don’t get cocky. Just as it’s an enormous mistake to think any complex system won’t adapt to changes, you can’t think that Obama’s team will pull out a similar performance next time ’round.

slknoerr on October 5, 2012 at 10:34 AM

chumpThreads on October 4, 2012 at 4:30 PM

True. They probably shouldn’t be referred to as ‘sharia media’. The more accurate term would probably be ‘dhimmi media’. Since they seem to feel that Muslim actions like killing non-Muslims, murdering US ambassadors, mutilating women and butchering children are all fine and dandy, while non-Muslim actions like simply mocking the prophet Muhammad – who as history plainly shows was a drug user, a pedophile, a business failure, a mass murderer and a megalomaniac – are appalling and should be banned.

Of course, one has to take all this in context. After all, this is the same media that conspired to cover up Saddam Hussein’s Iraq atrocities (see CNN and Jordan, Eason) and which likes to tell us how much better Communism in China is that our own system (see New York Times and Friedman, Thomas).

And this is the same media that rails in print against the evils of capitalism and corporations while accepting large salaries from those same eeeevil companies to serve as advisors or consultants (see Krugman, Paul). Never mind that Chinese are trying to come her, not the reverse.

This is the same media that thinks that ‘Piss Christ’ and the like are OK and somehow ‘daring’ and ‘progressive’ while covering a Quran – a book, mind you – with dirt is appalling and somehow frightening. The same media whose members are seemingly in favor of limiting free speech for non-Muslims and some of whose members even think that it’s OK to assault people and deface other people’s property (see Eltahawy, Mona) if the ideas being expressed are those that they do not agree with.

Double standard much? It certainly seems that way from where I sit. Of course, as someone better than I (Jim Geraghty?) has said, if the media didn’t have double standards, they wouldn’t have any standards at all.

StoneHeads on October 5, 2012 at 1:45 PM

“Hubris” Our Bama doesn’t know the meaning of the word as it simply does not agree with his terminal narcissism.

dockywocky on October 9, 2012 at 3:15 PM

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