Maybe someone should ask Obama what papers and magazines HE reads
posted at 8:39 am on October 4, 2012 by Libby Sternberg
Some on the left think PBS moderator Jim Lehrer was partly to blame for the president’s poor showing in the first debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. No, it wasn’t Lehrer’s lack of control of the debaters—if anything, the free-roaming sparring of the candidates versus a micromanaged back-and-forth was refreshing.
But the Obama campaign might want to pin some blame on the media in general for giving the president such an easy ride over the past four years. The president was completely unprepared for substantive push-back and thus ended up looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights during the many moments where Romney challenged the president’s assumptions.
On MSNBC the morning after, New York magazine’s John Heilemann, however, provided this excuse for Obama’s bad night: the president, having to handle the burdens of the office, didn’t have time to prepare adequately. But isn’t being president enough preparation? Incumbents have the advantage of living deep inside the issues being discussed. They shouldn’t have to study as hard as the challenger—they’ve participated in the policy battles under discussion.
But often, the president looked and sounded as if he didn’t really know what he was talking about or how to adequately answer Romney’s points. When Romney started discussing the flaws of Dodd-Frank legislation, for example, the president looked adrift and unsure, as if he didn’t really know the specific details Romney was mentioning and therefore couldn’t weigh in for fear of showing his ignorance. This prompted one member of my household to say: Romney should ask Obama if he’s actually read the bill.
Certainly, his debate performance indicated there was a good chance he’d not done so. He was without rhetorical weaponry. He had nothing to fight back with because it appeared he really didn’t know as much as Romney did about the issue at hand. This happened on more than one occasion, leading me to wonder what the heck the president was scribbling all those times he kept looking down and taking notes as if earnestly looking busy would demonstrate his command of the subjects.
On the few issues where he seemed comfortable with details, he played defense. In particular, on health care, Romney put the president in the position of spending precious time talking about how terrific the health care panels would be—not something Obama’s team has wanted to focus on, as a Wall Street Journal editorial noted:
In particular he put Mr. Obama on the defensive about the so-called Independent Payment Advisory Board, the 15-member “expert” and unelected commission that will tell doctors how to practice and seniors the treatments they are allowed to receive. The President struggled to stick to his own talking points, perhaps because the damaging details speak for themselves.
Again and again, Romney brought up details of various issues that seemed to leave the president befuddled, unable to adequately respond for fear of saying something uninformed. The president was virtually silent when Romney mentioned green energy company failures (and those companies’ connections to Obama donors), oil company tax deductions’ impact on small companies, and the lack of bipartisan support for Obamacare.
The president only had talking points, or the spin he might have read in liberal-leaning publications or heard on liberal-sympathetic TV. So he could try to talk about the importance of regulating financial institutions only in clichéd terms, but he gave no indication he really knew what was in that Dodd-Frank bill to begin with.
That leads me back to my earlier point: one of the reasons the president wasn’t prepared was because he’s not really faced an adversarial press. The media hasn’t been interested in the administration’s flaws, failures or even outright scandals. Dodd-Frank? Great idea! Green energy investments gone bad? Ho-hum. Unemployment still high? Bush’s fault. Border agents killed because of botched gun-running scheme? Republicans playing gotcha politics. Terrorist attacks on anniversary of 9/11? Anti-Muslim film made them do it! Afghanistan policy in shambles? Where’s that country again?
If the president has been reading and viewing the news, he’s probably been under the impression his ideas are winning and he’s made some stumbles, faced some “bumps in the road,” but nothing more. He hasn’t had to defend his positions or analyze his failures.
So here’s a question for the next debate moderator to ask: What magazines and newspapers do you read, what news do you listen to, Mr. President? If the answer is the New York Times, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, NPR, the Washington Post or any other so-called mainstream news outlet, you know why the president is so uninformed.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist