Tremors from the asymmetrical first debate are still reshaping the race and buoying Romney. It has been said that Obama didn’t show up for that contest, but the reverse is true: the real Obama did show up, indulging in flashes of petulance, self-pity and passivity at a treacherous moment for himself, other Democratic candidates and all the people working their hearts out — and emptying their wallets out — for him…

In some ways, the two rivals are alike: cold, deliberative fish, self-regarding elitists with upbringings out of the norm and trouble connecting at times, as when Obama echoed Jon Stewart’s word “optimal” on “The Daily Show” and sounded aloof about the tragedy in Libya: “If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.” The mother of one of those Americans, Sean Smith, told The Daily Mail of London, “It’s insensitive to say my son is not very optimal; he is also very dead.”

These candidates are, in some respects, natural antagonists. Their rancor seems especially intense, fueled by jagged ads and a long period of mud-wrestling on the head of a pin.