Jan Weatherhead writes from Washington: It is clear that Barack Obama has had enough. He’s tired. He doesn’t really want to be President anymore. He has even considered he may have failed.
This doesn’t mean Republican candidate Mitt Romney is about to get a free ride down Pennsylvania Avenue. But there’s a whiff of hope in the Republican camp. Romney’s getting the pollster points, especially when Obama said during their last TV debate that Romney was right and that he, Obama, had not fixed the deficit as he said he would.
The last TV punch-up will have Romney playing his least strong suit – foreign policy. Will it matter? May be. We’ll know for sure when the two eyeball at Lynn University, Boca Raton, Florida, on October 22 for what will be the final of the three TV confrontations. The main subject will be foreign policy.
Obama will be on the ropes. All incumbents are always on the defensive nowadays. The economy bumps along the bottom of the deepest and darkest deficit at a time when the whole country appears to understand that the United States is in wars that cannot be won. Medals and body-bags don’t get many salutes in this year’s election.
Does all this mean that Obama’s lost it after his lousy showing in the first debate in Denver on October 3? It is certainly true that the TV debates have swung it for some past candidates. John F. Kennedy in 1960 beat a slumped Nixon rubbing a six o’clock shadow purely on style. Reagan was a showman who knew his lines when he confronted Jimmy Carter two decades later. An actor versus a peanut farmer. It played that way. It is true that eighty percent of election periods (not necessarily the voting day figure) swing against the incumbent at some point.
Yet, mostly the sitting President wins. Certainly it is all about style. There has to be because there’s hardly a fact in TV debating that checks out particularly well when it comes to the economic and specifically when it comes to what President Clinton called the arithmetic of government. Do the sums and neither candidate is telling the truth. But who expected something as dumb as the truth being told on TV?
If it really is about the economy then forget the electorate. Most voters glaze over at the very term. What they do understand is the job factor. This year has seen an average of 146,000 jobs added a month. The comparative election years with those sorts of figures would be 1960 and 2000 (both almost tied votes – and the latter with all the stink of third world fixing) and 2004 when George W. Bush sneaked in with around a 2.5 per cent lead.
Obama should have been able to handle these figures in Denver. He could not. He stumbled, his mind some place else. News Just In from Afghanistan? Wall Street?
Presidents do not switch off. Challengers don’t have any responsibility to the nation, only to the Party managers. So like all contenders, they can punch above their weight without being marked. That’s Romney at the moment. The independent judges are giving him the first round on points. But he needs a big hit. He’ll get his chance on October 22.
In Florida, Romney will go for Obama’s foreign policy jugular. Late getting out of Iraq. Still in Afghanistan and no sign that he’s fixed peace in that place as a follow on. Never finished the job in Libya. The ambassador Chris Stevens killed and nothing done in retaliation on Obama’s watch. Again, Obama had something else on his mind.
Romney will say that he will make America feared once more. He will be a kick-ass President and no sheesha-smoking, towel-headed foreigner is going to fool around with America on his watch.
Obama will remind the 70 million or so viewers that it was he, Obama, who gave the Go signal on Osama bin Laden. You’ll hear the whoops on that from Miami Beach to Waikiki – maybe the echo of that act will not make it as far as the November polling booths.
More importantly, the TV show on October 22 will focus on whom the voter feels safer with. In the Denver debate (the first one) Obama was a sad figure. He knew the economy is a bitch and that the jobs figures, by US standards, are nothing to crow about. But he was the President. He was the man with the real figures. He looked beaten.
In Florida he will have to sharpen his act. But suppose, just suppose there’s something else going on in the President’s full-up mind. Just suppose that he doesn’t want to be President. Could it be he’s had enough?
Could it be that the biggest bitch isn’t the economy stupid or the wars? Maybe the real bitch in the room is the presidency itself.
Barack Obama gives every tweak of body language of a man drained of his own belief that he could fix it. Can he do it on November 6? Yes, or yes maybe, he can. But does he want to? Maybe not really.