The Short Answer Fairy needs to visit President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney before the next debate. For awhile there last night, I wondered if President Obama mistakenly thought he was in one of those Lincoln-Douglas style three hour debates Newt Gingrich talked so much about during the Republican primary. As one of my twitter buddies wrote, “President Obama seems to want to show us how much he learned in White House policy school.”
If you are reading this and you are a senior member of the Obama re-election campaign, what I will tell you is this—when I feel compelled to pull out my smartphone during a debate to use the stopwatch function to time the length of President Obama ‘s answers, his answers are too damn long. Waaay too damn long. Maybe some of you Democratic political consultants who work on the Obama campaign need to buy a couple of plastic Wiffle ball bats for the president’s next series of debate practice sessions so you can smack him in the back of the head with them when his answers get to the 1:45 mark. To us rank and filers, the president and his challenger’s wide ranging four plus minute answers show a lack of common courtesy for the moderator and a disdain for the process by which he and his opponent previously agreed to abide.
I imagine that there is a certain amount of pandering that a political candidate has to do to the political reporting class in these things, although when you get right down to it, they are just people with keyboards, just like me, people with opinions and an audience who nevertheless only count for one vote at a time. But it is unfiltered moments like the ones during these debates in which the media has the least amount of control over what the American public sees. This is not the time, Mr. President, to let us see that you think all of this hullabaloo surrounding a debate is a colossal waste of time when you have more important world issues on your plate. The next presidential debate, Mr. President, is the time to channel your Correspondent’s Dinner demeanor back in 2011, when the raid to capture Osama Bin Laden was in progress while you drilled Donald Trump a new one.
And therein lies the rub. Even though we as Americans want our presidents to be smart and knowledgeable and possess an ability to think about the short term and the long term simultaneously, we don’t necessarily want to see them actually do it. There was not a hint of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton in either of these candidates last night as they laboriously recited the arcane minutia of their positions, as if they were two school boys practicing for a high school debate. Reagan and Clinton understood the American public the way movie producers and record executives did, both of them accepting as an article of faith that how you looked and how you sounded counted as much as what you said.
I will take all of the above denunciations back, Mr. President, if you can convince me that tonight’s performance was all designed to get Mitt Romney to publicly state that as president one of the first things he will do is fire Big Bird.