Thursday, October 4, 2012


The first presidential debate, October 3, was expected to be a duel between two superstars:  one, the President known; one, the contender in the making.
What we witnessed was a scoop showing the Republican candidate reinventing himself, while President Obama almost stumbled, as if he had skipped his homework. He was often incoherent if not "absent."  Governor Romney knew his numbers and was on the offensive "non-stop." The President missed opportunities to counter-attack (the "infamous" 47%  and numerous flip-flops of Romney) as if he was following the wrong script rather than his instinct of former days.

The pundits, Democrats and Republicans alike, agree that the Republican candidate scored, while the President under-performed. It is too soon to make hasty conclusions. After all there are two more debates, but on international affairs, the President finds himself in an uncomfortable situation amidst the Libyan cover-up (following the assassination of the American ambassador), the feared Afghan Requiem and the Syrian quagmire. The Republicans smell blood as the Democrats did after the WMD fiasco in Iraq.  Besides, the fiscal cliff in the USA, with the automatic budget cuts which would follow, creates a feeling of apprehension both on Wall Street and Main Street.

The "man of change" from the former campaign is no longer. This does not diminish his obvious intellectual qualities and personal appeal but it cuts him from XL to L. Romney occupies the void with assurance, professionalism, bluff and cunning. The businessman became a sterling politician. Paul Ryan, his running mate, is a shark who could very well drive Vice-President Biden into the danger zone of the "ridiculous."  It is almost sad to see the Republican glee while they are the main culprits of the stalemate in Congress, aided, involuntarily, by the shrill behaviour of the inept Democratic leadership.

The President remains popular as a person but as late he often looks like having lost his "mojo."  Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has ample opportunity to spin a narrative as being the saviour for these difficult times, close to business and finance, opposed to foes and promising an American "reformation," in pure Reaganesque form.  I doubt that his hyperbole will bring about the miraculous cure, but it is undeniable that he has picked up the frustrations of a large segment of Americans. The latter start to question in which direction their country is heading.

The United States has never been able to come to terms with the role of government. The debate is as old as the country and the path since independence has been more a roller-coaster than straight-sailing. The often unpopular wars and political stalemate have created a bitterness of late, which is un-American.  Obama was chosen for a vision he projected and personified.  He was the program. He lost it. Now he and his opponent have to come forward with a program instead. The President is bruised after his Pyrrhic victory in health care, Romney must come up with a plan, almost any will do. The Americans might still give the President a second chance, but some marriage counselling might be an appropriate choice ante.  The performance of the President in the coming debates will be crucial.  He had better look for his presidential mantle, which Romney appropriated yesterday, and regain his former body language, rather than avoiding eye contact and taking notes like some underling.

The coming times will be interesting!

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