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"$#!T!!!  Now WE'RE going to HAVE to help him win!
If you have had that reaction at all tonight, then take a moment and smile at yourself: to use a by-now-disfavored expression, Barack Obama just beat you at 11th-dimensional chess.

I don't mean that he intentionally threw the debate tonight.  I think that he was "playing not to lose," yes.  I think that he was playing primarily to undecided voters in swing states, who focus group polling may tell him don't like constipated-looking bunny-eyed car salesman like his opponent.  And I think that he may have reckoned that Mitt might pull out all the stops in lying about him, which may not go over that well in this Year of the Factcheck.

Still, while I felt that Obama won the debate because Mitt was lying (and because he got off the truly great zinger of the night, about whether Romney is hiding his plans because they're too good), I recognize that many others of my political stripe don't think so.  I think that Obama would have liked to win by a knockout, but was not too upset to lose this one by a close decision, so long as he didn't end up flat on his back.

Why?  What could possibly be good about that?

Well, ask yourself the right question.  It's not "who will I vote for?" -- you were going to vote for Obama before and you still are.  It's not "who do I think will win" -- someone will eventually win no matter what you think.

No, the right question is -- well, it's below the croissant.

The right question for you to ask yourself, as you consider the implications of this debate, is this:

"Am I now more or less likely to commit to do something personally to make Obama win?"
And, I submit, you're more likely to do so now than you were the hour before the debate began.

You're a little scared now, right?  Not "the sky is falling" scared, but you've lost something.  Not quite "confidence" -- you're still more confident than not -- but you've lost something that you've been feeling for over a month now:

The Obama campaign probably can't say so quite so bluntly, but: "they are sick and tired of all this motherf@cking complacency on this motherf@cking campaign."  Or, as Samuel L. Jackson, who uttered the line I paraphrase above in "Snakes on a Plane," recently said: "WAKE THE F@CK UP!"

(And yes, I do look forward to when my campaign is over and I can curse in print again.)

Obama had the choice of various strategies.  One was to come after Romney hard in this first debate, snuff him out, burn him to charcoal, crush him, and scatter his ashes on the salty ground.  That's what I would have liked to see.  But ... it had a downside, too: I (and you, and you and you and you) would have continued to feel complacent.

Another strategy was to play it safe, run out the clock.  This could have led to a moderate win, if say Romney had aimed a roundhouse and Obama and ended up punching himself in the head, or if he had wandered around the stage and called Obama "That One."  The worst case, though -- which seems to be what many people think has occurred -- was that Romney would be seen to have done a good job (even though on the merits, which include telling the truth, he did not) and his campaign would breathe in some new life.

And if that happened, his team may have reasoned -- then what?

The idea could have spread across the social media like a perception of danger in a herd of antelope just before they stampede:  "DAMN!  HE COULD LOSE!"

And that leads to another perception: "DAMN!  I'D BETTER DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT!"

Now, do I REALLY think that Obama was playing 11th-dimensional chess with us?  Not entirely.  I think that he underprepared, partially because he has to spend a lot of time at his day job.  For all we know, he was up all last night killing bin Laden again (or, more seriously, figuring out what the hell to do about another gulf oil spill.)

But I have a suggestion for you: ask your friends who haven't been thinking of lifting a finger for Obama, or who have been planning on casting a protest vote (even if they're in a swing state), whether they feel more or less inclined to support Obama tonight -- given that he may need it.

I suspect that maybe their attention is now more firmly on the race.  They have seen the alternative and they aren't going to like it.  Activism 1, Complacency 0.

I'm being a bit playful when I say this, but if that's true: well, then maybe you just got checkmated.  Resign yourself to it gracefully and pick up a clipboard or a phone -- and pitch in!  Obama needs you now more than ever!  Heh-heh-heh.

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