One more post-debate analysis. I know, I know: but stay with me a little bit. . . .
I saw the debate. I thought it was a draw. Obama seemed cogent and smart; Romney seemed rude, but forceful and effective. Lies aside, Romney seemed like a real person, not a caricature. That in itself is a big deal, since Obama’s advertising and Romney's own classism and inelegance had been very effective at making him seem like a caricature.
But I was wrong. And in retrospect, I’m not surprised I was wrong, and I’m not completely surprised Obama’s “handlers” didn’t catch what turned out to be a problem.
Follow me over the orange-bow, and I'll explain.
I don't think Obama threw the debate. I think he was being himself. Obama talks like a college professor. I am a college professor; he talks like my colleagues and I talk. He pauses to consider; he pauses to choose precise language. Occasionally he backtracks, or goes a circuitous way to make a larger point. Sometimes (this is the danger of having a lot in your head) he got a little tangled.
A lot of people I know were blind-sided by the idea—after having seen the debate—that Obama lost. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of Obama’s team were surprised, too. Why? I think they are used to complexity, to nuance--to a learned sort of subtlety of listening. Apparently that sounds weak to some people. To others, it makes you sound smart, careful, and considered.
I talk like that. But—here’s the thing—get me in front of a podium with my poems, and I can be eloquent, passionate in my delivery. (Really: reading poems is one of my core competencies.)
My point: there was nothing incompatible to me about the man who gave those answers on the podium, and the man capable of soaring addresses. I just think Obama and his handlers forgot something about how Americans listen, how they hear.
One more note: I often look down when I am listening very carefully. It is a way of focusing for me, for really hearing every word someone is saying. I guess I understand now that it is rude. I didn’t know that before.
My bet: Obama got a wake up call. I guess I did, too. Maybe this explains why I get so few second dates. :) What I took for considered, mature speaking is apparently read as weakness; what I do to really carefully listen is a kind of disrespect.
So my theory: we’ll see a very different Obama next time.
And my theory’s corollary: either way, we’re going to win this thing.
And the addendum to my theory’s corollary: Andrew Sullivan is a total drama queen.
I'm off to make another (alas small) donation. I am fired up.