Obama had not debated in years, and it also showed. He is a political orchid, thriving best in a hot, wet atmosphere of praise. Presented with serious, sustained criticism, he first seemed puzzled that his idiom wasn't working properly. Then came the avalanche of tweeted adjectives: annoyed, grim, unhappy, disengaged, glaring, defensive. For me, the low point came when he protested, "I'm going to make an important point here, Jim." Show, as they say, don't tell. Obama's words were instantly forgettable. But his performance will be remembered, studied and mocked for its body language. He looked down. He looked away. It was the surrender of the averted gaze.
The best news for Romney is this: He rose to the most difficult moment. When the need was greatest, and the stage was largest, he was exceptional. It is one of the things that presidents do.
Michael Gerson's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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