What Obama's loss in his first debate tells us about his second term

Published: Wednesday, May 29 2013 12:30 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle wave as they leave the stage following the first presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


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President Obama lost the first presidential debate against GOP nominee Mitt Romney on Oct. 3, 2012; that’s the consensus from across the political spectrum. The New Republic takes a look at why the president performed so poorly, using excerpts from the upcoming book, “The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies”, written by Jonathan Alter.

To put it bluntly, “Lack of practice wasn’t the problem.” The president had plenty of time to practice, but what he didn’t have was the tolerance for the art form of political debating.

“Obama hated debates. Not coincidentally, he knew he wasn’t very good at them.” The president felt that debating on the political pulpit lacked substance; he wanted to get into the details of issues while his prep-team wanted to keep it short and simple. “When he was told during prep for Denver that his answer on infrastructure needed to be less than 60 seconds long, he said, ‘It really deserves 60 minutes.’”

Obama failed to accept that he had to play the role, unable to overcome his own distaste of political theater, and the result was that his poor performance in the first debate nearly cost him the real world position of commander in chief. “Obama hadn’t gone into politics to be a public affairs entertainer, and his detachment from the idiocies of the process had helped him keep perspective. But he failed to internalize that, since the days when George Washington made sure he looked good on a horse, politicians have always been required to perform in the theater of the presidency.”

While the debate may be done with and the president still the president, his unwillingness to play politics, and his ability to overcome it, may very well be what makes his second term successful or not.

Freeman Stevenson is a Snow College grad and is the DeseretNews.com opinion intern. Reach me at fstevenson@deseretdigital or @freemandesnews

Read more about Obama's Choke Revisited on New Republic.

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