What Happened to Barack Obama?


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

Related Post Roulette

34 Responses

  1. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “[Obama] didn’t expect Romney to diverge so much from his campaign thus far and, as Jonathan Chait put it, reassume his earlier Massachusetts moderate form.”

    Yeah; it seems like the President’s plan was “wait for Romney to go negative, and then press him on that while you make some moderate-sounding noises as a contrast”, and it was entirely reasonable given the tone of the campaign thus far to expect that Romney would go negative, but then he didn’t, which didn’t leave the President with a whole lot to say.Report

    • Avatar Aaron says:

      I think it was more along the lines of, “The president argued with the policy positions (such as they are) that Romney has been advocating for the whole campaign, and Romney soundly repudiated his own positions, which left the president flatfooted.”

      “You said your policy is an across-the-board 20% tax cut, as well as a giant military spending increase, which will be revenue neutral thanks to removing tax deductions — except for popular ones. But that doesn’t work, because the numbers don’t add up: there aren’t enough tax deductions and loopholes to offset a tax increase of the size you’re calling for.”

      “Am not. I didn’t say that at all.”

      “Well, if we take your campaign at your word — and it’s tough, because you haven’t provided any details, your plan calls for a massive tax increase on the middle class, and a massive tax cut on the wealthy.”

      “Will not. My plan can’t cause a tax increase on the middle class, because I say that it won’t. If I say that it won’t, people can’t say that I’ll increase taxes on the middle class, because I’ve said I won’t.”

      “Well … uh … that’s not what your plan says.”

      “Does so.”Report

  2. Avatar zic says:

    He did not defend Big Bird from the threat of self-deportation.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I know you meant this as a joke but it raises a serious question for me:

      PBS is possibly one of the most popular government programs out there. About 69 percent of the American public believes in funding for PBS:


      What is it about the Republican Party that keeps on trying to defund PBS? They have been trying this since at least 1994 and everytime it has blow up in their faces. Why does PBS drive the 31 percent so insane that they can’t just acknowledge being the minority position? Or are these the hard-core ideologues who think that their views on government are the only correct ones; everyone else be damned with full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes?Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Well in fairness PBS only gets about 15% of its revenue from the Feds.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          And that 15% equals about .00014% of the federal budget; or about fourteen cents per each thousand of dollars the government budgets.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            To be fair, it was relevant in the context of the debate itself. More than a couple of people I know and/or read were wondering if he was going to bring up his views on PBS right in front of Lehrer, suggesting he wasn’t.

            So while I would agree it’s a rather dopey thing to harp on, I kind of give him a pass doing so at the debate itself.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              So he likes firing people, including his bumbling debate moderator and an imaginary bird?

              (That would lead one to wonder if there was an implied threat here. . . do as I want or you’re fired.)

              In listening today, no visuals, Obama sounded better; good pokes like giving a tax break to Donald Trump won’t create new jobs. Obama also sounded less exhausted without the visual then he seemed last night with the visual; so there’s something important there on body language.

              Without the visuals, Romney often sounded manic; rushed to get his points out before he forgot them.Report

              • I disagree with this- I was only able to listen to the debate in the car (at 2 AM….don’t ask) while driving hoke from work, but it seemed to me even on the radio that Obama sounded completely off-kilter. I think Elias’ explanation for this has more than a kernel of truth to it, as it was something that occurred to me while listening to the debate. That said- and here’s the weird part- I thought Romney actually sounded kinda sorta sincere each time he moved to the center, and, as he is won’t to do, incredibly insincere each time he tried to stick to conservative talking points. As a long time Romney Hater, this was uncomfortable for me.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                This actually makes sense to me. As I’ve said before, I think it’s folly to think that the guy inside is the guy he campaigned as in the past 8 months of this election to this GOP, and not the guy he ran and governed as for almost two decades.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          My point was more along with Zic’s. That 444 million is a rain drop of the Federal Budget and a highly popular one.Report

  3. Avatar Michelle says:

    I think there’s something to this idea. Obama cannot afford an Angry Black Man moment. As Carlson’s ” surprise” video showed, there are too many folks out there just waiting to capitalize on it.

    I personally hate conspiracy theories, but the resurfacing of the video at this time doesn’t seem completely coincidental.Report

    • Avatar Pyre says:

      It was no more or less a coincidence than when that video of Romney and his 47% speech surfaced at MotherJones.

      It’s far less about the issues and more about “who can make the other look bad” now whether it is in debates or when potentially embarrassing videos suddenly surface.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      This meme is all over the leftosphere today, that BHO lost because of race. Even if somewhat true, Angry White Men don’t get elected either. And you can’t win a referendum on your presidency and defend a bad record by getting angry at your challenger. That’s MSNBC stuff.

      Barack Obama was elected as a post-racial healer. The angry Obama video of 2007 would have killed that image had it been widely disseminated. If BHO is over a barrel—and he is—it’s one of his own construction in 2008.

      The [in]famous “Barack the Magic Negro” essay did well to explain the phenomenon:


      The thesis has nothing to do with Obama’s opponents, but his supporters–the non-confrontational black man [think Sidney Poitier] assuages white guilt in return for his absolution on race.

      But it’s clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination — the “Magic Negro.”

      The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. “He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist,” reads the description on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro .

      He’s there to assuage white “guilt” (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.

      Well, dunno about the Mandingo stuff, but the thesis is sound: the non-confrontational black accepts the approbation of whites, and his end of the bargain is not confronting them with race, racism, and America’s race history.

      Ta-da, the “post-racial” dream and even better if it’s a creature of the left: where Barack’s supporters are morally enlightened, his opponents are benighted if not downright evil.

      However, an “angry” Barack Obama in 2012 blows the narrative of 2008, that of the healer. Even if the meme is true, which I think it’s mostly not—this is the guy who magically got the Nobel Prize without doing anything and encountered only minimal resistance in his way to the top—a bellicose Barack Obama isn’t going to win more votes without losing some as well.

      As for the real world, I find the president’s speeches full of bellow and snark anyway, and less appealing on the visceral level than Romney’s. And even if your mileage varies on that, I just don’t see an advantage in Barack turning himself up to eleven.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        Well since he wasn’t exactly angry in the video, no matter how much Hannity hyperventilated, I don’t see your point. There are plenty of angry white guys around these days. They get elected to congress and can be found making mega bucks across the Fox o’verse.Report

      • Avatar b-psycho says:

        …is it odd that I think the “progressive” blogosphere and you both have a point on this?

        Obama carefully cultivated an image that the Dem base should’ve known was bullshit from the jump — not because he is somehow Angry Negro (he isn’t), but because the very idea of “post racial” can’t be so much as sniffed at via the ballot box. Really, to talk “post-” anything is ridiculous when there’s so many layers of social bile, not just (or even primarily, arguably) on race, that get ignored and built on.

        We haven’t had anywhere near as much upheaval as we’re due for.Report

  4. Avatar Simon K says:

    Romney last night sounded like someone who could actually could command the support of enough people to be a useful President, unlike the Romney of the last few months who sounded like someone who was trying to lose a presidential election in a way that made the Republican Base happy. It reminded me somewhat of McCain concession speech, which made me ask “why didn’t that guy run for President?”, except Romney has manage to do it before actually losing the election.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Romney’s task until now was to not make America sick of him and get turned off. Indeed, the debate had 65 million viewers, anxious to check out Romney, and he couldn’t have timed his best-ever campaign performance any better.

      CNN’s poll Romney had the winner at 67%; their pollster said no debate winner had ever before passed 60. 80+% said Romney exceeded their expectations. Just where you want to be.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        Their pollster was wrong, as Kerry got 61 percent to Bush’s 19 percent, a spread of 42 percent, the same as Romney-Obama at 67-25. I cited this in an earlier thread, but apparently it didn’t register.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Have you ever been to altitude? That first day *SUCKS*.Report

  6. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I dunno, fellow Gentlepersons. We’re all hunched over the entrails of this debate like so many Latin haruspices. This is, indeed, the same Obama we thought we knew. We just didn’t know him as well as we thought. Our blognostications, clever as they are (and the Google+ analysis was a marvel of insight, kudos to all who participated ) cannot explain Romney’s win any more than Green Bay’s last victory. Shit happens.

    Obama didn’t rise to the level of our expectations. It wasn’t his night to shine. I’ve said Romney needed a win and got one. But it also seems clear Obama’s emotional judo can survive a few impacts with the mat. I can’t wait for the surreality of Biden versus Ryan. I shall wear a tight fitting helmet, lest my head explode.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I can explain Green Bay’s latest victory with ease: they scored one more point than New Orleans did. The rule is, whoever has more points when the game clock runs out, wins. How did Green Bay get that extra point? A little more complex but not an impenetrable conundrum.

      Romney’s win is a little more complex but not that much. 1) He prepared better, and as a result he performed better. 2) He’s the challenger and in the first debate, that’s an inherent advantage; everyone pays more attention to the new guy. 3) More people convincingly said he won immediately after the debate ended than said the opposite.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Well, yes. As you say, it’s a conundrum, but I’m having my ear talked off by an animated gentleman of colour who’s explaining his prediction of why the Saints have been stinking up the gridiron this year. Now he’s retreated to another table in Dominick’s under a faded backlit Drew Brees poster, so I can write this comment.

        Romney is a boor. He walked all over Jim Lehrer. He’s proven himself incapable of reconciling himself to facts. Obama wasn’t as prepared to tell such obvious falsehoods and purposefully restrained himself. He knew better than to attack Romney with any vigour in this round.

        I don’t buy the argument that Romney prepared better. We don’t “know” what happened to Obama. We might agree Romney’s been in the gym longer than Obama but the pundits have the attention span of a gnat. Obama’s been in trouble before behind the podium. He’ll be in trouble again. As you say, it’s all about what the score is when the clock runs out.Report

  7. Avatar damon says:

    “he didn’t expect Romney to diverge so much from his campaign thus far and, as Jonathan Chait put it, reassume his earlier Massachusetts moderate form. If this is indeed the case, and not simply the tactic the Obama team chose today in an attempt to mitigate the damage, that’s pretty damning.”

    Pretty damning indeed, on BOB’s campaign. Jesus, doesn’t someone get paid for prepping for this eventuality? Sounds like someone got caught with their pants down.Report