Monday, January 23, 2012

Obama's Coming Debate Problem

Many have commented on how they'd love to see Newt debate Obama. The Naked Dollar concurs, but not at the cost of having Newt as the nominee.

What has gone unremarked is how much of a problem Obama will have debating any of the Republicans.

Debating is a skill that comes with practice. The first time you're up there, it can be terrifying. Witness poor Rick Perry, who improved markedly, but not enough to overcome his opening night gaffe. Look at Mitt Romney, who is far more skilled and disciplined (if uninspiring) this time than four years ago.

Barack Obama has never really had to debate anybody. McCain? Sorry, no. He was terrified to lay a glove on Obama for fear of being labelled a racist or a mean old man. And Obama, at the time, was a complete unknown with virtually no legislative record in the Senate or the Illinois House, so he had nothing to defend. He could say whatever he wanted, attack without being attacked.

Now, he is the 100% owner of three years of miserable performance. It is a target rich environment, to say the least, and I don't think any of the Republicans will be shy about going after him. The racist charge won't hold water this time, and whomever the nominee is, he will have spent six months in the toughest debating boot camp ever. He will be ready.

But let's think further back. Can you think of a time in his life when Obama has ever been seriously challenged, about anything? His political races, pre-McCain, were largely cake walks, and his years in academia would have provided him with full immunity from argument, given his race and political persuasion. If a faculty member at Occidental, Columbia, Harvard, or Chicago had ever taken issue with him, concerns for political correctness would have been more than enough to ensure their silence.

No, Obama has spent his life in a pleasant echo chamber, one where conclusions can be glib and rarely challenged, where knowing nods are exchanged in the faculty lounge. In my experience, this makes for people who wilt easily when confronted with rational arguments that don't conform their belief systems. The result is usually petulance and name calling.

Looking for a good debater? Look for a conservative who went to a northeaster college (see: Ivy League) or a liberal who grew up in the South. When you're always on the defensive you learn that you must understand issues deeply. Take Bill Clinton. He spent much of his life negotiating the conservative waters of Arkansas, so he knows a thing or two about how conservatives think and what their arguments are. Obama? He still doesn't. In fact, he recently said he prefers watching the TV show Homeland to the Republican debates.

Does Obama have enough self-awareness to know any of this? No. The narcissism runs too deep. But The Naked Dollar predicts that his staff knows enough to be worried every time he speaks without a teleprompter. They will fight for the minimum number of debates possible. The other prediction: a flinty, defensive performance with at least one major gaffe.


  1. But what difference would it make? Kerry mopped the floor with Bush in his first debate and was a little better in the other debates. The best Bush could do was fight to a draw. Didn't matter. Kerry got nothing for his outperformance.

    Doubtful the current crop can outdebate Obama. And even if they do, it isn't going to change anyone's mind.

  2. > "Barack Obama has never really had to debate anybody."

    Scott: Barack Obama participated in 25 debates during the 2008 Democratic primary season, the last 6 of which were 1-on-1s between him and Hillary Clinton.

    WFMD: you're selecting one data point. A counterpoint is the apparent evidence that Newt Gingrich's debate performances have helped him significantly vs. Mitt Romney.

  3. Anon. I guess you and Scott will just have to learn the hard way. Obama is a smooth operator. The Republicans would all do themselves a favor by keeping their mouths shut. Obama will rope-a-dope whichever person he faces.

    If it's not Romney, the election will be over regardless due to forfeit.

  4. You left out a conservative raised in the shadows of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco.

  5. You made no mention of those endless debates Obama had with Hilary Clinton.

  6. Agree w/many, Obama will do better than you think. Also, it won't matter. There's only 1 way Obama loses to anyone. Iran closes the strait and Obama doesn't respond. That won't happen; at least pre-election. This whole primary is a sad joke. Speaking of foregone conclusions; why does anyone think Romney could be caught?