Rationalization is as old as politics. One can imagine a caveman sitting at a campfire with fellow cave-dwellers, and proposing they awaken an old, snoring caveman and give him the honor of going outside to see what’s making a menacing, growling sound. Indeed, maybe that kind of discussion was the origin of the term, debate — de bait.
However, I don’t recall in political history anything like the wave of rationalization for a candidate’s poor debate performance as we’ve seen for President Obama.
Obama admirers have been creative and compassionate in explaining why he was a dud. It’s inspiring that they were so uninspired by him that they are now inspired to justify his being uninspiring. Other politicians must be envious of their devotion and imagination.
Here are some of the excuses we’ve heard so far:
High altitude. “Obama arrived in Denver at 2 p.m. today — just a few hours before the debate started. Romney did his debate prep in Denver. When you go to 5,000 feet, and you only have a few hours to adjust, I don’t know…” – Former Vice President Al Gore
Intentionally blew it. “There is no better way to motivate a slightly complacent Democratic base than to lose the first debate and make this election look like a fair fight once again.” — Reader comment
Confused by Romney. “Romney told so many lies that Obama didn’t know which one to address first.” — MSNBC host Ed Schultz
Dumb voters. “Average Americans love a chatty performer over a wonk any day of the week.” — Reader comment
Stacked deck. “To be fair, the deck was stacked against Obama, who came into the debate with a lead over Romney plus the baggage of incumbency.
“First, voters expect sitting presidents to win debates and, indeed, polls showed that Obama was favored. That benefits a challenger like Romney who grows in stature simply by standing next to the president.
“Second, challengers have more time to prepare than do busy presidents. Romney was ready. Finally, incumbents aren’t used to being challenged. Obama’s thin skin showed more than his Hollywood smile.” — Ron Fournier, National Journal
Disadvantage – pressure. “Romney’s a high-pressure business guy. He’s used to this type of environment, influencing people and doing whatever it takes to close the deal. This is his world.” — Reader comment
Disadvantage – format. “Why did Romney always get the last word?” — Reader comment
Disadvantage – moderator. “What’s up, Jim Lehrer? Romney was allowed to steamroller over the whole debate.” — Reader comment (Note: Obama spoke four minutes longer than Romney.)
Obama didn’t want to look snide. “I don’t fault Obama for some of his strategic choices. Liberals are stewing over his refusal to slap Romney for his infamous 47-percent riff. I think Obama made the right call. Pretty much anyone for whom that was likely to matter has already heard the Romney recording. By reminding them of it, Obama risked looking overly snide or cutting.” — Noam Scheiber, The New Republic
Winning is too aggressive. “Obama was more statesmanlike, but Romney was more domineering, pushy and aggressive — even intimidating.” — Reader comment
Obama didn’t really lose. “The only person that lost that debate was Jim Lehrer.” — Reader comment
Obama just lost on style. “It is unfortunate, but at this stage, for the undecided people in the middle, substance is a casualty of style. By that measure, Romney outshone the president at this debate.” — Charles M. Blow, New York Times columnist
Debate needs lie-detector. “I think we need a lie buzzer at the debates. Obama should not have to spend his two minutes defending himself from Romney’s lies.” — Reader comment
Should be stricter rules. “Cut off the sound when candidates go over the limit, give a loud noise and light up a sign when they give wrong facts. Moderators should not be wimps about sticking with the rules they were given.” — Reader comment
Denial. “Romney did not win, and Obama did not lose because, despite the bloviators on both sides of the aisle, the facts matter and they are with Obama.” — Reader comment
Foolish focus group. “The ’39 undecided Colorado voters’ seemed to love it when (Romney) spouted platitudes.” — Reader comment
Eyes and ears are deceiving. “If ‘looking and sounding good’ is the criteria for winning debates and elections, Romney was a clear winner… If you want to look at the substance, he failed as usual.” — Reader comment
These are intentionally funny. David Letterman’s “Top 10 excuses for Obama’s poor debate performance”:
10. “I haven’t slept an hour since 2008”
9. “Romney’s hair is mesmerizing”
8. “Didn’t want to wake Jim Lehrer (the moderator, who many say was ‘ineffectual’)”
7. “Haven’t been the same since I quit smoking”
6. “Honestly, I thought the debate was next week”
5. “I live with my mother-in-law, what do you want from me?”
4. “Kept blanking on what percentage of the country Mitt’s written off”
3. “Skipped rehearsal, just like Letterman”
2. “Why don’t you ask Bin Laden how I did?”
1. “It’s Bush’s fault”