Dear Mr. President:
As a fan and supporter, I have watched your maturation from a hungry young state senator to the undisputed leader of the free world with no small measure of pride and admiration.
Along with millions of other fans, I readied for Wednesday night’s debate with eager anticipation. I had the beer on ice and a big bag of Doritos, and settled on the couch in front of the big screen ready to watch a smackdown of epic proportions.
And it is because of my great respect for you as a leader, as a critical thinker, and as a man, that I feel compelled to ask you the following question concerning your debate performance:
What the hell happened?
You, sir, were owned. And worse, owned by a guy whose every sentence was based on lies and exaggerations. You allowed him to answer every question with a big fat whopper, and never once called him on it.
You let him get away with telling the American public that he would not lower taxes on the rich, a lie so blatant it defies his own campaign rhetoric. You stood there looking down at your notes while he promised to save Medicare, when his plan calls for making it a voucher system that would leave Grandma to decide between buying her medications or buying groceries.
Even though the debate was specifically on domestic policy, you never once mentioned Romney’s recent write off of 47 percent of the American people as lazy, entitlement junkies who won’t take responsibility for their own lives. You didn’t bring up the auto bailout, which saved thousands of jobs and the entire U.S. auto industry, which your opponent famously said should be allowed to die. You let him jabber on about banking regulations while you remained silent about his sending his own money on vacation in the Cayman Islands. You even allowed him to talk about tax fairness without mentioning his own reluctance to release his tax returns.
In short, sir, and with all due respect — you suddenly became Clint Eastwood’s empty chair.
Where was the Obama we’ve all come to know and love? The passionate firebrand who wears his heart on his sleeve, the brilliant orator who commands the stage like no other before him, the consummate communicator who connects at a personal level with everyone from infants to World War II veterans?
I kept waiting for that guy to show up, but he never did. I screamed at the television, arms flailing and Doritos flying in every direction. I begged you to throw punches, pleaded with you to wipe that smirk off his lying face — but you just stood there, staring down at your notes.
I suspect your debate prep team, who should be fired immediately, warned you repeatedly not to appear as The Angry Black Man, as some conservative pundits have labeled you. They probably told you to remain stoic, to not show emotion and to ignore Romney’s potshots.
Your team failed to prepare you for the one thing they should have known would happen: Romney’s lies. You seemed flummoxed from the first time Plastic Man said his tax plan wouldn’t hurt the middle class, and wasn’t a 5 trillion dollar kiss to the super-rich. It was, of course, a contemptible lie, but you seemed unprepared for it — unprepared even to call it out as a falsehood.
It was his Etch-A-Sketch moment — when he would simply shake everything upside down and start fresh, categorically denying every campaign promise and talking point he made for the past 18 months. His campaign said in early summer that it would happen, and yet you seemed sandbagged by it.
Now, all that is water under the bridge. You have another debate with Plastic Man on Oct. 16 at Hofstra University. It’s a town hall format, perfect for your style and ability to connect with an audience.
Don’t make the same mistake twice. Ignore that “Angry Black Man” nonsense, and as soon as Romney gives you an opening like he did in Denver, verbally slap him upside the head. You want to have some fun with it? Yell, “You lie!” in the middle of his speech.
Right before he went on stage for the famous 1960 Nixon–Kennedy presidential debate, JFK got a short pep talk from his brother, Bobby, who took his candidate by the arm and whispered, “Kick him in the [groin].”
Kennedy, as history proved, did just that. I just wish someone had given you the same advice Wednesday night in Denver.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune’s city editor.