What's going on with Obama?

NEW JERSEY - From the minute Obama opened his mouth at the start of the first presidential debate and announced that "the most important" point he wanted to make that night was that it was the very day of his and Michelle's wedding anniversary - the most important point! - you knew he was doomed. Here was the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, the most powerful man in the world, acting as though this was not an election in which everything was at stake. Here he was, kidding around, as if he was on one of the late-night comedy shows he's fond of visiting, and not about to lock horns with the most aggressive challenger of his political career.

Lee Siegel,

07 de outubro de 2012 | 01h00

Romney, on the other hand, knew exactly what was at stake. Congratulating Obama with a subtle yet perceptible undercurrent of distaste, he said "I'm sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine, here with me." The irony and contempt were biting. Yet Romney's awareness of the urgency of the occasion, contrasted with Obama's flippancy, was invigorating. It drove home, with dramatic intensity, the point Romney has being trying to make. Obama is aloof, disengaged, indifferent to the country's pain.

Of course, for anyone following the two campaigns, the absurdity of that argument is clear. Obama brought the country back from the brink of economic disaster, relieved the burden on the middle class, passed revolutionary new healthcare laws, ended the catastrophic war in Iraq, and killed Bin Laden. But at a moment when appearances matter more than they ever have in American politics, Romney managed to turn those facts on their head and run away with the debate into an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole.

Thirty years ago, in graduate school, I used to yawn and roll my eyes as I heard pretentious graduate students throw around the latest theoretical platitudes: there are no facts, truth is relative, reality is composed of manipulable layers of simulacra, whoever has the strongest narrative wins. But, now, that has all come true.

Nothing either of the candidates says can convince anyone of anything. If X says Y, then the very fact that X says it means he's lying. If X lies, and Z exposes his lies, then it's obvious that X is telling the truth since Z called him a liar. Everyone is so jaded, so cynical, so weary of the democratic process of competitive campaigning that no one believes any positive assertion of the truth. The only claims that have any value are the ones made with a negative energy. Assertions such as, "We are on the right path; we are doing better than we were; things are looking up" pale in comparison with accusations such as, "We are marching toward hell; we have lost our way; we are being betrayed by our leaders." People mistrust anything that can be seen through. You cannot see through a negative. A negative has the advantage of seeming to have seen through everything already.

So Romney lied, again and again. He said Obama had doubled the deficit. Obama has slightly reduced the deficit. He said that Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare. Obama reduced the cost of Medicare reimbursements; he didn't cut anything. He said that he, Romney, was not proposing a $5 trillion dollar tax cut. But Romney has vowed to cut the marginal tax rate by 20 percent, which would result in a $5 trillion tax cut.

Astonishingly, Obama did not expose Romney's lies at any point in the debate. He did not strongly and passionately refute the charge of cutting $716 billion dollars from Medicare. He did not, in bold and simple terms, make the point that he has actually reduced the deficit. Instead he got himself bogged down in the details of various policies, which simply had the effect of making it look like he was lying. The worst and most revealing moment of his performance occurred when a loud noise came from backstage. Romney glanced to the side for a moment. But Obama looked around, then flashed the audience a huge smile, as if he was ready to start joking again. The result was that Romney's negative vision, boldly and energetically and aggressively pressed all evening along, rolled forward like a bulldozer, unobstructed.

I've supported Obama since he first ran for president. I've attacked his adversaries, sometimes in the most impassioned terms. I've written scathingly about the appalling white racism that has crippled his presidency. So I feel I've earned the right to speak frankly about this man's character.

His admirers say that he's cool. I say his cool is actually a form of emotional paralysis caused by the feeling that he is not accepted, or loved. His admirers say that, like a star basketball player, he hangs back and waits until the last seconds of the game to make a shot from afar and win. I say that he is incapable of acting aggressively because, all his life, he has expected the white power structure to make everything right for him. Why should he have turned around to Romney and challenged him, personally and thrillingly, with the evidence that Romney was lying like a sociopath? Why run the risk of looking like an angry black man, when the powerful white people who have propelled you through your career will fix everything after the debate - in this case, the media and the people who orchestrate his ad campaign.

A famous philosophy professor at Princeton, who is black and who also happens to be an African prince, said to me one evening at a party where we were talking: "I'm afraid that Obama is a certain kind of black professional." Only a black man could say that in public; perhaps only an African prince could say that in public. But I am afraid that it's true. If Obama loses this election to a heartless, deceitful, empty fraud like Romney - the rotten fruit of the white power structure - then he never deserved to win in the first place.

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Lee Siegel

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