Conventional wisdom holds that Barack Obama “lost” in Denver because he lacked intensity. He brought his A-game to Hofstra this week. There’s still a problem.
That right there has to be the understatement of the year. Or century.
So came the moment late in the Hofstra debate when moderator Candy Crowley looked at Mr. Obama and asked: “Does the buck stop with your secretary of state as far as what went on here?”
Staring back, the president clutched for a second. He looked like a fourth-grader being confronted in front of the whole class by Miss Crowley of all our childhood nightmares. That moment revealed the problem: At the core of Barack Obama’s persona and his presidency is a constant instinct to deniability.
It’s not my fault. He comes across as one of those smart kids who always had some elaborate excuse to disperse responsibility for anything bad in his vicinity. And so it was in his answer to Miss Crowley: “Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But she works for me. I’m the president. And I’m always responsible. And that’s why nobody is more interested in…” By the end, he said it was Mitt Romney’s fault for bringing it up! In contrast, the bin Laden takedown was accompanied by a Lady Gaga-like White House P.R. blitz in the media.
In hindsight, an irony of the 2012 campaign will be that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney traded places on stepping up to the plate. A main criticism from the right of Mr. Romney had been that he was playing it too safe, saying next-to-nothing about much of anything, such as his tax returns, for fear the Obama camp or the press would criticize him. No exposure, no responsibility.
That flipped in Debate No. 1. Mitt Romney exploded out of his turtle shell—and Barack Obama disappeared into his.
And come November 6, we’re gonna throw his ass back into the pond.