Having live blogged the debate last night and given up to the minute reactions to every twist and turn, I don't think the gravitas of Obama's performance sunk in until this morning. My immediate reaction was that Obama completely dominated Romney in every single way turning in probably the best debate performance I've seen from him. But upon reflection, Obama's performance was more than dominating - it was lethal.
The controlled aggression he unleashed on Romney was worthy of an elite prize fighter. As a former boxing journalist, I've spent countless hours analyzing how great fighters operate. The very best are experts at dictating the pace and rhythm of a fight, knowing when to be aggressive, when to back off, and when to go in for the finish. Great fighters are experts at taking calculated risks, never boxing wildly but always looking to assert themselves. Obama did just that against Romney last night, countering his persistent lying at every opportunity then forcing him on the back foot with his own carefully planned assaults.
Politics, whether we like it or not, is a game. The side the public sees has little to do with the what goes on behind closed doors, and with the emergence of the modern media system, the game has become ever more important. This aspect of politics is, in a wider context, repulsive. It distracts, misleads and subverts making informed decisions at the voting booths close to impossible.
But that is the reality we are confronted with, and the game goes on with or without us.
I've made this argument countless times before - that President Obama is about the most effective politician the Left has when it comes to achieving actual political victories around. He understands the game, despises it, yet knows exactly how to play it.
Trying to understand exactly what was going through the President's mind during the first debate is next to impossible. Whatever it was, Obama messed up so severely his poll numbers began to free fall, while Romney's sky rocketed. But like all great fighters, he came back and did to Romney what was done to him.
Previous to Obama's meltdown two weeks ago, the Democrats had effectively boxed Romney into a never ending maze of his own lies and blunders. The Obama team simply let Romney talk, then took his own words and threw them back in his face. Romney's campaign was so pathetic it made Sarah Palin's run at the Vice Presidency look like a tightly run military campaign. And then the first debate happened and the image of Romney as an out of touch elite was suddenly transferred onto the President.
To reverse the damage, Obama had to go back to the original strategy that had worked so well - let Romney run against his own words and get him back into the maze of his own making. And that is what the President did all night long. As Gary Younge summarized:
Clearer, sharper, more decisive and passionate, he challenged Mitt Romney on the facts and rhetorically he overwhelmed him. It was a rout every bit as conclusive as the first debate. Only this time the victor was Obama. Last time he barely showed up; tonight he showed Romney up.Self-assured without being too cocky, focused without being too wonkish, he managed to strike the right balance between being firm with Romney and empathetic with the questioners.
Great fighters have the ability to use their opponent's strengths against them. When a good fighter gets in with a great, they find themselves missing by millimeters and playing catch up all night long. Here's what Patrick Cote said about fighting Anderson Silva, the Brazilian phenom generally regarded as the greatest Mixed Martial Arts fighter in history:
It's hard to explain how to fight him because if you go forward, he's behind you. You try to hit him, and he's not there. It's very, very weird. It's hard to hit him very clean with a very powerful shot. That's why it's hard to punch him very, very hard, because he's moving so fast and he's playing with the angles very, very well....I would stay on my game plan, but that was very, very hard for me because I like to go forward. I like to push the pace, but at the time, I knew that was exactly what he wanted."
If Romney is honest with himself, he would admit to feeling the same way. Everything he tried was countered, and them more aggressive he got the worse the beating became. Romney brought his 'A' game last night, but he was in there with a great and it just wasn't enough.
The after effects of the debate will take a few days to settle in, but Obama brought Romney back down to earth after his lucky punch performance in the first debate and exposed Romney for who he is - a disingenuous hack who has no business running for the Presidency of the United States.