Deflating the Bubble

“Deflating the bubble” might be a good metaphor for the last four years. Four years ago it was apparent that the bubble economy created by too many houses with too little value and too high a price and the financial assets founded on those houses and the belief that the increase in price would continue forever was beginning to deflate. Now two consecutive administrations, first a Republican administration, then a Democratic one, have devoted themselves to re-inflating that bubble or, at the very least, to slowing and controlling its deflation with the effect that the economy is in the doldrums, flat or slowly cratering.

President Obama has a bubble all of his own and it apparently began to deflate on Wednesday evening. Today Peggy Noonan remarked:

All the books being written about the 2012 race will tell us the background and circumstances of Mr. Obama’s surprising and deeply unimpressive performance. For now what can be said is this is how journalists described it in real time: passive, listless, effete, detached, flaccid, dull-brained, disengaged, professorial. The last is unjust. Professors are often interesting. When Mr. Romney gave him the sweet-faced “You’re a cute little shrimp” look, and he gave it to him all night, Mr. Obama couldn’t even look at him. When Mr. Obama stared down and nodded at his notes it looked, as someone observed in an email, like his impersonation of a bored wife. Everything he said—everything—was something you’d heard too many times. Mr. Romney gave the president some openings. The president didn’t take them. Why? It crossed my mind he was playing possum. But possums wake up at some point.

Mr. Obama’s likability numbers are about to go down. It’s going to be a reverse Sally Field: You don’t like me, you really don’t like me.

Those likeability numbers will go down for a reason more sustained than the debate. It is all but certain that the Obama campaign will now go after Gov. Romney hammer and tongs. The effect of negative campaign advertising is to raise the negatives of both candidates in the hope that your opponent will get dirtier in the mudslinging than you will. It’s a challenger’s tactic, not an incumbent’s.

If, as early indications suggest, the direction of the attack will be to portray Romney as untrustworthy that, too, has its hazards:

The downside of assertively presenting himself as American’s No. 1 truth-teller is that Obama will be called to account more ferociously in the final weeks of the campaign by the media, Republicans and the Romney campaign for anything and everything that is not transparent, accurate or clear in his administration. The specifics of Obama’s own economic plan and what he meant when he said Wednesday that he and Romney agree that Social Security should be “tweaked” are examples. How the administration guarded against and then described the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya, which killed the ambassador and three other Americans, are another.

The president must build the case for his re-election himself. He can’t rely on his professional staff or his supporters or the court eunuchs of the major media to do it for him. He also won’t do it by attacking Romney.

The president will double down. It is what he does. The question now is what he will double down with.


More in a similar vein from Paul Roderick Gregory:

This media template of Obama has not been tested by a primary challenge. The White House press corps treats him with the softest of gloves, does not challenge his press representatives, complains little of the lack of press conferences, and ignores inconvenient news items (such as the claim that our Libyan ambassador was killed by a spontaneous mob or the newly surfaced video of Obama singing the praises of Reverend Wright).

Orchids grow wild in Hawaii. Here in Chicago they’ll only flourish under controlled conditions, carefully nurtured.

And the editors of the Wall Street Journal:

The most instructive exchange came early, after Mr. Obama had already denounced Mr. Romney’s “central economic plan” for the third time. He repeated his lines from the stump about Mr. Romney’s $5 trillion tax cut for millionaires and billionaires that “dumps those costs on middle-class Americans” and raises their taxes by $2,000.

Mr. Romney has no such plan. Mr. Obama simply made it up, with an assist from one of his former economists and others at a liberal Washington think tank. Mr. Romney said as much categorically. He then added that Mr. Obama would continue to make the accusation, on the theory that incantation could make it true, “but that is not the case, all right?” and “I will not, under any circumstances, raise taxes on middle-income families.”

Mr. Obama was nonplused, perhaps because he had come to believe what he was saying in the bubble of his campaign rallies and unquestioned by the media. The best reply he could offer was that, “Well, for 18 months he’s been running on this tax plan. And now, five weeks before the election, he’s saying that his big, bold idea is ‘never mind.'” But for 18 months it has been Mr. Obama who has campaigned against a mirage of his own imagining. No wonder he was stumped.

IMO there’s a critical and fatal point in the lives of famous people when they start reading and believing their own press releases. Tertullian wrote that behind every Roman emperor there was a voice that warned him “Remember, you are a man.” Today the voices behind the great are all advising them that they are gods.

20 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw

    The media backlash from the debate is surprising to me, I didn’t think Obama did that poorly. I can only assume that the Media thinks Obama is a genius, mentally and verbally, and that Romney is an empty suit, who was simply born on third-base. Fallows had it right in his pre-debate article: Obama is not a good debator, he’s a good orator, which is a different skill set; he has not experienced any particularly challenging debates; and running as encumbant is more difficult than running as the challenger. On the other hand, Romney has shown himself to have a more wonkish streak then any Republican candidate I can remember. The media is probably over-valuing something which they self-identify with.

  • jan

    It’s both funny and frustrating to read these latest ruminations from the press, their disgruntlement over Obama’s performance, with a concomitant flailing around to find holes they can poke into his opponent’s performance. Sadly it seems more about the gamesmanship of a person and their campaign versus their competence, particular skill set, or honest portrayal of their themselves and their core philosophies.

  • TastyBits

    If the President’s performance was not intentional, it shows he is not as intelligent as they thought, but if it was intentional, they cannot understand the strategy. The White House is not providing a satisfactory answer.

    There is also a post defeat angst among President Obama supporters. I find it amusing to watch, but there is sufficient time for it to reverse. There is enough time for several reversals. The question is whether President Obama can reverse it, and they are struggling to determine the answer.

    Once they get over the shock, they will revert to form.

  • Icepick

    Obama’s performance was somewhere between “not that good” and “bad”, probably closer to “bad”. Romney’s was somewhere between “kind of good” and “good”, closer to “kind of good”. Romney left two openings for zingers, but the President was just too surly to notice. (Obama would make a bad chess player and a worse poker player with that kind of lack of control.) Like I’ve said, the big thing for Romney was to look like he could fill the role. That he did. People who might have been wavering on that point will not have that concern.

    OTOH, if Romney were the incumbent and Obama the challenger, Obama would have real problems after that performance. People would definitely wonder if he could fill the role. However, he’s already got that role, and most people have already made up their minds on his performance.

    Apparently ratings were WAY up this time from four years ago. I don’t think that bodes well for Obama. If people were set on voting for him they would be less inclined to watch some boring faux debate.

    Bumper Sticker Update: Saw two cars with Obama stickers today (one in the parking lot of Sea World and one (finally!) in Pine Hills) and one for the other guy. I say other guy because the bumper stickers were for Romney or Romney/Ryan (one of the O BSs was for O/Biden), but for MITT. They had several on the back and side of their SUV. They also had several other BSs for other Republicans running here in Florida, so they were definitely for Romney and not some other purpose. That’s the first time I’ve seen anything indicating affection for the candidate. Romney may finally be getting some support FOR himself, as opposed to votes AGAINST Obama.

    Still, way fewer bumper stickers than 2008.

    I hope to make it to neighborhoods with yard signs this weekend. We’ll see. (Getting the daughter to see the dolphins today and then home for a nap took much higher priority than half-assed reporting about the campaign!)

  • Apparently ratings were WAY up this time from four years ago. I don’t think that bodes well for Obama. If people were set on voting for him they would be less inclined to watch some boring faux debate.

    Interesting point, I tend to agree. People who either know who they are going to vote for or aren’t going to vote (e.g. me) wont watch. That more people are watching shows that they are interested in how Romney will do…i.e. they are at the very least considering trading Obama in….

  • Icepick

    Steve, if my wife hadn’t gotten so tired watching the debate last night I think Romney might have won her vote – she really doesn’t want Obama in office for four more years. (We’re dealing with a new phase in toddlerdom. Our daughter realized she could climb out of her crib the other day without any problems. She’s been capable of it for a while now, but it hadn’t occurred to her before. But it is adding to the stress around the house until our daughter learns to stay in bed. So she was too tired for 90 minutes.)

    Hell, if I didn’t know as much as I do and wasn’t as cynical as I am he might have won mine, too. It was a good performance. But my wife and I are the people that could be easily swayed towards voting Republican, for various reasons. (If the R’s would lay off the social issues they’d get her for sure. I demand some actual small government performance, goddamnit.) I have no idea how it would play with centrists, and leftists just don’t care. (Just like the rightists wouldn’t care if Obama had the all-time greatest debate performance ever.)

  • Icepick

    But I just had a realization about all the excuse-making for Obama. The day before Bush’s first debate with Kerry he was in Florida handing out water with his brother for hurricane relief, amongst other things. (That was the year we had four major hurricanes hit in four weeks. Jeb really handled everything extra-ordinarily well.) Did Bush get a pass for his weak performance against Kerry the next night?

  • jan

    The ratings in 2008 were around 52 million. The ones the other night were finally nailed down to around 70 million. However, it could have been even more, as internet streaming can’t be measured. Also, those who listened to it on the radio were also out of the tally. So, there is speculation that the actual number could have even been close to the one achieved by Reagan and Carter’s high water mark of 80 million, back in 1980.

    Whatever boost Romney got, though, is being rapidly tainted and trashed by the dems as they are busy charging him with ‘cheat’ notes, calling him a liar, re-inserting the 5 trillion tax increase claim, aiming it at the middle class, chortling over and chiding his debate performance as being bogus — it’s all razor blade politics, void of any substance touting Obama’s own record or discussing his own ideas and thoughts for this country’s future. When their ira is not concentrated at their opponent then they turn on Jim Lehrer, or explain Obama’s poor showing for the high altitude or the format itself, saying the president is more used to talking in the long form rather than succinct answers. But, there is absolutely no self-reflection, only massive deflection.

    BTW, I’ve been wondering where that 5 trillion tax increase line was being extrapolated from. Apparently they are doing their own math on those 20% across the board cuts to the tax margins, turning the supposed revenue amount lost by the government as a numerically derived net burden of trillions on the middle class. However, none of the other aspects of Romney’s tax plan were included in their calculations — deductions, potential new job creation generating new alternative revenue (other than from more taxes). In the meantime Obama, in his preacher-like cadence, is throwing out made-up figures, treating them like the personification of facts…

  • jan

    Our daughter realized she could climb out of her crib the other day without any problems.

    I remember when that phase came upon us with our son. We were taken by surprise. That day we actually strapped him in his car seat (in the house) for a short time, and, in a parent huddle, set about devising a strategic plan of toddler containment — which also didn’t work.

  • Icepick

    jan, I was surprised and I wasn’t. I had know for many months that she could probably manage it if she set her mind to it (she was climbing up eight foot tall “rock” climbs at the playground when she was about 21 months old, she’s now 28 months), and for the last two months I knew she could probably do it without even taking a fall. But she hadn’t. And then Tuesday or Wednesday I put her down for a nap, and out she walked fifteen minutes later. I had even had the monitor on and didn’t hear her climb out – she’s smooth.

    Anyway, we’ve given up on physical containment in the house. She’s just too athletic and willful – anything short of chaining her to a wall (dungeon-style) isn’t going to work. So the discipline part of the program is ramping up considerably. I’m going to pretend this is going to work because the alternatives are too depressing! I’ve managed to fight her to a draw the last couple of days in the contest of wills. The weekend should give me a little respite as I can bring my wife in for reinforcements. I’m just hoping this doesn’t turn into the Siege of Stalingrad.

  • Icepick

    Hey, Obama’s reviews aren’t really that bad. Lady Gaga’s parents have a new restaurant in NYC. Probably because LG is so famous it is getting reviews from the food critics. It has been described as
    “the worst thing since herpes.” So there’s that!

  • TastyBits


    The Obama folks are scared, very scared. They are trying to convince themselves that President Obama will win. Notice how OTB has stopped the posts about the polls showing an Obama win.

    Romney can only be tainted by Mitt Romney and the Republicans. The voters he needs are not interested in the Republican positions on social issues, and anything they say will be attributed to Romney. Everytime Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, or any other Republican loudmouth brings up social issues, Romney loses votes.

  • jan


    I am having so many smiles reading about your daughter exercizing her exploration rights. Like I said before, this was not only a surprise for us, but took on a trial and error atmosphere, in trying to figure out how to manage the daily challenges of a mobile and curious toddler.

    After putting up one safety gate, our son just climbed over it. So, we put a second one above it, doubling the height. Our son stood behind these gates and just smiled at us. We instantly felt so foolish, realizing while he couldn’t get out, we also couldn’t get in.
    Both gates were imediately dispensed with, and we just begin to flow with it more, and our son lived to see each day.

  • jan


    I certainly think that Obama and his team were taken aback by the debate. They were prepared for a stick figure, the one they created themselves from some of their ad copy and constant stream of rhetoric which was put out there to define Romney. But instead of a stiff, weathy unfeeling, superficial, awkward man, Obama faced a confident, well-informed, warm, penetrating, on his game opponent. Who knew?

  • Icepick

    Everytime Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, or any other Republican loudmouth brings up social issues, Romney loses votes.

    My wife has pretty much decided to vote for Romney, she tells me. But if the Hannity-Coulter-Ingrahams of the party keep shooting off their mouths if could cause her to have second thoughts.

  • Icepick

    jan, you probably just saved me the expense of buying a gate! Thanks!

  • jan


    Hannity, Coulter, Ingraham don’t run the country. They just run their mouths and comment on the country. From the get-go I’ve felt Romney has his own moral compass which involves deep family and church ties. But, he hasn’t really gotten out there and championed all the social issues. His skill set is management, negotiating, collaboration, numbers, and so on. And, it is these attributes, interests and experience that he is touting and running on. So, judge him on that and not on any media on the sidelines.

  • jan


    The only place that really might need such a gate is a tricky staircase. Even there, toddlers easily master stairs by doing the butt slide. The best precautions, though, a parent can take is putting anything toxic, sharp, fragile/breakable or dangerous away, out of sight and reach.

    When you’re going through this phase one sometimes wonders why the child mortality rate is not higher, and how so many children manage to grow up into adulthood. But, eventually you see that kids are pretty resilient. And, many of their dare-devil activities are ironically done in the presence of an adult — sort of like a shock jock who looks behind them to be sure the safety net parent is there in case their escapade runs into trouble and needs a plan B.

  • Icepick

    jan, we don’t have any stair cases. But even if we did she runs up and down them at full speed. She’s utterly fearless, which is terrifying for us!

  • jan


    Maybe you have a future track star in your midst!

    However, I would rather have a fearless, confident child than one who was timid and lacked a sense of self or spirit. So, IMO, as terrifying as it might be, you are nevertheless fortunate to have such an energetic young one!

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