“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.
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.