The outcome of the debate between Obama and Romney had less to do with any extraordinary qualities possessed by Mitt Romney than with the purely ordinary qualities of Barack Obama. No matter how much Team Obama tried to warn the media faithful against any enthusiasm, the expectations were high and remained high until the Chicago Messiah began to speak. And then there was nothing.
Obama did not blatantly fail. He didn’t forget the number of states or stand there stammering for five minutes before throwing a chair and storming off the stage. That would have been extraordinary. Instead his performance was ordinary, a bland heavily rehearsed stew of big government talking points with nothing behind them. It lacked confidence and inspired no confidence.
Romney did not come to the debate and deliver a brilliant performance. The former Massachusetts governor is not Ronald Reagan. He was just qualified and that word is more damning than any other because it highlights Obama’s incompetence. His debate performance was the work of a professional politician who prepped for it, as he preps for everything.
Mitt had spent most of his life talking to people and trying to convince them of various things, religious, economic or political. His way of doing that is through methodical preparation for a presentation that convinces people of whatever he is trying to sell them on. He’s not particularly charismatic, but he is qualified. And qualification means working to exceed the standards of your chosen profession.
Obama has spent most of his life convincing people that he is qualified for things that he isn’t qualified for. He has faked his biography a disturbing number of times, padded out his resume and leaped from position to position until he became the living embodiment of the Peter Principle. He doesn’t work for things, but skates by on doing the least amount of work possible. When he falls behind, then he quickly tries to get up to speed and dives in while hoping that no one notices.
That is what happened at the debate where Obama gave the kind of performance you would expect from an Illinois Congressman, which is the job that he should have had about now. And had he been running for that position, few would have questioned his abilities or qualifications. But it’s not an acceptable performance from a presidential candidate.
Romney is a qualified professional. Obama is a talented amateur. None of that is really new. What is new is the product comparison that the debate made possible.
We’ve all seen ridiculous trends take off, bad art, bad music and bad writing. The power of such trends is that they exist in isolation. They are either so different as to be presented as incomparable or comparison is carefully avoided. A legendary image is manufactured for their creators. They are iconized and elevated to a unique stature so that no one can possibly judge their worth by a real world metric.
The iconization of Obama elevated an ordinary ambitious junior machine pol with a funky bio to the status of a deity. And it was done by singling him out, by treating him as a unique incomparable quantity, a force of history, a living embodiment of poetry, a racial healer and a thousand other empty titles. All of those were meant to avoid comparing Obama with anything else, except the occasional iconic dead president.
On stage at the debate, Obama did not seem unique. He seemed like a shorter surlier version of the icon, a politician blathering endlessly about the things that politicians bleat on about, promises, jokes that seemed witty on paper at 1 AM, long defensive ramblings about his record. He didn’t lose by losing, he lost by destroying his own iconography.
Suddenly Obama could be compared to another human being. Suddenly he was standing next to that human being and fumbling with his lines and looking withered. Suddenly he was not a trend, an icon, a glorious new future, but only human. Suddenly there was nothing special about him at all.
Every rock star, every shiny new writer, every bright new thing hits that moment of unspecialness sooner or later, because specialness can only be sustained in isolation. It requires faith and denial that begins to fall apart when the special thing can be compared to the work of its peers and is found wanting. And then what seemed like genius becomes only a resonance, an echo that people wanted to believe in because they were bored or hopeless and wanted something new and special to save them.