UPDATE: After the third debate, there is little doubt about the president's capacity, intellect, integrity, endurance and competence, not only as "speech-maker" but also as the one who defines legitimate, measured and balanced "leadership" especially when compared with his Republican opponent.
Obama "showed up" in both debates numbers two and three, bested his opponent on consistency, dependability and credibility, three of the most needed qualities in a national leader in the twenty-first century, buffeted as it is by economic, military and cyber-security issues and the over-riding conundrums of income inequality and environmental degradation.
Working for all Americans, as compared with his opponent who threw 47% under the bus in his private self-disclosure at a fund-raiser in Florida, a few months ago, Obama has earned a second term, and American voters are in the radar of all people of the world, looking for them to re-elect their president, as the one best suited to lead the country through the shoals and the whirlpools of the next four years.
Sometimes, a theory just bubbles up in our minds, and sometimes we need to share it with others, for no other reason than we wonder if it has merit.
So here goes my "theory" raised as a "thought flag" up the totem pole of public consciousness.
There is this guy living in the White House, with his wife and daughters, who has, in all the previous chapters of his life, "exceeded expectations." Even, by his own admission, his story is improbable, unlikely and, because he is a patriot, 'could only happen in the United States'. He has struggled with his identity, his absent parents, his ethnic cocktail, his evolving names in search of his identity, his many 'homes' and his addiction to cigarettes.
In the face of all that, he has graduated from both Columbia (International Relations) and Harvard Law (while being the first black to serve as President of the Harvard Law Review).
He married his mentor at the law firm where he served an internship, (breaking the corporate 'rules' and her resistance), rejected a lucrative career in corporate law for "community building" on the south side of Chicago where the 'third world' eked out a meagre existence and where the 'audacity of hope' was, perhaps, the only luxury those people could afford.
He was identified as 'one of the brightest minds' to have passed through Harvard Law, by professors whose range of comparatives was and is extensive, so there has to be something to such a characterization. As a liberal, he has appointed 'conservatives' to both his Cabinet, and before that, to senior positions on the Law Review, over aspiring and expecting liberal black candidates.
He has raised expectations among the black community, as the first black president (after the first 'first black president,' Clinton) so high that it will be a century before they calm down, to something akin to normalcy given the length and breadth of their struggles for equality, respect and hope they can trust.
He has, in both Cairo and Berlin, elevated the discourse on the world stage, with speeches that soared into the stratosphere of both public acclaim and critical thought with his stylistic concertos of rhetoric.
He does transcend the banality of the ordinary, in ways that even he probably does not comprehend, only walking in ordinary shoes while wearing ordinary fabrics, eating ordinary food and composing thoughts in ordinary words, often arranged extraordinarily fluently and even on occasion poetically.
He plays "pick-up basketball" with former college and professional players, without ever having been on teams at either level. He screams at team-mates who throw up an "air ball" in an ineffectual attempt to score, even when he knows that the object of his intensity has never played before. So, having performed rather predictably and professionally in all his other public performances, why then, in the first debate of the four in this presidential campaign, three between presidential candidates, and one between vice-presidential candidates, did he have such an "off-night"?
While there are many theories that attempt to explain his "dull" performance, including professional and occupational fatigue (certainly credible), and disdain for both the process and his opponent as inauthentic, and detachment from the rigour of detailed preparation and memorization of "talking points," there is, I speculate, another way of looking at this question.
Hold onto your skepticism for a few moments, please, and come with me on this.
If will only take a few moments.
You see, it seems to me that this man sees both the picture painted on the front pages of the dailies, digitized on our television screens, surfing the web on the blogosphere, and also the picture being "dug from the archives" in the many university graduate theses being conducted. His perspective, for whatever multiples of reasons, includes an acute eye and ear for the moment and for the next week, and the next month, and the next year, and the next century and perhaps even beyond.
This man, it appears, has what we might call a transcendental perspective, in a world inhabited, especially in Washington, by drones, like this scribe, who obsess over the nuances of every word, and every body gesture and every sound-byte, as if they really mattered in the length of eternity. Having morphed the public consciousness into a pale imitation of the Wall Street digital crawl of the latest movements, in nano-seconds, of the latest jerks and jumps, slides and falls of stocks, bonds, mutuals and derivatives and their winners and losers, now we have duplicated such micro-fixation in the political program.
But, we have forgotten that leaders worthy of the name, both cannot afford and are unwilling to drown in that whirlpool of micro-data. Let's move the camera back a little from our obsessions, and our panics and our coverage of what we all hope with be another photo-finish, bringing us all to our feet in both exhilaration and exhaustion at the final result on November 6.
Knowing that there are four debates, and that he will have to prepare and perform in three, any good basketball coach knows both the structure of the game and the tournament. And this man is nothing if not a student of the game, both the game of basketball and of politics. He knows and considers fully, the implications of his "going first" to be followed by his vice-president in debate number two. He also knows that, for him to "blow his opponent off the court" in the first debate, would deflate the interest and the coverage, the fundraising and the drama to that of a tire just having tripped over a spike on the road of this adventure. He knows that Biden has both energy and enthusiasm, and will have considerable pressure in confronting his eager-beaver policy-wonk opponent, Ryan, especially if, after the first debate, he leaves the front pages welping, "Can Biden live up to Obama?" He also knows that the game is won or lost, in most instances that leave a lasting memory, in the last quarter, perhaps even in the last two or three minutes. As long as the game is close, and "our team" still has energy, legs and stamina superior to the opponent, we can and will win it going away, with our superior planning and superb execution.
Confident that he can and will defeat his opponent in debates numbers two and three, and that the race is still close enough to maintain heightened interest and growing enthusiasm among the base, and growing interest and participation among the independents, and that his own energy, preparation and resolve, not to mention his competitive instincts and spirit, are best deployed when the stakes are at their peak, in the final two debates, then holding back in debate number one seems an especially effective, deliberate, professional and a strategical and tactical "good decision" in terms of advantage going home.
It gives Biden a clear and open opportunity to "look better by performing better than the boss" and garner public support for the cause through the empathy and enthusiasm and combativeness of the veep. It holds back the unleashing of the full range of both muscle and brain, not to mention "leadership" (as different from salesmanship) in the final two debates. It will demand a full-throated, fully committed and fully historic performance in both of the final debates, on the part of the president, but then, after all, that's what being president is all about, isn't it?
And in order for that to happen, raising the expectations in debate number one would be clearly counter-intuitive to the "game plan" and to the overall success of the campaign, and securing a second term in that historic White House.
As this theory holds, we are not dealing with what we might call an ordinary figure, on an ordinary/normal/calm/predictable stage. No one knows how turbulent are the conditions internationally, economically, and how deep are the fears at home, making this campaign an extremely close, turbulent and unpredictable competition better than this candidate. And no one knows the depth of both his commitment and his capacity to reconnoitre, to plan, to strategize and to execute better than he does, with the possible exception of Michelle!
It may sound a little patronizing, detached, and a trifle arrogant as a theory, of one who can and does see beyond the headlines and the chattering heads, and the numbers of the second-by-second polls, and the capacity of his opponent to both prepare and to execute. Rather, this theory is based, not on a patronizing attitude of the president to the task, both inside the Oval Office, and outside in the competition to return for a second term, but on deep, abiding and trustworthy instincts for both survival and success, including a mountain of an intellect, a large hill of self-confidence, and a deep and wide river of spirit and imagination within this man that have served him and his country well, exceptionally well in fact, for the last four years, and could, if offered the chance, serve for another four years, deo volente!
History often remarks that the times bring forth the leaders we need. Clearly this is a time for a leader who sees beyond the surface, sees into the life of the multiple complexities in each file and who understands both his place and the appropriate place of and for his nation on the world stage, and who is prepared to "fight" for both the chance to lead and the challenge to confront the profound and unresolved issues of the next four years. This is not a man pursuing narrow "profit margins" on a balance sheet, but rather historic shifts on behalf of those without a voice among whose number he counts himself, and never lets himself forget or deny that reality.