Does Obama really want to get re-elected?

Kevin Baker writes: The president seemed unable to concentrate or focus throughout the debate, mouthing occasional numbers and assorted caveats to points he could never really complete. When it came to the issues, he offhandedly conceded much of the Republican worldview, something he is now apt to do at anytime, without warning.

What caused the financial crisis? Well, it had something to do with the banks. But Obama also had to admit it was poor people “who took out home mortgages they couldn’t afford.”

Physically, he looked shamefaced, even guilty. Whenever Romney made some point, he would drop his head, purse his lips, and nod, like a prisoner in the dock admitting to some shabby crime.

There is no reasonable explanation — no acceptable explanation — for such a performance.

We will get one, of course. We always do. Michael Dukakis had a cold for his big debate, and besides he was afraid that his wife couldn’t stand the mental strain of being First Lady. Al Gore never really wanted the political career that his father pressured him into. Etc., etc., etc. Barack Obama has repeatedly informed us that he hates living in the White House and can’t wait to be an ex-president.

Yet all of these personalized, psychological apologetics merely underscore the essential disconnect between the leadership of the Democratic party and its base. The leadership is now filled almost exclusively with careerists, who have no real goals they want to accomplish beyond their own advancement, and who actively don’t want to pursue any of the liberal ideas they pretend to support.

They don’t sound like they believe what they’re saying . . . because they don’t believe what they’re saying.

Neither does Mitt Romney, but he was able to put on a convincing act last night, visibly gaining confidence and command with each sally. By the end of the night, he seemed to have channeled not only Ronald Reagan’s genial manner and poise but even his voice.

Romney and his advisers displayed a sleight-of-hand beyond anything I thought them capable of. In Romney’s reach back toward the center in the debate, he had to lie almost incessantly, breezily denying most of the things he has been advocating in almost two years of campaigning. And it didn’t help Obama that Jim Lehrer looked as if he was up well past his bedtime, barely able to keep track of the debate much less effectively monitor it.

Obama had a perfect opportunity to impose his own agenda on last night’s debate. He could and should have made the entire evening a debate on Romney’s shocking contention that nearly half the country is made up of “victims and dependents,” mooching off the rest of us simply because they are not currently paying federal income taxes.

Romney did not want this made public, but he has not denied that he believes it, admitting only that he expressed himself badly. Could there possibly be any better setup? Obama could have turned the whole evening into a seminar on just how radical and bizarre Republican thinking has become. All of Romney’s attempts to obfuscate and lie about the figures of his fantastical schemes for balancing the budget could have been easily bulldozed.

A real president, a president of the professional ability that Democrats used to elect routinely, could have managed such a feat while simultaneously threatening the mullahs of Tehran into submission and making a condolence call to a sick child.

Instead, Obama signaled that he wants out. His diehard supporters are already trying to wave away this weirdly awful, unengaged performance as just his latest turn of Zen mastery, but that dog won’t hunt. They should steel themselves for more shocking displays of indifference over the next month on the part of this strangely diffident individual. It’s quite possible that he means what he says, and he really can’t wait to become an ex-president.

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