The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 15, 2012

John Sullivan, guest columnist: Obama must move past mulligan in first debate

By John Sullivan
Special to The Globe

PITTSBURG, Kan. — The presidential campaign has suddenly been gripped by Big Bird fever. Hopefully, it is a non-fatal, passing affliction, because there is lots more at stake this year than the survival of Public Broadcasting. The future of the health care needs of the 47 percent of our less affluent citizens hangs in the balance. The future of Social Security; the future of Medicare; the future direction of the United States Supreme Court; these all hang in the balance, too.

It’s not enough to ignore your opponent when he is on stage with you, then castigate him on the campaign trail the next day. President Obama has to fight for what he believes in. He needs to confront Mitt Romney with his own mendacity. Hubris is a fatal affliction for politicians, and Obama has to shake his hubristic bubble and show Americans that he wants to renew his lease on the Oval Office.

Starting out the first debate by admitting that he would rather have been somewhere else on his wedding anniversary was not only shooting himself in the foot, it was a clear admission that he may be suffering from lack-of-fire-in-the-belly syndrome, which may prove fatal if left untreated. He has to realize he can’t speechify his way to a second term, nor can he teleprompt his way back to political hegemony.

Obama has to Trumanize himself. He has to exorcise the demons of another Illinois politician, Adlai Stevenson, who he seems to harbor in his inner psyche. Stevenson was often more right than wrong, and he was an excellent lecturer. But he just couldn’t win national elections.

Obama has to understand, in his core being, that the bloom is off the rose, and he has to fight to get it back. The debate flop was only a reminder to his support base that this is not the first time he has caved to a Republican. He did it when he abandoned the public option in the health care debate, and we wound up with “Obamacare”, which he has been too often recalcitrant to full-throatedly defend. He caved to Republicans by renewing the Bush tax cuts, and had to cave again to get the debt ceiling lifted. He has to find his internal Rubicon River and throw down the gauntlet to his Republican opposition, drawing a firm line in the sand.

Fortunately, Obama has another chance to do so in the second presidential debate. Failure to do so could be fatal. All eyes will be on the Long Island lollapalooza of political debates on Oct. 16.

He had better be ready — no going off to visit Jones Beach during his debate preparation time. The Hoover Dam visit was a symptom of hubris, and any diversion from his need to focus and stand ground in the debate could be fatal next time. It’s time for him to call out his opponent’s phoniness and flip floppery

You have had your mulligan, Mr. President. Stand firm, tee off and aim directly for the pin.

John T. Sullivan Jr. lives in Pittsburg, Kan.