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TheRootDC
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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 10/05/2012

Bell on Barack: Professor Obama came to Wednesday’s debate instead of Candidate Obama


President Barack Obama participates during a debate with the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (Andrew Harrer - BLOOMBERG)
W. Kamau Bell is a comedian, activist and star of his own show on FX, “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.” He writes a weekly column analyzing President Obama’s actions, words and thoughts leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election.

In the immortal words of Alec Baldwin’s character, movie star Bob Barrenger in the comedy “State and Main,”:

“So that happened.”

Barrenger says that after extricating himself from a car that he has flipped several times and ending up in the middle of a street because he was too drunk and too distracted by the underage girl next to him to drive. It is a line that Baldwin delivers matter-of-factly and without accepting blame, and while sort of also knowing everything will ultimately be okay. I can imagine President Obama saying that when he walked backstage after his debate with Mitt Romney on Wednesday night.

“So that happened.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that President Obama totally lost the debate. At least not in my opinion. And he is nowhere near in the trouble that Bob Barrenger was in in “State and Main.” But they both have had a surprising setback.

Although we do need to develop a unified scoring method for debates, so we can all agree on a winner. This is especially true if cable news is going to continue to promote it like it is the Super Bowl. And at the very least could we get some fancy commercials? At several points during Wednesday’s wonk-fest I could have used a break and watched 30 seconds of a talking dog selling me Doritos or Brad Pitt awkwardly selling me beer.

It’s not that Obama did not win, but Romney certainly did not lose, which kind of means that Romney kind of won. Expectations of Romney were so low (as set by him and his team), and expectations of Obama were so high (as set by, well, me) that when the two of them met in the middle at the debate, it seemed like a big loss for the president. And I know there are any number of facts that are in dispute that Romney sneered from his mouth, but debates aren’t for the fact checkers. They are for the people who decide on who to vote for based on a feeling. And last night the feeling was that Obama was annoyed that he had to be there because he is still the president and there is still some president-ing to be done. President Obama couldn’t even deign to look his opponent in the eye, and Romney couldn’t wait to show how much he had studied. Brownface became brown nose.

The problem is that President Obama is like a Swiss army knife. And last night he used the wrong tool for the job. He pulled out Professor Obama instead of Candidate Obama.

Candidate Obama is funny and charismatic. Professor Obama is serious and honestly kind of a bummer. And the few times he tried to be funny it was futile. Apparently the organizers ordered the audience not to laugh, unless it was at moderator Jim Lehrer. And President Obama never mentioned 47 percent. I kept hoping that he was keeping it in his back pocket the way you hold onto power-ups in video games, but he was not, because Professor Obama does not use rhetoric; he uses facts — boring, dull facts. However, I know President Obama knows he can do better. And I know he knows he has two more opportunities to do so.

But until then, yup, President Obama. That happened.

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By W. Kamau Bell  |  08:00 AM ET, 10/05/2012

 
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