Glum isn’t what people want in their president. And yet, that’s exactly how President Obama appeared Wednesday night in the first debate of his race against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Gone was the “hope and change” Obama, the inspirational leader who convinced a nation in 2008 that politics would change for the better if he were elected. In his place was a tentative counterpuncher who repeatedly passed up opportunities to slam Romney on his comments about the “47 percent” or his ties to Bain Capital.

Obama’s closing statement said it all. “Four years ago, I said that I’m not a perfect man and I wouldn’t be a perfect president,” he said. “And that’s probably a promise that Governor Romney thinks I’ve kept.”

Um, what was that? Did we just stumble into Bizarro World? Is up down? Does c-a-t spell “dog”?

If the president’s lack of rhetorical aggression had been his biggest problem, he wouldn’t have been that bad off. But it wasn’t. His body language — he stared down at his lectern when Romney spoke, and he smirked at things he disagreed with — conveyed a very simple message: I don’t want to be here.

Reasons others gave for Obama’s poor performance included that he was tired or that he doesn’t like to be challenged (who does?). Former vice president Al Gore posited that the president might have had trouble adjusting to the altitude in Denver(!). Whatever it was, Obama’s week got a bit brighter with the news Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September. But that can’t erase a forgettable debate performance with 70 million people watching.

President Obama, for acting mopey rather than hope-y, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail Chris Cillizza at

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