Capitol Report – Presidential disadvantage

By State Representative, Leon D. Young

Leon D. Young

If you were like millions of Americans that watched the first presidential debate,between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney,you probably were struck by the president’s lackluster performance. There had been considerable speculation as to how Romney would fare under the glare of the hot camera lights in facing an incumbent Chief Executive.

I would be the first to admit that Mr. Romney not only held his own; he actually outperformed the president in this first, head-to-head encounter. This raises an interesting question: Why was Barack Obama so subdued in a national debate that had so much importance in terms of voter perception?

Presidential history provides some intriguing insights into what has been called “incumbents opening debate syndrome.”

In the entire history of American politics, a seating president has only met a challenger in a televised national debate on five occasions before President Obama squared off against Romney, last week. Presidents seeking re-elections have often struggled in their first debate: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. Two of those wound up winning re-election anyway, while three lost.

Not to make any accuses, there are some legitimate reasons which might explain why incumbent presidents do poorly in their initial presidential debate appearance. First, challengers automatically gain stature by simply being on the same stage as the incumbent.

Second, presidents have a specific record to defend in debates. In Barack Obama’s case, the high unemployment rate, his signature Affordable Health Care Act (ObamaCare) and the soaring national debt are all potential land mines for this president and his administration. And thirdly, presidents have the added responsibility of governing the nation, which means more distractions and less time in which to prepare.

Predictably, Mr. Romney and the GOP were quick to declare that the former had cleaned the president’s clock during the debate. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh took it much further by making scurrilous comments that he [Barack Obama] was stupid, lazy and a mere benefactor of Affirmative Action.

In reality, Barack Obama is one of the most impressive and capable individuals to occupy the White House. However, with that being said, the president must do a far better job during his next two debates, if he wants a second-term in office.