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President Obama should be sharper than this

I hope I end up feeling better after the next two presidential debates. I'm uncomfortable about the one Wednesday night in Denver.

What's worrying me is not what the candidates said about their positions. It bothers me only a little that moderator Jim Lehrer couldn't control the stage and was repeatedly pushed aside by two men with universe-sized egos.

No, what really has me troubled is President Barack Obama. I may be asking too much, but I want the Leader of the Free World to be on top of his game, if not 24 hours a day 365 days a year, at least when the stakes are high. I didn't see that from Obama on Wednesday night, and the stakes were high.

I'm not saying I wanted him to win the debate. I wanted the Texas Rangers to win their game earlier in the day against the Oakland A's (I sure didn't get that wish), but the presidential debate is a way-different game.

I do not want the president of the United States to be as slow-witted as Obama seemed to be. The TV commentators and printed-page pundits pretty much agreed that Republican nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney beat Obama, not so much on substantive issues but on the way he handled himself onstage.

Professor Obama showed up for the debate at the University of Denver, not President Obama and certainly not the Obama who ran for president four years ago. The 2008 Obama was more nimble, more inspired, more confident.

Certainly, clear policy differences between Obama and Romney came out in the debate.

Obama says Romney's tax cut plan would cost $5 trillion (later news media analysis showed that to be over a 10-year timeframe) and can't be made up by reducing deductions and tax credits. Romney says it's not that much, and it can.

Romney says he's "concerned about the direction America has been taking over the last four years," that he'll "keep America strong" militarily and "get America's middle class working again."

Obama says his goal has been "giving ladders of opportunity to the middle class," that military leaders have not asked for Romney's spending increases, and his "faith and confidence in the American future is undiminished."

Both say they'll push for energy production and for education advancements. Romney criticizes Obama for spending on development of alternative energy sources and says he'll put that money into drilling. Obama says he wants to hire 100,000 more math and science teachers and Romney doesn't.

Romney favors private school vouchers and Obama doesn't. Romney favors Medicare vouchers and Obama doesn't. Obama likes Obamacare and Romney doesn't.

The debate put those policy differences in the spotlight, even if the candidates themselves haven't made their positions fully clear.

But my disappointment still nags at me. I hope Obama isn't this emotionless and uninspiring when he meets behind closed doors with foreign leaders, discussing world crises like Iran's nuclear weapons program or anti-American uprisings among militant Muslims.

Garance Franke-Ruta, a senior editor at The Atlantic, speculates that the office may be taking its toll on the president. (

"It's a long way from being a community organizer, civil-rights lawyer and anti-war state senator to running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that's led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat," Franke-Ruta wrote.

"His supporters keep wanting Obama to be who he was in 2008. But that's not who he is anymore."

Supporter or not, you have to hope that the president is a sharp person. Maybe he will be in the next debate.

Mike Norman is editorial director of the Star-Telegram / Arlington and Northeast Tarrant County.


Twitter: @mnorman9

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