Last night’s debate probably says more about the lazy analytical temperament of the American media and public than it does about either of the two candidates. For those of you who demanded to see a more “aggressive” Obama, Keith Boykin has an interesting article offering several reasons why a more impassioned Obama would’ve been strategically superfluous so early on in the debate season. But it is incumbent upon the rest of us to remember Obama’s precarious role of inhabiting a Black body on the face of the mainstream media. Furthermore, we must challenge ourselves to evolve past these vague delineations of “aggressiveness” and “passivity,” that are fueled by the internalized expectations of a racist social order.
Sadly, it’s no secret that a candidate’s looks and likeability sometimes play a larger role in their electability than their platform. The impact of a candidate’s visual façade can be seen from as early on as the country’s first televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, when television audiences thought that the make-up clad Kennedy won in a landside against seeing the emaciated Nixon, in contrast to radio listeners who favored Nixon. Appearance matters, and it is painful to see Obama maintain a poised position against the lying, condescending, and invasive Romney.
But we must remember that much of the conservative strategy has been to caricaturize Obama into a divisive entity, despite the fact that at times he has agonizingly prioritized compromise even in the face of blunt and petty opposition. Opponents have used race mongering to reconstruct everything from Obama’s relatively innocuous comment on Trayvon Martin to his unarguably unifying “race” speech. Every aspect of Obama’s character, even his positive ones, is at the mercy of being appropriated by the needs of both the media and conservatives. So Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. We should be careful to remember that. Obama has no choice but to continuously take the high road.
Obama stuck to his guns, did call out Romney on his lies about his 5 trillion dollar tax cut and denial that he would cut education and Pell Grants, and did what he does best; remain immovable in the face of opposition. We must understand Obama’s crucial role as a Black man leading this country, not imposing these weak ideas of “aggression” when much of the American public admittedly might not be able to articulate the real bulk of his platform.
Obama has been derided as appearing too “professorial,” shame that we live in a country where that’s a bad thing.