The first presidential debate of 2012 is now behind us.
And Republican challenger Mitt Romney won it handily.
No one challenges this verdict. Even President Obama’s most ardent supporters concede it by way of the truly laughable excuses to which they’ve resorted in accounting for the decisive drubbing that their candidate received.
But while the conventional wisdom concerning the victor is sound enough, the conventional wisdom concerning the debate’s loser is not so much.
Obama, we are told, was “off his game.” From Denver’s altitude to personal family issues, every conceivable rationale has been offered by the President’s admirers to explain how or why he was “off his game.”
No explanation is necessary, however, because there is nothing to explain: Obama was not off his game.
The Obama who arrived for his showdown with Romney is the same Obama that we have been seeing for the last four to five years, the Obama who clashed with and defeated John McCain in 2008. He was cool and collected. He spoke reasonably well. He smirked and didn’t spare the occasion to look down his nose at his rival a time or two. He threw out the same sound bites to which the country has had the great misfortune of being subjected for what now seems like an eternity.
Things like the widely accepted notion that Obama’s heart didn’t join the rest of his body in Denver are what happen when illusion and reality clash.
The illusion is what we may call “the Messianic syndrome” (TMS). Obama suffers from TMS, it is true, but so do his supporters.
Jesus’ closest disciples came to recognize Him as the Messiah before He was arrested, tried, and crucified. Yet upon witnessing His Passion, they lost faith. From the debris of their shattered messianic expectations doubt and even despair took flight. It took the Resurrection to resurrect their belief in Jesus’ true identity.
Obama’s disciples have also had messianic expectations for their leader to fulfill. In part this is because Obama himself has done everything to give rise to those expectations. Yet it is also partially owing to the fact that his followers—particularly his followers in the media—have been just as diligent in creating those expectations as has Obama himself.
The problem, though, is that Obama and his accomplices in the media have been laboring away at this enterprise for so long that they have actually come to believe their own hype. Obama, they are convinced, truly is the Messiah. Because of this, he deserves to be recognized as such by everyone—including his opponents.
Messiahs are supposed to be bottomless fonts of wisdom and virtue. Messiahs are supposed to be more intelligent than everyone and anyone else. Messiahs are expected to prevail over all countervailing forces.
And this is all because Messiahs are expected to redeem those to whom they have been sent.
Just as Jesus’ disciples were paralyzed with shock when they saw their Messiah crucified, so too are Obama’s followers still reeling in shock from the sight of the verbal crucifixion that their messiah suffered courtesy of Mitt Romney.
Of course, because Jesus really was the Messiah, His glorious Resurrection was more than enough to vindicate the faith that His disciples had placed in Him. The reality, as opposed to the illusion, is that Obama, on the other hand, is no kind of messiah at all. Thus, rather than accept this, he and his followers have no option but to avail themselves of any and every means—however preposterous—that enables them to evade reality.
And the cold, merciless reality is that their candidate lost, and lost resoundingly, not because he was unprepared or disengaged. He lost because, for at least the first time since he has been in the national limelight, Obama had to square off with a man who is in every respect his superior.
Whether measured in terms of intelligence, worldliness, articulation, or even physical appearance, Romney outshines Obama by miles.
This is the ugly reality that Obama and his disciples can’t acknowledge.
Still, reality is persistent. It has a way of creeping into the consciousness. Things are only going to get worse for the One and his followers.
Obama will be more fired up during the next debate, for certain. But it will be to no avail. Romney can no more desist in overshadowing Obama than the Sistine Chapel can desist in eclipsing “piss Christ” as an artwork.
Illusions are beginning to give way to reality.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.