Suzanne Fields

But all of us are spectators watching what Samuel Popkin, author of "The Candidate," an analysis of campaign mistakes, calls "the world according to Mike Tyson." When Tyson was the heavyweight champion of the world, someone asked him what he thought about a challenger's strategy. "They all have a strategy," he said, "until they get hit." Barack Obama got hit for the first time in the first debate, and now he and his wise men are looking for a new strategy. It's how a challenger responds to the hit that makes the difference between winning and losing. That's what undecided voters -- and even some of the decided voters -- are now looking for.

It's that intangible, telling detail that suggests who can get up off the floor after taking a succession of power punches. Can the winded challenger stay in the fight after taking the repeated blows to the gut? It's testimony to Barack Obama's agility and rhetorical skills that his miserable record hasn't already put him on the ropes -- a record of high unemployment, mismanagement of the economy and his insistence on blaming a video that almost nobody saw for the murder of an American ambassador by terrorists he wouldn't even call terrorists.

By every measurement, Americans are worse off and less secure than they were four years ago. A quarter of Americans between 25 and 55 years old are out of work. That statistic would be worse if so many workers hadn't quit looking for jobs. Joe Biden was right: The middle class has been "buried" over the past four years.

Americans are less safe in the Middle East. Speaker after speaker at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., hailed the death of Osama bin Laden as proof of the president's manly virtues, but glossed over his policies that weakened us in the eyes of the Muslims everywhere. We didn't know then what we've learned since, that an American ambassador in a hostile land repeatedly begged for more security and died when he couldn't get it. Any other candidate in Barack Obama's shoes would be looking for the smelling salts.

Jon Stewart, the television comic and a Democratic partisan, played videos of the endless contradictory explanations of what happened in Libya, and what didn't happen -- changing stories by the president, his press secretary, the secretary of state, his witless ambassador to the United Nations and by Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center. "Don't these guys talk to each other?" he asked. It was the question we all asked. Saddest of all was the answer. Yes, they do -- and look what happened.

None of Mitt Romney's knockdown punches were knockout blows, but as any good fight manager knows, the full impact of body blows has a cumulative, delayed effect. We're moving into the most important part of the fight. But we haven't heard the bell on the last round.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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