Though I wrote last week that Mitt Romney won the first presidential debate against Barack Obama, I didn't think it would cause a poll implosion.
The numbers emerging from the US election, are showing a shift to Romney in the lead for the first time, and across almost all measures. He's even made up the considerable gap he had with women voters.
Commentators on the right gleefully say, "We told you so! Obama was a fraud all along." And those on the left have started panicking that, "His heart isn't in it. He doesn't want to be president anymore".
Both of these are, of course, constructed narratives and absurd. Obama last week became the first candidate to raise $1 billion, so if he doesn't want to be President, he's picking an expensive way to prove it. The idea that he's a fraud, is perpetrated by those who never accepted that he was legitimately American, or that his policies were actually far more middle of the road than claims of Marxism/Maoism/Communism/etc-ism.
But election campaigns are about optics. The polls said Obama was ahead, so the media denigrated Romney, rightly or wrongly. His supporters claimed all those articles were evidence of media bias against Romney (as if, hilariously, they might pretend to be objective in considering Obama).
Once Romney won the debate, the right claimed it had exposed the fact that Obama was not fit to be a leader, and the left questioned why it happened. All the focus turned to Obama's flaws, so the polls started to fall. Voters might be that fickle, it's hard to tell from a numerical sample. The effect is the same. Talk of defeat for Obama will now became a self-fulfilling prophesy, just as it was becoming so for Romney prior to the debate.
What would change this?
If vice president Joe Biden can't mop the floor with his opponent Paul Ryan in their one debate on Thursday night, it will add to the sense that Team Obama is on the way out.
By the time of the next presidential match up the following week, it may already be too late. Yes, Obama could deliver a knock-out blow to Romney, but I'm not sure where it would come from. All of the president's current arsenal of messages about Romney have been ineffective in regaining all the "independent" voters he attracted in 2008.
Speaking to an American last week, she was an Obama voter who now is firmly against him. I argued that much was out of his control, from the make-up of Congress, to the strength of China to the self-destructive nature of stock brokers. But she was having none of it. A proper leader would have no need for excuses and could fix anything. Her emphatic conclusion was that Obama has done nothing in four years and was not fit to be President.
It's just one view of millions in the US, but it leads us back to optics.
For many on the right, Obama bowing to foreign leaders years ago, was read as weakness. The rest of the world regarded it as respect or didn't take notice at all. Do you believe your President should bow to an "opponent"? No - you believe the rest of the world should bow to you because you've got a big gun. It's appearance above any realities of diplomacy.
For those on the liberal side of the left in the US, nothing has been good enough. Despite the ending of Don't Ask Don't Tell for gays in the military as well as the expression og reluctant support for gay marriage, the appearance for whatever reason is that Obama is not truly liberal.
Even with all the polling data, we can't really know the result of the 6 November vote because it will come down to optics for many people when they are standing in the polling booth. Who gives the appearance of winning? Who do you perceive to be stronger? Who looks American (and that's not a racial question - both media sides define "America" differently)?
Obama will need to change the optics of his campaign quickly. Because whether he wants to be president or not, if he doesn't, the rest of the world will be bowing to President Romney. And who knows what perception that will create.
First Published On : Oct 11, 2012 09:15 IST