Obama Wins Debate, but Race Is Still Close

Despite the president's strong showing, there are reasons that Mitt Romney remains in the running.

Getty Images
Getty Images

But, you know what? Obama would still be easily ahead in the polls, given the screaming weaknesses of his Republican rival, were it not for two other big problems. Problem No. 2 is the so-called left, or “progressive,” voices in U.S. politics.

Nothing disgusts me — and I do mean disgusts — more than liberal critics of Obama. For three years we have seen a left-leaning critique of Obama — whether black or white, or policy experts, preachers or TV talking heads — that is irresponsible and pointless. Irresponsible in that it has been aimed at tearing down Obama and his proposals instead of building a climate for more progressive policies than those the Obama administration has put on the table. Pointless in that even his most vociferous critics on the left have done nothing, so far as I can discern, to build a real, influential alternative within (and certainly not outside) the existing two-party system.

We are two years down the road from the 2010 midterm elections; where is the left-leaning alternative to the Tea Party? It does not exist!

All of those op-eds, speeches and convocations that criticize Obama for not having a large-enough “bailout,” for not having a “jobs bill,” for not preserving the “single-payer option” in health care-reform legislation, have equally and now plainly failed to advance the interests of the poor and disadvantaged. Instead, they have weakened the one viable political agent this constituency has: Barack Obama.

Most of these political blind men (and they are largely men) awoke after Obama’s weak performance in the first debate. Then they finally realized that this election might actually go to the Republicans. Yes, Romney might win. How will blacks, Latinos, working women and the poor fare if that happens?

The third problem, as always, is the media. How the media treat Romney with the credulity and respect that they do astonishes me. If, after this debate — in which Romney both largely endorsed the entirety of Obama foreign policy and contradicted some of his own clear prior positions (such as when to withdraw from Afghanistan) — the press does not bury Romney under an avalanche of criticism and derision, then you will know just how compromised it is. We have arrived at a sad point in political discourse if such misrepresentation and duplicity goes without severe comment and sanction.

So why is this election so close? Yes, the economy has not improved as much as any of us would like. But Obama could have done much more prior to the campaign season to explain why that would be the case, no matter what (as Clinton did at the convention).

Meanwhile, many of his erstwhile allies on the left woke up only recently and figured out that they were adding to the din of negativity that made his re-election less likely, not more so. They’ve done us all a serious disservice as a result. The media continue to fail in their role of independent fourth estate, capable of dispassionately giving us the news we need to be an informed citizenry.

If you’re at all like me, you’re anxious and increasingly angry. Yes, Obama won the foreign policy debate. But why should that be so important, given everything else that is just plainly wrong with his adversary and his adversary’s agenda?

Lawrence Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and a frequent contributor to The Root.