As we eagerly await tomorrow's presidential debate, I argue in the newest issue of National Review (I'll summarize here, because it's behind NR's paywall) that Obama's lackluster performance wasn't just a matter of style.
Conservatives have been focused too much on tactics over political philosophy. Strip away posture, tone, and facial expressions, and the remarkable feature of Obama’s time on the podium is how little he actually says. Obama brings up no new domestic policies for his second term. He proposes no new legislation, nor will he cut any unnecessary programs. Spending and taxes, it seems, will simply go on forever at their current rates. Somehow the deficit will magically disappear and the economy will fully recover.
The sound of Obama’s silence is not just a debate tactic. It derives from his misunderstanding of the presidency, and of the role of government itself. Consider first Obama’s confusion about the constitutional role of the president. In his first two years in office, Obama conducted himself more as a party leader than as a chief executive; more as a prime minister than as a president. He is silent because he cannot take credit for the Democratic majorities from 2008-10. Second, I argue that his silence is the result of the intellectual exhaustion of progressivism. Obama simply cannot defend progressivism's hostility to the Constitution and its effort to centralize power in the federal government and in unaccountable bureaucracies.