Opinion: Obama Needs to Pop His Own Bubble in Second Debate

I live in a bubble. As I watched the first presidential debate surrounded by several hundred like-minded lefties at a Drinking Liberally event, I saw Mitt Romney making false claims about his plans for tax cuts for the rich, repeating lies about Obama's record on Medicare and smugly denying his record of exporting jobs oversees.

And I heard Obama land a couple great lines - about Romney considering Donald Trump a small business, and asking Americans in their 50s to listen carefully after Romney had assured people in their 60s didn't need to worry - lines that I thought were among the most memorable of the night.

Clearly, I heard and saw something very different than most of the American people, who overwhelmingly judged Obama poorly for his lackluster performance. The polls have reflected that reaction, tightening a race that had been breaking for the president. True, history shows that challengers often beat incumbents in first debates, as they introduce themselves to the public. Sure, Biden's theatricality in the second debate helped stall the Romney/Ryan momentum and reawaken the Democratic base. But the damage was done and Obama now has something to prove.

I was infuriated at Romney for getting away with lies - but it's the president's job to point them out compellingly and convincingly. I was annoyed with Lehrer's style as facilitator, but as so many people pointed out after the VP debate: if you're complaining about the moderator, you probably lost. Obama lost that night leading to an unexpected truth: the debates matter.

It may seem obvious in retrospect that a high-profile primetime tete-a-tete would be critical to a national race, but leading into it, people were downplaying expectations and predicting a wash. Many viewers may have found the back-and-forth dull, but they also considered it important - more so than the president, who seemed resigned to be there. He acted as though he had better places to be.

In some ways, maybe he did: Reading the intelligence reports from Libya, pushing an agenda to create jobs, wrangling over health costs, caring for swaths of the country that have been hit with environmental disasters. He may generally have believed that governing was more important than politicking, that doing his job of tending to serious concerns outweighed engaging a non-serious rival.

Yet that was a mistake. Nobody is entitled to govern - you have to earn the right to do so. Your acts may help prove you, but your words are just as important. A repeated criticism of Obama is that for a gifted orator, he doesn't argue quite enough. He didn't lay out a clear set of values behind healthcare early enough, he hasn't used the bully pulpit to bully those who brought the Great Recession, he hasn't appealed to the American people to take on the Tea Party Congress. And at the first debate, he didn't really appeal to us - his employers.

He is an employee who came up for review, but looked anxious to get back to work. While that's admirable, we also need him to tell us, his bosses, how he's been doing at his job.

Much like I watched the debate in my bubble, President Obama participated in it from within his own bubble. He needs to pop that bubble and remember that we're not all watching his work as closely as he is, we're not inside the schedule he lives every day. We're living our lives - which, for many Americans, are difficult daily grinds - and giving him an hour to make his case. We need him to join us.

I may still think my perspective was right, but it was also limited - and just because it may be right doesn't mean it was enough. I hope the president realizes the same.