Like millions watching the first Presidential debate, I was both flabbergasted and bitterly disappointed at what at the time seemed like excruciatingly painful missed opportunity to express understandable anger and aggression. I screamed at both moderator and President to point out obvious duplicity and the true, spoken (when he did not know he was being filmed) contemptuous feelings of Mitt Romney toward almost half of all Americans and the government that must offer hope and protection.
During this debate, most of Obama's supporters (and surely I was them them) wanted him to become very angry, very testy, very indignant. Instead, the President bottled it. He seemed, in the moment, far too mannerly, far too conciliatory, and yes, far too passive.
Now. however, with the tincture of time, I see things very differently.
For our President truly believes in our abilities to see for ourselves. He does not see himself as either our parent or our elementary school teacher. He knows that many already know all too well: Romney is a master of disguise and that he has the meanest of streaks evidenced again and again, ones he is determined to cover up from all of us, and I also believe, himself.
Unlike his opponent, the President believes in the basic goodness and intelligence of his constituents, even those who may not yet support him, and perhaps never will. He will never write off the latter group (as does the true Romney, despite his recent disingenuous, politically motivated apology ). Instead he will continue to try to reach them and always work to serve them. President Obama believes in the abilities of those who do not yet see the true Romney to look at events, pre and post first debate, and see through a duplicitous facade.
Often, as a family therapist, I work with those who are abused by a partner or parent again and again, and yet they feel unable to make changes in their lives. Instead, they remain scapegoats (telling me again and again, "but they are sometimes so nice and sweet"), often risking their emotional and physical health (and even their lives) by remaining in and catering to dangerous relationships. I could point out until I am blue in the face what is obvious and yet what my clients do not see. But this approach would be pointless. Instead, we talk; and though trusting conversations my clients are usually able to see clearly and make necessary, enduring changes. The President contained his anger (which of course was obvious and the primary reason he did not look at Romney), believing that we are capable of seeing truth and impending danger. He did not feel any need to infantilize us by pointing out the obvious. His contained contempt for a liar, coupled with his wife and his fine manners, said it all.
In this regard, President Obama was showing us both that he was well informed about issues (where he calmly disagreed with his opponent), but also, as vital, how he deals with foreign leaders and opponents who like Romney are at heart duplicitous. This is not a man, who, even as a youth, would have been a ring leader in bullying a fellow student believed gay, as Romney did while in prep school.
Our President's first impulse is reason, civility and decency, not combat. He is never a bully. President Obama remains ever presidential, but if and when necessary, as we have seen him demonstrate, he uses overt aggression. This is the kind of President I want, not one who is ever ready to insult (think Romney and the Olympics in England); or foment a potential explosion, rather than first, sit on anger and use every force of diplomacy possible (think Romney and the Middle East); or adhere to the precise economic policies that almost threw us into a depression, which our President had the intelligence and judgement to avoid; or remove health safety nets and access, so necessary in humane health care.
This all said, now that we all have been exposed to the master of disguise, and can see it for ourselves and learn from it, you can bet that President Barack Obama will come out fighting at his next debate.
One more thing: The Obamas are the best of parents, and their daughters are not allowed to miss school because of their father's political events. But it would be great if the President and First Lady's two extraordinary daughters can greet their dad at the conclusion of the next debate, even if this means a missed school day. This debate will surely be an excellent civics lesson demonstrating when and how to use aggression in a mature and healthy way -- for them, and for us all.