Editor's Note: This was intended for publication pre-debate on October 16. We apologize for the delay.
As he prepares for the second debate, Obama faces a major dilemma: how to be more aggressive without jeopardizing his alleged likability, the main thing he supposedly has going for him with voters.
The Barack Obama the public usually sees is not the real Barack Obama. The former is a carefully manufactured media image designed to appear eminently reasonable, highly engaged, ultra-caring, inordinately intelligent and as one who transcends the pettiness that plagues so many politicians. The real Obama is none of those things.
These things wouldn't matter as much if the liberal media hadn't insulated Obama from scrutiny and covered over his policy failures, his ideological extremism and his corruption. They've allowed the fable of his extraordinary gifts to remain largely unchallenged.
The media haven't even complained on behalf of their own interests — about Obama's infrequent news conferences or the tight control he exercises and careful scripting he employs when he does deign to meet with them.
That's one explanation for the pronounced disconnect between Obama's likability and the unpopularity of his policies. If the press weren't always sheltering him and spinning the news in his favor, it would be a wholly different ballgame.
But having hidden behind this shield, Obama exposes himself to severe injury when it is removed, which is precisely what happened in the first debate, as reflected in his sustained drop in the polls after it.
Much of Obama's support was soft because it was based on false images. Stripped of media protection during the debate, his profound weaknesses were exposed for 70 million to see, and there's no going back. Unhappily for Obama, Americans also saw the real Mitt Romney, who is a far cry from the demon depicted by Team Obama.
If Obama is more aggressive, he runs the risk of appearing obnoxious and shattering the myth of his likability, not to mention that Mitt will be ready for this ploy.
Though it is true that Obama is not Joe Biden, he has shown himself quite capable of being condescending, petulant and downright nasty, as we witnessed in his treatment of John McCain and Paul Ryan.
Granted, moderator Jim Lehrer was mostly passive and Romney was effective at controlling the debate and making sure it was essentially an unfiltered contest between him and Obama — the way it should have been.
And there's no doubt the atmosphere of the second debate will be much different. Town hall formats usually play to liberals' and demagogues' advantage, with fawning audiences applauding every nod toward socialism. Not only that, but moderator Candy Crowley has indicated that she plans on being proactive, despite an agreement between the two campaigns that she is to have a neutral role.
Though Mitt will have his work cut out for him, too, I view him as the odds-on favorite to prevail again.
As a debate opponent, Obama is made to order for Mitt. Obama is very weak on policy details — a weakness based on years of promoting the "big ideas" and leaving the unglamorous nuts and bolts to others — and Romney is especially strong. No matter how much he prepares or strategizes, he can't make up for years of inattention to detail and insulation from reality.
Romney is quicker on his feet than Obama. Obama is long on clichés and short on specifics. Obama is such a dogmatic ideologue he is blind to his policy failures. He's oblivious to the reality that his endless expansions of government have injured, rather than healed, the economy and that his quixotic policies of appeasement are making us weaker, so he misinterprets evidence of his policy failures as proof that he just didn't go far enough or that his policies haven't had enough time to work.
Obama is woefully inexperienced in the private sector — in the real world, apart from politics — and Romney has vast business experience.
Having been coddled and humored by his advisers, Obama is not in tune with his strengths and weaknesses or with the quality of his performances, as shown by his delusional belief that he won the first debate and that the transcript reinforces that fantasy. This further demonstrates that he doesn't understand the issues intimately enough to overcome his weaknesses in time for the second debate.
Obama still believes his best weapon is that he cares more than "47 percent" Mitt — the rich, greedy capitalist — about the downtrodden. But Obama's policies have devastated most of those he professes to care the most about, and Mitt gives 30 percent of his income to charity. If Obama overplays the class warfare card, I think it just might backfire on him as much as his newfound aggressiveness.
In short, Obama's tired tricks don't work well against Romney, and Romney's formidable strengths particularly expose Obama's shortcomings.
Though anything can happen, especially in the town hall format, I think Mitt will win it again going away.
David Limbaugh is a writer, author and attorney. His latest book, "The Great Destroyer," reached No. 2 on the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction. Follow him on Twitter @davidlimbaugh and his website at www.davidlimbaugh.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.