View From the Left: Where Was "Fired Up" Obama at the First Presidential Debate?

The president took leave of his signature charisma and let Romney hold him to the ropes

This is not the piece I expected to be writing.

President Barack Obama did not win the debate, which is almost necessarily to say that he lost. Everyone expected him to nail it, but he came out looking nervous and timid from right out of the gate.

Obama’s best line was perhaps his very first, when he wished his wife Michelle “happy anniversary, sweetie” on the occasion of their 20th. And it was pretty much downhill from there for our guy, who was on the defensive about topics he should have owned -- and nailed -- because of his demonstrated success through four years in office.

Universal healthcare, for instance -- Obama's signature achievement, and one on which Mitt Romney’s history of flip-flopping makes him so vulnerable -- still saw the president on the ropes. And how about firmly reminding the American people about how he stopped the bleeding from the financial free-fall he inherited and put the economic trajectory back on the right track? And he never once brought up Romney’s “47 percent” scandal, when the GOP hopeful spoke his mind about his disdain for half of this own country. Nope, none of that. Mr. President, why not?

The president also looked weak in body language, failing to make eye contact. Mitt Romney looked better on matters of style -- better eye contact, stronger voice, livelier tone.

Still, Romney’s repeated interruptions of moderator Jim Lehrer and insistence on more time made him seem spoiled and petulant. At least Obama seemed true to his signature refined and under control style -- if a little sedated.

“Fired up, ready to go” is not the message Obama was sending. Granted, he had a country to govern while Romney could afford to focus full-time on debate prep. But charisma typically comes so naturally to the president, and we did not see that during the debate.

Overall, after watching the debate, I feel similar to the way I often did leaving the stadium after football games that my alma mater, U.C. Berkeley, lost when it was expected to win. So much anticipation, and yet so deflated in the end. Mopey. Telling friends, “We’ll get ‘em next week.”

So here’s to mustering that spirit ahead of the next debate. Obama has the experience -- both in debating and in governing -- and he has the measurable results. He needs to get out there and sell it to the American people! And maybe drink a Red Bull.

WATCH: View from the Undecided: Did the First Presidential Debate Sway iVoice Beth Engelman?

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and iVillage’s Chief Election News Blogger. Follow her on Twitter:

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