The Obama on display in the second debate – and the third – was harder, chillier, sadder, and more somber. There was tension in the lines of his mouth. His speech was clipped, as if under continuous rigorous control. His rhetoric did not soar, could not soar. The smile was rare and constrained.
But his command of detail and argument was rock solid. His sentences parsed. He spoke with a cold, disciplined energy. In repose (as witnessed on the split screen in the reaction shots) he was often perfectly immobile, almost stony, as if posing for a portrait.
One word for all of this would be “presidential,” in the sense of competent, seasoned, and sobered by reality. But that word also connotes the fearsome qualities of ruthlessness and brutality that any honest portrayal of the office of President of the United States must include in our day