Of all the complaints that can be justifiably launched against President Obama, can I add that he sure knows how to take the fun out of chronicling the cratering of Mitt Romney’s campaign?

Not that I think B.O. has thrown away his re-election with his passive performance in Wednesday’s debate — as Reagan in ’84 and Bush in ’04 showed, a shaky opening debate by an incumbent who’s leading in the polls is a survivable error.  But he did let Romney regain a bit of support from a Republican base that was starting to be demoralized, and I kind of liked seeing them that way.

I’ll admit, though, I wasn’t entirely surprised that Obama let his opponent seize the initiative.  For one thing, maybe he wanted to re-enact the arc of his presidency for the viewing audience.  Not only that, can anyone remember the last time he wasn’t unexpectedly subdued in a high-profile public setting?  From last month’s convention speech back through his inaugural address and 2008 acceptance of the Democratic nomination, it seems like Obama has been intentionally reluctant to live up to the oratorical reputation he established earlier in his rise to the White House.

Fortunately for Barack, it seems like his campaign was fully prepared to launch a momentum-recapturing assault as soon as the morning after the debate.  Which isn’t the same thing as saying he “threw” the contest — I don’t think his intention was to lose, much less come across as hopelessly weak, but it was to avoid getting baited into a partisan shouting match that might diminish his favorability with independents and women (which initial polls show he preserved quite well).

The way the New York Times portrays it, Team Obama — including the man himself — came out with a comprehensive, yet nonetheless improvised assault on Mitt Romney’s integrity after a feverish all-nighter of recriminations regarding the president’s subpar showing in the debate.  I don’t buy that.

If you ask me, the template for the ad above (including its stock Oval Office chair shot, which I think dates back to at least Walter Mondale against Gary Hart in ’84) was laid down long ago, just waiting for appropriate debate-night footage to be inserted.  As someone who’s been waiting for months to see when the O-team would go after Romney’s serial lying — and was telling a friend just the other night that I was surprised they’d gotten this far without having to do it — I think they planned a post-debate attack all along… sort of like a good cop-bad cop scheme, with the campaign finally saying things they thought it might be too rude to have the president say directly to Romney’s face in the debate.

The fact that Obama may have, shall we say, over-executed on the good-cop portion of the plan is beside the point.