While TIME columnist Joe Klein admits that Barack Obama’s performance in the first presidential debate was “bizarre — there is no other word for it,” he’s not willing to let right-of-center commentators offer their own criticism without a bit of race baiting.

Some were odious. Various conservative commentators offered that Obama was finally disrobed, a mediocrity dependent on a teleprompter. There was a distinct racial tinge to this, I believe. Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, co-chair of the Romney campaign, called the President lazy, which has more than a little ethnic history attached to it.

Really? One suspects it wouldn’t be hard to find a column in which Klein has described a white — likely Republican — politician as lazy, mediocre, or both.

The president’s debate performance was bad. Klein knows it. Conservative commentators know it. No one needs a nuanced, super-secret message to make that case.