I made the mistake of letting the CNN feed linger beyond the hour and a half of the second presidential debate tonight, and so I realized, as I often do in these cases, that the folks around the discussion table and I come from alternate universes—very close, many of the same details on both my and their planet Earth, but still different universes.
They said something about the president being forceful and challenging Romney at every turn, reversing the trend, stopping the bleeding.
I saw President Obama still finding it difficult to sound cool and calculated without his trusted teleprompter. Romney is also not the captain of the debating team, but compared with his opponent he came across coherent, strong, self assured.
This has nothing to do with my opinion of which one of these two men is better suited to be president, only with their performances tonight. And I’m beginning to think a freestyle conversation, just like a structured debate, is not something President Obama is good at.
I took copious notes, so I’m ready to do the play by play to make my point, but first a note about tonight’s moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley: decidedly not Martha Raddatz. Where Raddatz was authoritative while allowing Joe Biden and Paul Ryan some moving room to make their points – Crowley was all about making sure the next Hofstra student got a chance to ask his or her question. Instead of helping the candidates, she tripped them, consistently denying both of them the chance to respond to one another’s charges.
I wanted to hear those responses, and definitely cared more about what either candidate had to say about the other’s allegations than I did about whether or not every kid on Crowley’s list got to show America how bright they were (they weren’t—you got the feeling each question was an obvious softball for one of the candidates, Romney even thanked one of them for a question that served his campaign needs, letting him massage away the 47% freeloaders thing).
Crowley was less informed, less agile, less introspective, and in the end far less effective than Raddatz. To her credit, though, she was equally annoying to both candidates, cutting them off about the same number of times when they were in the middle of saying something interesting, or just going to.
So, now, the play by play.
The first question was: How can you reassure me that I will have a job when I graduate. It brought on a minor clash between the two men over the Detroit bankruptcy. Romney said that what he meant by his “let it go bankrupt” remark was that GM and the rest of the big car makers needed to undergo a court monitored Chapter 11 procedure, and emerge prosperous in the end. He lied, of course. He meant let them drop dead–check out You Tube. Obama managed to capitalize on the opportunity and called Romney on it, developing the point into an attack on Romney’s record in business and as governor.
But even that early in the game it became obvious that no matter how good a strike Obama will get tonight, he couldn’t hit it out of the park. He ended up making the necessary argument, but his delivery was choppy, he paused to think way too frequently in mid-sentence, in a manner that almost made me lose interest in his final answer.
He reminded me of those endless debates he had with Hillary, back in 2008, when Obama just couldn’t deliver the knockout punch. It’s not his strong suit. He’s not eager enough. Maybe he’s not that kind of a fighter. He is better at jabbing for points and avoiding being knocked down. But that makes for boring television.
Both candidates were stiff and reserved on the question “Do you agree that it’s not the job of the Energy Dept. to lower gas prices.” It was a strangely phrased question, too, not dealing with the issue of whether or not gas prices were too high, but with government’s role in tweaking them.
Of course, Romney took it to the arena of gas prices being too high (up from $1.80 under Bush to $4 today – although I thought it was more like $2.50 under Bush), saying Obama cut drilling licenses on federal land. Obama explained there were too many license holders who didn’t use them, and those were eliminated. He sounded presidential for a brief moment, showing deeper knowledge than his opponent of the working of government. But he didn’t relate specifically to the actual price shifts at the pump, letting Romney win the round on points.
On tax deductions and tax credits, Romney set the record straight on his own tax policy. He will not reduce taxes on the rich and will not increase taxes on the middle class. Addressing one of the main items Democrats present as his plan, Romney was forceful in saying it ain’t so.
Obama said he cut taxes 18 times and reduced taxes by $2,500. He added that it’s Republicans in Congress who are holding the middle class hostage, until they’re allowed to to cut taxes for the top 2%.
Romney challenged him quite comfortably, avoiding any reference to the stonewalling Republican House, naturally. He promised he would bring tax rates down, emphasized that he’s not interested in cutting taxes for the rich—they will continue to pay 60% in income taxes.
No, they won’t, of course, because their teams of attorneys would make sure of that. But Romney sounded extremely confident in stating, for the record, that he didn’t have a soft spot in his heart for billionaires.
Obama said Romany’s math doesn’t add up. He challenged Romney to show specifics. How would he cut taxes and increase spending on the military, for instance, without adding deficits?
This is one of Romney’s weakest points, and so he attacked Obama’s deficits, and didn’t offer specifics on his own plan. And Obama let him get away with it. This time it wasn’t the moderator’s fault. Obama remained seated and let the opportunity go by without hitting Romney hard on his “voodoo” economics .
In what ways do you plan to rectify inequalities in the workplace for women’s pay?
This was a softball for Obama. Romney, who answered first, proceeded to talk about his record as governor, with Massachusetts hiring more women than any other state. He promised flexible hours, so mothers can keep their jobs and take care of their families (when do these women sleep?). He attacked Obama on women’s unemployment under his stewardship. Well, sure, if you have 20 million unemployed Americans, 10 million are liable to be women. But Romney scored better than his opponent on women in the workplace, and for a Republican this is found money.
Obama attacked Romney on Planned Parenthood, which Romney had said he would eliminate. Once again, the president missed out on one of his biggest advantages over Romney. Even women who plan to vote Republican are afraid of what that would do to Roe V. Wade. Planned Parenthood survived a congressional attack this year and is thriving because women across party lines support it. Republicans this election year have made countless blunders on a woman’s right to abortion and contraceptives – and Obama was unable to deliver a good blow with that one?
Romney did very well on the question of what’s the biggest difference between Romney and Bush, which was tailor-made for him. He said he agrees with Obama on the failure of the Bush administration on deficits, and said Obama is making them worse. It was almost fun to watch Romney hit that one skillfully.
Obama attacked Romney, saying his policies promote the same tax cuts that brought us from surpluses to deficits under Bush. He attacked Romney on his outsourcing to China and on investing in companies that sell surveillance equipment to China. And he said Romney is worse than Bush on social issues, because Bush wasn’t against Planned Parenthood.
Really? This is when you finally turn on the Planned Parenthood attack? Phrase “too little too late” mean anything to you?
There’s no doubt about the difference between the two candidates tonight: Romney was smoother, more fluent. Obama was choppy. It’s a matter of personal style. Obama’s attempts to interrupt Romney were halfhearted. Romney didn’t do it as many times—or so it appeared—but when he did, he was robust, his heart was definitely in it.
A Black gentleman said he voted for Obama in 2008, and asked what the president has done since to earn his vote in 2012.
Obama reviewed the highlights of his record, and it was becoming more and more obvious that he was off his mark tonight. His speech just didn’t flow, he didn’t seem confident. He came up with the facts and figures, but he continued to sound hollow, continued to fail to be excited about his own record.
Romney delivered a simple attack on Obama’s record, and it worked. He listed Obama’s failures with conviction. I didn’t think he was a lot better than his opponent, but enough to sound like the more energetic of the two.
On immigration policy, Romney said that he’s for immigration, but will not grant amnesty to illegal aliens. He attacked Obama on not enacting the laws he promised four years ago, to reform immigration policy.
Obama was hesitating on what should have been his softball to hit into the parking lot. He was good on the facts but, again, not exciting. He was good on the Romney record supporting “self immigration” and the Arizona “papers please” law, but failed to make even the most elementary Democratic plea about compassion and the lives of countless individuals who are already contributing to American society.
In this clash between two styles of speech, Romney’s continued to work better tonight.
Romney hits Obama on immigration policy. It was amazing to see him hitting the president hard on not living up to his promises on an issue that Obama should own.
Obama’s counter attack was reluctant.
Then Romney hijacked the discussion to discuss his investments—an Obama charge from half an hour earlier—saying Obama’s pension fund also invests in China. He tried to engage Obama in revealing, basically, how much money he had, to which the president answered what we all know: a lot less than Romney. Score half a point to Obama.
Obama started sounding better when he noted that Romney’s adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the “papers please” law in Arizona. But he didn’t do much more than that with this gold nugget of a talking point. It was hard to watch – like sitting in the stands watching your kid’s team losing because he or she missed a free throw…
The question “Who denied enhanced security for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya and why?” had only one great Democratic answer, which Joe Biden delivered last week: Paul Ryan did, when he slashed $200 million for embassy security from the budget.
Obama was really bad on the Benghazi question. He tried to sound commander-in-chief like but came across underpresent. He accused Romney of being irresponsible, sending out a press release while the action was still going on. Good point, but he couldn’t in his wildest dreams connect Romney to the abysmal intelligence failure that led to the consulate quadruple murders. Hillary said earlier that half the buck stopped with her – she accepted responsibility for Benghazi but it was someone else’s fault. Obama should have said: It was Congressman Ryan’s fault. End of discussion. Because otherwise that whole affair made the Administration look awful.
Romney sympathized with the losses, ignored the press release thing altogether, and accused Obama of going to fund raisers while the action on the ground was still going on and an ambassador had just been killed. He was strong and forceful – but still no knockout.
Obama defended his record on Benghazi, and sounded injured, telling Romney it’s offensive to say he doesn’t care. These people work for him, of course he cares.
The CNN experts later said this was among those big all-time presidential debates moments. I didn’t fall off my seat. But what do I know, they could be right.
Then Obama scored a point on fact checking, when Romney challenged his statement that he called the Benghazi attack an act of terror on the first day. Candy Crowley confirms. That was a win for the president.
But when Obama told Crowley to repeat out loud that, in fact, he called it an act of terror on day one, he sounded actually angry. He suddenly appeared very much aware of the tough night he was having, and that things were not going his way.
I believe Obama only had about four really good minutes, near the end. It started with a softball question to both candidates: What do you believe is the biggest misperception that Americans have about you as a man and a candidate.
Romney lapped it up and came across great, talking about how he’s really embracing 100% (not 47%) of Americans. And added some stuff about believing in God.
Obama said he does not believe in government-created jobs, as his opponents claim he does. But he believes everybody should have a shot, and everybody should have a fare share. He then delivered the first good attack of the night, saying Romney’s behind-closed-doors 47% comment betrayed his real scorn for the elderly, the veterans, the unemploed etc.Alas, too ,little too Late. Match goes to Romney, but I don’t expect this debate to have a dramatic influence on the polls. According to a CNN/ORC International nationwide poll conducted right after Tuesday night’s debate, 46% of voters who watched said the president won, 39% said Republican nominee Mitt Romney did.
Nobody calls me from these polls…