Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2nd Presidential Debate: Romney remains strong; Obama regains his verve

Watching the second of three presidential debates, this one a Town Hall format at Hoftstra University in Hempstead, NY was a tense experience for me. I was among 200 gathered in Bellingham, Washington under the auspices of the Whatcom County GOP, viewing the debate, hearing my husband's analysis, and sharing observations.

The consensus in my venue was, predictably, that Romney won. However, most felt that Obama's forceful demeanor, despite seldom answering questions head-on, compensated for the president's woeful performance in the first debate October 3, when by the end, he basically slunk off stage in shame.

The opening portion of the debate centered around energy, and Obama dodged a legit question about $4 gas becoming "the new normal," instead reiterating his desire to use resources we've got toward energy independence. He never revealed why the price of gas doubled under his watch, except to finally say when pressed that the $1.86 per gallon average when he came to office reflected an economy "on the verge of collapse." Meanwhile, Romney lost some of his precious time engaging the president in a back-and-forth over the dull point of the amount of public lands drilling permits he allowed.

Boring topic; head-to-head combat engrossing. How can you look away when you're just waiting for one of them to push over the line and call the other a liar? How can you relax when both debaters so blithely talk over moderator Candy Crowley with their accusations and corrections? When the TV cameras following the speakers include views of timers ticking through each's allotted two minutes, changing from green to white to red and finally off as the candidates charge way beyond with their answers? You're on needles wondering when Candy will command a stop, and she never does.

Answers on lowering taxes were more comprehensible and even informative. Romney enumerated the many ways Americans have been "crushed" economically during Obama's term, one of his fave memes, and then offered something new--the idea that taxpayers might select their deductions from a "bucket" of traditional choices, like child care, home mortgage or college, with no taxes for the middle class on investments or savings. That definitely sounded liberating, despite the on-camera audience staying stony-faced like cardboard cutouts no matter who said what the entire time.

Obama's tax response was equal measure attacking Romney for preserving cuts for the rich and touting his efforts on behalf of the middle class, which he said save them $3,600 annually. He zinged Romney for a 60 Minutes response the governor gave defending lower tax rates for capital gains, fudging by saying Romney called it "fair" when he really had explained how it differed from earned income.

And of course the president couldn't resist mentioning Big Bird and Planned Parenthood as Romney cuts. In fact, Planned Parenthood was an Obama meme that Romney never rebutted, as he should have. Meanwhile, the president ticked off Romney's proposed tax cuts, which he said total $7 trillion. In a strong touche, Romney called that "foreign to what my real plan is," zapping Obama for a $4 trillion additional annual national debt while in office, which "puts us on the road to Greece."  Now, that was fun.

The following portion about women's inequality was a yawner, though. Neither candidate could say the real truth, which is that despite women now comprising the majority of college graduates, their lower-than-men's average pay far less reflects misogyny 40 years post-feminism, than priorities that place family above work demands, and work's psychic reward above competitive salary advantage. Romney's recollection of seeking out women for his gubernatorial cabinet yielded a new buzz-phrase, "binders of women." All those talented ladies are out there, waiting in their binders to be tapped for high office.

Obama's citing the Lily Ledbetter bill as his accomplishment, without mentioning its purpose (to extend the amount of time women can sue for workplace discrimination), fell flat. His mention of Romney's defunding of Planned Parenthood as a "pocketbook issue," though, worked better.

Gov. Romney's concise response to differences between himself and George Bush was masterful, enumerated clearly. Obama's retort scolding Romney for investing in Chinese companies, however, backfired later, when the Governor noted the president, too, held such investments. And the accusation that Romney would "turn Medicare into a voucher" just doesn't sound that ominous; the seeming spectre of illegal immigrants' "self-deportation" came off as quite reasonable, once Romney elaborated on it.

Asked by a disillusioned 2008 Obama voter why he deserves continued support, the president offered an acceptable litany of his accomplishments--that were smashed by Romney's list of evidences of Obama's failure. His bottom line: "The president has tried, but his policies haven't worked. He's great as a speaker and describing his plans and his vision. That's wonderful, except we have a record to look at. And that record shows he just hasn't been able to cut the deficit, to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social Security to preserve them, to get us the rising incomes we need..." What a respectful way to say the POTUS is untruthful.

But the zenith of excitement came with the candidates' dispute about the handling of the attack on the Libyan embassy. Did Obama call it an act of terror in his Rose Garden press conference the following day? "Get the transcript," insisted an irritated Obama, who holds he immediately termed the assassination of four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens terrorism. No, claimed Gov. Romney, " took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror." Well, Candy Crowley knows: she interjected that the president did in the Rose Garden indeed call it an act of terror. Not her purview in the debate, and besides, she was wrong. But the night's most startling and memorable moment.

From there, predictable answers to questions on assault weapons, outsourcing jobs, and "misperceptions about you," a query neither candidate answered but used as their summaries. Whew. Both sides can say their guy held his own, and Obama's fans can feel relief that he redeemed his pathetic performance from before.

The event in Hempstead was not a game-changer, but in the end, I thought Romney continued his winning confident assertiveness. Obama's final image was tighter-strung, on the offensive. When it comes down to it, the impressions audiences take away of each man are more significant an influence than the content of their answers. I predict continued strength for Romney as Americans become ever-more-comfortable with his persona. There's one more debate next week, on the topic of international relations, but I believe that for most, opinions will by then be set.


  1. Please add information about Romney's claim that oil production was lower on Federal land which the fact checker after the debate confirmed was not true.

  2. Here's a CNN article fact-checking the decrease in permits for oil production on Federal Land under Obama. Permits decreased by 37%, not the "cut in half" Romney said.
    Here's the link: