The second presidential debate of the 2012 election season has passed into the annals of political history and theater. Was it worth the ninety minutes that millions of citizens of the world spent watching it? Almost. Did it sway the (questionable) number of undecided voters in the room? Probably not. Did it sway my vote? Certainly not.
It is my opinion that the candidates were not seeking to really engage or influence the undecided voters in the room or at home. They want to mobilize their bases in order to ensure solid turn-outs come November. As Romney and Obama are (historically) moderate in actuality, they must distance themselves from each other over the bread-and-butter topics of politics in order to create an illusion of difference that will excite the public.
Because of this, the debate was remarkably contentious. Before the so-called “debate season” started, both candidates agreed to a set of rules that would govern how they perform in the debates to come. One of the hallmark notes from that agreement stated that the candidates were not allowed to ask each other direct questions during the town-hall format debate. Clearly, this rule was not upheld during the Hofstra event.
President Obama and Governor Romney repeatedly asked each other questions, not allowing the other to gain the argumentative upper hand, if there can be such a thing. Obama, fresh off of his lackluster performance during the Colorado debate, was prepared to be significantly more aggressive toward Romney during the debate, and it showed. He refused to let Romney control the flow, and (more importantly) the tone of the debate.
President Obama: He was measured. He maintained a calm demeanor in order to portray an image of quiet assertiveness that is naturally associated with the office of the presidency. After Governor Romney accused President Obama of politicizing the Libya event, there was genuine anger in the president’s eyes at the accusation. Obama, however, did not lose his cool — he stayed calm and delivered a sharp retort to the governor that was one of the strongest moments of the debate.
Was this tactic effective? I would tend to think so. The Hofstra Debate Obama matches the 2008 Campaigning Obama that the Democrats fell in love with. It was a much-wanted return to form for the democratic contender.
Mitt Romney: He, on the other hand, maintained his usual demeanor of disbelieving republicrat. He did an excellent job of transmitting his message to the audience about the economy. It is in the economy that Romney has his strongest argument — it cannot be denied that the economy (right now) is not well. Whether this is Obama’s fault is another question altogether, but correlation is causation for the purposes of politics.
Romney’s other positions were not as well expressed. That said, it was not really the fault of Romney that his messages about immigration, foreign policy, taxes, and the role of women were not as eloquently expressed as were his views on the economy. It was Obama’s fault. President Obama, not Governor Romney, was the one in control of the flow of the discussion through his insistence that the truth be told.
Was, then, the truth told?
Here’s what FactCheck.org states (to see citations, view the link):
The second Obama-Romney debate was heated, confrontational and full of claims that sometimes didn’t match the facts.
- Obama challenged Romney to “get the transcript” when Romney questioned the president’s claim to have spoken of an “act of terror” the day after the slaying of four Americans in Libya. The president indeed referred to “acts of terror” that day, but then refrained from using such terms for weeks.
- Obama claimed Romney once called Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law a “model” for the nation. He didn’t. Romney said that of an earlier Arizona law requiring employers to check the immigration status of employees.
- Obama falsely claimed Romney once referred to wind-power jobs as “imaginary.” Not true. Romney actually spoke of “an imaginary world” where “windmills and solar panels could power the economy.”
- Romney said repeatedly he won’t cut taxes for the wealthy, a switch from his position during the GOP primaries, when he said the top 1 percent would be among those to benefit.
- Romney said “a recent study has shown” that taxes “will” rise on the middle class by $4,000 as a result of federal debt increases since Obama took office. Not true. That’s just one possible way debt service could be financed.
- Romney claimed 580,000 women have lost jobs under Obama. The true figure is closer to 93,000.
- Romney claimed the automakers’ bankruptcy that Obama implemented was “precisely what I recommend.” Romney did favor a bankruptcy followed by federal loan guarantees, but not the direct federal aid that Obama insists was essential.
- Romney said he would keep Pell Grants for low-income college students “growing.” That’s a change. Both Romney and his running mate, Ryan, have previously said they’d limit eligibility.
The answer, as usual, is “sort-of.” They sort-of told the truth. They danced around the truth in way that made pundits around the country either dance with glee or froth with rage. It was, in its own way, a beautiful display of truth-dodging. While Obama came out ahead on the overall fact-count, he still had a few decent mis-truths evident in his debate.
In short, it’s expected. Typical. Disappointing.
What, then, is there left to discuss? They were adequate performances from seasoned politicians. I just happen to agree with the positions of the current president more than those of the contender.
A few short notes:
Benghazi Moment: Yes, Romney stepped in it. But — who cares? Why does it matter when Obama stated that it was a terror attack? How can that have any effect on anything, ever? It cannot. It was a waste of time.
Interruptions Abound: While heated arguments are exciting, they are also confusing. I hope that this fast/furious debate style does not become the norm for future events of this nature. They both talked over the moderator (though Romney did not manage to make it look as cool as Obama did).
“Binders Full of Women:” The internet is already in love of that quote. Expect to hear endless memes and jokes about it. And, to be honest, it was a genuinely strange choice of words to refer to resumes of potential employees.
I look forward to the last debate. Hopefully it will be a little bit more controlled, and (even more) hopefully, it will be more full of substance. As the debate is, ostensibly, supposed to be about foreign policy, I expect more candor. It is much harder to fudge the facts on war and the world at large than it is to stretch the truth on the minutiae of economic policy.