President Barack Obama: A
The stakes couldn’t have been higher for President Obama coming into the second presidential debate. After his dismal performance two weeks ago, Obama had essentially lost his lead in the national polls and was giving up ground in the the swing states.
Some commentators thought the “town hall” format would work against the president, who needed to show some aggression and attack Mitt Romney. Those predictions were wrong. Obama had no problem interrupting and correcting Romney. He was sharp, focused and clearly relishing the opportunity to hit back tonight.
Although much of the import of these debates is theatrical, Obama was able to correct and clarify several major substantive issues that weren’t addressed during the last round.
- The 47% — Obama finally called Romney out on his 47% comments. In response to the final question (what is the biggest misperception about you?), Romney made a point to say that he cares about 100% of America. This was a strange choice, as it allowed Obama to point out that, behind closed doors, Romney had indeed demeaned about half of Americans as dependent victims. Unlike a simple slip of the tongue, Romney’s diatribe against Obama supporters was detailed and premeditated. Obama called him out on it successfully.
- Women’s Health — In response to a question about equal pay for equal work, Obama skillfully recapped the GOP opposition to the Obamacare requirement that health insurance companies cover contraception. Rather than allowing the issue to become one of religious freedom, Obama kept it firmly in the realm of economics, underscoring the importance of contraceptive insurance to female workers and family budgets.
- Libya — Obama gave a full-throated defense of his administration’s response to the deadly attacks in Benghazi on Sept. 11. After Romney asserted that Obama had not labeled the Benghazi attacks as terrorism early on, moderator Candy Crowley actually corrected the GOP nominee on this point. Indeed, I, along with many others, reread the transcript of Obama’s speech in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12. He did, in fact, refer to the attack as an “act of terror.”
Mitt Romney: B
The GOP contender gave a surprisingly strong performance during the first debate but merely met the bar this time around. He seemed thrown by the newly aggressive Obama but managed to keep his footing.
Much of what Romney said was neither new nor substantive. He continued to underscore the weak economy and hammer home his magical tax math, while continuing to deny Obama and the electorate any specifics about that plan.
In response to the question about women in the workforce, Romney answered with his own experience of working with women while governing Massachusetts and while he was at Bain Capital. In fact, a meme was born tonight in Romney’s claim that he had “binders full of women” to choose from when selecting member of his cabinet in Massachusetts (www.twitter.com/Romneybinders). This answer, while touching, didn’t address any policy or legislative solution to gender equality in the workplace.
Candy Crowley: B+
Tuesday night’s moderator was under a lot of fire earlier in the day for claiming that she would play an active role in refereeing tonight’s debate. As it turned out, she needed to — and could have been even more aggressive. Romney and Obama were interrupting each other, talking over one another and exceeding their allotted time. Crowley attempted to keep them on point but often let the exchanges between the two men get a bit out of hand.
I give Crowley high marks for choosing good questions from this audience of undecided voters. They covered a lot of territory, from taxes to gun control to Libya to gender equality.
The Town Hall Questioners: A
The questions brought to this debate from ordinary voters — not members of the professional chattering class — were far superior to any I have heard in previous debates or interviews. Most important, they were specific.
Unfortunately neither Obama nor Romney gave the short answers that could have sufficed for these questions, but the spirit and intent of the questioners were admirable.
The best question of the night by far, posed to Governor Romney: “How would your presidency differ from the previous Republican president?” Romney had little to say in response that question. Perhaps that says it all.
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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