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Second Presidential Debate: Obama Needs Some Drama

President must challenge Romney on policy, previous statements


Mitt Romney’s powerful debate performance on October 3rd re-set the presidential race just one month before the election. Before the first debate, President Barack Obama had a comfortable lead in the swing states and a narrow lead nationally. As of today, the race is tied nationally and Obama has lost support in the battleground states.

Advisors to the Obama campaign have vowed that the president will not make the same mistakes again. They are planning for Obama to be more clearly on offense, attacking Romney’s litany of flip-flops on display at the Denver debate (For an excellent summary of these ‘etch-a-sketch’ moments, see this Andrew Sullivan article).

Much of what Obama needs to accomplish is theatrical. He needs to convince voters that he has some fire in his belly and really cares about winning re-election. But we can also hope for substantive conversation tomorrow night about some issues raised in the first debate and some that were conspicuous by their absence. The debate will be a town-hall type format, with independent voters posing questions. Here are just a few of the issues we can hope to see addressed at the second presidential debate.

Pre-existing conditions

One of the more remarkable statements that Mitt Romney made at the first debate was that his health care plan covers pre-existing conditions. A simple fact-check reveals this is not true. Romney’s health care plan, as described on his website and confirmed by his advisors, does not require health insurance companies to cover everybody, regardless of their health. It simply re-enforces current law, which requires insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions only if they have had continuous coverage.

Obama did point this discrepancy out at the Denver debate but did so weakly. Expect him to be much more aggressive about the effect of repealing Obamacare generally and this provision more specifically. Indeed, while the public is weary of Obamacare in the aggregate, they really like the requirement that pre-existing conditions can no longer disqualify you from coverage.


Mitt Romney accused Obama of making permanent the idea that some banks and financial institutions are “too big to fail”. In fact, Romney suggested that Obama had given a “wet kiss” to five New York banks. This attack seemed particularly strange given the fact that Wall Street banks have been lobbying hard against the law ever since it passed and are hoping that a Romney victory will ensure its repeal. Surely an even wetter kiss is expected from a Romney administration?

Obama did attempt to point out the inaccuracy of Romney’s attack, by wondering if anyone thought that Wall Street suffered from too much regulation. The president can be much more aggressive on this point, by noting that Romney’s top five contributors are employees of these promiscuous NY banks. Obama should also press his rival on what exactly he thinks ought to replace Dodd-Frank. As Romney himself noted in the debate, he likes a lot of the bill.

The trouble Obama could get into going down this rabbit-hole, though, is that explaining the details of a complicated piece of legislation could make him appear too wonkish and professorial. He needs to make the attack without getting lost in the policy minutia.

 47% comments

Surprisingly, Obama made no mention in the last debate of the infamous secret tape made of Mitt Romney denouncing Obama supporters as dependent victims who do not take personal responsibility for their lives. According to sources within the Obama camp, the president did not want to give Romney a chance to explain himself. Romney has since admitted that those comments were ‘completely wrong’. This about-face should not let Romney off the hook, however. In a town-hall style format, where independent voters are asking questions, surely at least one question will cover the insults Romney hurled at half the country.

Social Issues

The two biggest hot-button social issues — abortion and same-sex marriage — did not make an appearance at all in the first debate. Although this election has been mainly about the economy, I expect at least one question from an independent voter about these issues.

Romney has already surprised his conservative base by claiming to an Iowa newspaper that “”There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” His campaign advisors were quick to clarify that he is strongly pro-life. Hopefully one of the town-hall attendees will ask him to clarify his policy priorities.

The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.

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