Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I just finished watching the 'Town Hall' Debate between President Obama and Governor Romney.  First, as Jack noted earlier today, the Town Hall format is uniquely unsatisfying.  Of eleven questions presented tonight, no more than half were relevant and/or insightful to the issues facing the country in this election.  A few of the questions were downright inane.  Second, the notion that the Debate Commission could convene a group of 80 uncommitted voters in Nassau County, New York is, at best, wishful thinking.  Every questioner had an agenda and a candidate they supported, and their questions betrayed their allegiances.   

Both candidates stood their grounds impressively, hanging onto extra seconds of time in their answers like starving men clutching slices of bread.  They did not hesitate to talk over each other.  Romney's barbs were directed at Obama's dismal four-year record; Obama's barbs were directed primarily at Romney's personal wealth.  In assessing their respective performances, President Obama's performance was much stronger than his pathetic showing in Denver.  That may be, as they say, damning the President with faint praise.  Obama was listless, unresponsive, halting and singularly unpersuasive in Denver.  However, Obama regularly ignored the question asked this evening and parlayed his response directly to the traditional Democrat talking points and dialogue we swing-state voters have seen for months.  For example, when asked directly if he supported the position of his Director of Energy that it is not his job to bring gasoline prices down, Obama ignored the specific question and launched into a monologue about how his Administration is increasing oil and natural gas drilling on Federal lands (it's not, as Governor Romney noted armed with the actual facts). 

Obama made numerous references to Romney's personal wealth in a disparaging, class warfare manner and ginned up the old saws about Romney wanting to kill the middle class so he can benefit his rich friends.  (It's painfully obvious Obama does not like Romney on a personal basis.)  Obama turned the tables on one of the questions which asked how Romney is different from George W. Bush.  This was also an opportunity missed by Romney, who while outlining ways in which he is different from W, could have also used the question to dispel the oft-told myth that it was the policies of Bush that 'got us into the mess we were in.'  Obama noted that Romney is different from Bush, but then stated ways in which liberals think Romney's policies are worse than those of Bush. 

Romney landed the best blows when he attacked Obama's record of unemployment, food stamp enrollment, trillion dollar deficits, and general economic malaise.  A common theme was "we don't have to settle for this; we can do much better, and I know how we can get there."  Romney scored when he compared the performance of Ronald Reagan, who inherited a worse economy than Obama yet created infinitely more jobs and heralded a multi-year economic boom.  Obama landed his best punches on the Bush-Romney comparison, his suggestions (unsupported) that Romney flips his positions for political expediency, and that the old policies -- which he insisted Romney wants to bring back -- created the problems of 2008-09.  Obama saved the predictable 47% attack for his closing statement (actually it wasn’t a formal closing but rather his answer to the last question which seamlessly morphed into a closing statement), when he knew by virtue of the coin toss that Romney would not have a chance to respond.  Romney seemed to know Obama was saving his ammo, as he led his response to the last question, which actually was one of the more thoughtful questions of the evening (‘what is the biggest misconception people have about you and how would you change that misconception’) by noting that he cares about 100% of the people.  

What the news media will talk about was the feisty exchange about the embassy killings at Libya, and why the Obama Administration didn't call it an Act of Terror for quite some time.  Obama never really responded to the original question (why was the Ambassador's request for additional security denied?), but used the question to lecture the audience about the dangers of public service, how much he cares about people who serve the U.S. overseas, and how we are going to get to the bottom of this and justice will be served.  Obama then noted Romney issued a press release on the day of the assault and killings (I still haven't figured out what is so hateful about that) and how it is just not patriotic to use the event of the death of an Ambassador for political gain.  There ensued a back and forth between Romney and Obama about exactly when the administration recognized the event as an act of terror, and why did the administration continue to refer to the mythical YouTube video as the precipitating event for the bombing.  Eventually, Romney turned to Obama and accused him of not referring to the assault as terrorism until several days after he knew this was the case, and that he and his Administration misled the American people.  Obama said he did call it an Act of Terror in the Rose Garden the next day (the transcript of that short speech can be interpreted either way).  At that point, the moderator Crowley interrupted Romney and said something to the effect of "Actually, he did call it terrorism in the Rose Garden," a point which was followed by applause from half of the "undecided" audience.  Attempting to redeem herself, she then noted the Administration continued to refer to the YouTube video for several weeks, to which the other half of the "undecided" audience applauded.  Obama's people are, I'm sure, confident they got the better end of that deal.  I'm not so sure, because the exchange will keep the story alive in the press right through the third debate which focuses, conveniently, on foreign policy.  

Crowley subsequently explained to CNN the reason for her intervention, ackowledging that Romney was correct that the Administration let the feeble YouTube explanation fester for almost two weeks, but that Romney used the 'wrong word' during the debate. 

In summary, Romney was strongest on his job creation plan, getting the economy going, unemployment, and the deficit -- kitchen table issues.  Obama was strongest on his appeal to 'everyone having a fair shot,' 'level playing fields' and other disguised class warfare terms.  Both candidates were aggressive and yielded no ground.  I give them both a grade of 'B.'  For the Romney Team, they must feel satisfied and hopeful that this debate won’t change the narrative of the campaign, as the Obama Team needed a TKO, similar to the Romney Denver TKO, to change that narrative.  Their guy stood toe-to-toe with Obama and gave as good as he got.   


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