Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Post-blogging: Thoughts after the second 2012 presidential debate

By Michael J.W. Stickings and Richard K. Barry, with tmcbpatriot and Frank Moraes 

You can look back at our pre-debate predictions/comments here.



Obama. Kicked. Ass.

I'm feeling really good about this one. Compared to the first debate, it was night and day, the president focused, on message, on the attack, calling out Romney for his near-constant dishonesty, explaining his record and policies clearly and succinctly, and making a strong case for why he deserves a second term.

Look, Romney had his moments. He's a snake-oil salesman. And he can sell shit with the best of them. And generally, early on, he made a persuasive, if dishonest, case against the president's handling of the economy. He can do that because, of course, the economy isn't in great shape, and because he's short on specifics when it comes to what he would actually do as president, masking the unpopular elements of his plan -- which is to say, his plan in its entirety -- behind sober rhetoric that makes him seem like a sensible moderate.

But it all started unravelling for Romney on issue after issue, from energy, where the president made a strong case for a comprehensive approach and called Romney out for misrepresenting the amount of exploration on federal lands; to women in the workplace, where Romney tripped all over himself and actually referred to "binders full of women"; to the auto industry, where Romney tried to say he was right about letting Detroit go bankrupt; to immigration, where Obama had him cornered as a far-right extremist; to George W. Bush, where Obama was able to point out that Romney is further to the right on social issues than the former president; to assault weapons, where Romney was all over the place and even suggested that single parents are to blame for mass murderers; to Libya, where Obama, in the most dramatic moment of the debate, called him "offensive" for charging that the president and his team would play politics in response to the deaths of four courageous Americans in Benghazi; to that final question, when Romney said he cared about the 100% and left Obama with a clear opening to bring up Romney's execrable 47% comments as indicative of the real Mitt Romney.

All in all, a brilliant performance by the president. He was in control and engaging from beginning to end. In contrast, from the very start, Romney tried to break the rules, rudely talking over Obama and the moderator, Candy Crowley, interrupting and generally acting the bully, much like he did in the first debate but this time to terrible effect. And in terms of his performance he declined badly as the debate went on, losing focus and lashing out with "kitchen sink" approaches to the questions. And after the Libya exchange, not just with Obama calling what he said offensive but with Crowley admirably pointing out that his claim that Obama didn't call it a terror attack in the Rose Garden the day after the Benghazi attack was simply wrong, another hugely dramatic moment, he seemed lost. You could see it in his eyes. He knew he had lost control, and lost the debate.

I'll have more to say about the debate, but I'll only add now that where I was nervous and anxious going into the debate, I came out of it not just relieved but energized. This is the Obama we know. This is the Obama we love. This was the President Obama America needs for four more years. 

I didn't make as much of his poor performance in the first debate as most others, seeing a lot of the post-debate analysis as overblown, but he obviously needed a strong performance tonight. It's good, incredibly good, to have him back. 

And now, from my colleagues... 

RKB: Obama was strong. I thought Romney looked pinched and nervous all night. He seemed cranky and desperate.

Look, I'm not sure how this will play in the press, but Obama was the guy his base needed him to be. Obama played to women in many of his comments. Comments on clean coal and being tough on China appealed to voters in Ohio. He was generally trying to get swing voters back and he may have done it.

I thought Romney looked like the old unlikeable Romney. Obama also did a good job of showing instances in which Mitt Romney doesn't agree with Mitt Romney. Obama was in fact looser and more aggressive. Libya and immigration are clips that will play tomorrow. By far Obama had the television moments that will be remembered. When Romney said that he cared about all Americans, it gave Obama a chance to introduce the 47 percent in his final comment, which he knocked out of the park.

Even Andrew Sullivan is saying that he saw the guy tonight he voted for four years ago. Sullivan said he's thrilled.

Me too. Two thumbs up. 


Okay, before the pundits fuck it up for me... 

This was good. Obama got it done. And he said 47%. That alone makes him a winner in my book. I am not going to listen to the naysayers.

Obama was there and present, even though he was not really connecting as well as, say, Bill Clinton, but then nobody is Bill. I think this one will definitely be a win for Obama. At one point Romney even got shook up. He tried to pull a gotcha on the president with the Rose Garden speech and even Candy Crowley had to correct him. Ouch. That is going to form a lasting impression. It was debunked as the words were coming out of his mouth.

But damn, no talk of abortion? This would have been prime time for Obama to call out Romney on his flip-flops about abortion. Amazing that did not get into the conversation. And Romney treated the moderator, Candy Crowley, like she worked for him. I am not going to say Romney was rude, but damn when he talked down to the president this should have been the nail in his coffin. Who the fuck did Romney think he was talking to? That was amazing. 

But Obama did what I was hoping. He kept the conversation on Romney and kept Romney defending himself, which is exactly the correct strategy -- and he pulled it off.

Frank Moraes:

I have 5 pages of notes. But who cares? It was pretty much the same thing over and over: Romney misled; Obama pounded him.

There were a few places where I thought Obama went off track. He didn't answer the question about gas prices (probably for the best). I thought that Obama could have said that Romney was the same as Bush because they had exactly the same 5-point plan. On the assault weapon issue, he was trying too hard not to offend.

But these hardly matter given Romney's performance. Romney was noticeably breathing hard as early as the third question. He wasn't prepared for how strong Obama would be with the facts and the medium. He started off well enough with two big lies during the first question. But then he got a gut shot when Obama said that Romney didn't have a 5-point plan, he had a 1-point plan. That was a great line, because the one thing people remember about Romney -- the one thing that really defines him -- is that he is for tax cuts for the rich. So Obama was saying, "Forget everything else he says: his only 'plan' is to cut taxes for the rich." Romney later used the education question to lie with his tax math. When Obama rose from his chair to respond, I noticed a certain swagger. Obama knew he was winning.

There were other funny moments. Romney claimed to be for fair pay for women because he made sure he had token women in his cabinet. He was almost comical on the question of why he was different from Bush. "I really am! Don't look at the policies or the advisers. It's like my tax plan: trust me!" On the immigration question, he wanted everyone to know, "I love immigrants!" I was surprised he didn't say it with an Irish accent.

What was most interesting here was that Romney was clearly delivering a weaker performance than he did in the first debate. I suspect that this is because he wasn't challenged in that debate. But it was clear. I sensed fear. Also, like Obama in the first debate, Romney often got into the weeds about issues that just don't matter to most people: Benghazi? Fast & Furious? Please!  Just when I thought the debate could not get any better, Romney said that he cares about 100% of the people in his last answer. I couldn't believe it! Was he really offering Obama this softball? Could it be? And if so, was Obama going to hit it out of the park? Yes. Obama's closing was masterful.

But what do I know? What impresses me is not what impresses most people. So I switched over the Fox News. Chris Wallace was doing a "fact check" on the number of oil leases. Obama never said he increased the number of leases. In fact, he said the opposite. And then one of the blond presenters talked about how the viewing audience doesn't like it when the candidates interrupt each other.

Translation: Obama won big-time!

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  • Romney claimed to be for fair pay for women because he made sure he had token women in his cabinet. He was almost comical on the question of why he was different from Bush. This was really a funy moment.
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