After the first debate ended, it was widely agreed President Obama lacked energy and was missing some of that trademark fire and gusto he used so well during the 2008 campaign. The man is a talented orator, but somehow failed to bring forth any of that skill on a night he desperately needed to. Romney walked away the victor and his campaign gained a much needed bounce, not only in the polls, but also in enthusiasm and belief in his ability to win the presidency. But then the second debate took place.
The President Obama who showed up on Tuesday night was almost as foreign to the voting public as the version of Romney who appeared in the first debate. Obama not only brought the missing fire from the belly, but also an aggression and fighting spirit that he has never before shown in a debate setting. Romney fought back valiantly at times, but struggled to hold the floor and on numerous ocassions walked right into policy discussions that did nothing to serve him or his point of view.
Much of the buzz the day after has been about the Libya question, which should have been a slam dunk for the Romney side. The attack on the consulate in Libya is a sore spot for the Obama administration. People died under Obama’s leadership and that is always a terrible thing. Yet, every president faces the inevitability that people will die on his watch, so claiming that alone is reason to remove him is a fairly weak argument. The factor that matters is how one responds as Commander-in-Chief. As the incumbent, Obama got to show that first hand, while Romney had to play it up from outside the realm of any political meaning or power.
Obama also rose to the floor to denounce Romney strongly for promoting the idea that he or his team had tried to downplay the threat and violence of the event in order to soften the political damage. When he turned to Romney and called his statement “offensive,” the strength and anger behind it was palpable. It made Obama look like the big dog in the room and it truly hurt Romney’s standing in comparison.
Obama did also call it an “act of terror” the very next day after the attack, something Romney tried to score points on at the debate and got himself fact checked live on camera by the moderator. Sadly for him, the audience was too busy laughing at him to hear Candy Crowley’s following statement saying that Romney was indeed correct in claiming the administration as a whole took nearly two weeks to admit the attack was carried out by terrorists and not militants upset over the infamous YouTube video.
While the laughter and instant correction in front of the audience were not a high point for Romney, a review of night’s transcripts reveals, it seems to me, that they were not his lowest point.
The young women who asked about fair pay for women almost seemed cherry picked for Obama (which Fox News is already claiming). The president signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as his very first bill in office, so he has incredibly solid ground to stand on in terms of helping women get a fair shot in the workplace. Romney, on the other hand, has never said publicly that he supports the bill, only that he will not repeal it in his sweeping desire to erase everything Obama put in place during his first term. Romney tried to weave his answer and support for women into an overarching narrative of fixing the economy, basically saying if the economy is better for everyone it’s better for women as well. Yet inside his trailing answer he failed to make any sense, inadvertently giving the political talking heads their best internet discussion point of the night when he used the phrase “binders of women”.
Romney’s last hope for the night was to make it out without Obama attacking him on the “47 percent” video, but then he left that point wide open in his closing statement. Obama walked right through the door and closed out the night out with another in his quiver of solid attack lines. Fox and the right wing are scrambling today to claim everything from question stacking to oversampled polling after the debate, but to anyone watching it was a clear win for the president, an exact mirror image to what happened in round one.
Both men have shown their tough sides and both walked out of one debate head held high, which puts a lot of pressure and expectation on the third and final round. The biggest question for that one will surely be is anyone still listening?