Opinion: Presidential Debates 2012, Part 2: Obama Shines in a Town Hall Setting

Last night, at Hofstra University, President Obama and Republican candidate Governor Mitt Romney faced off for the second to last time this election season. The debate was in a “town hall” setting where 82 undecided voters got the chance to ask questions of the candidates. Candy Crowley, debate moderator and CNN personality, was stellar in leading the dialogue when needed and correcting the candidates when appropriate. There is no question that President Obama annihilated Governor Romney in last night’s debate. Anyone who says otherwise is in denial. For me, I found myself laughing out loud at the President’s retorts and Romney’s inability to stand off with an awake, intelligible, and energetic President Obama. It seemed more like a boxing match than a debate. And Romney was the technocratic CEO facing off against a heavy hitter in our incumbent President. Here are some of the issues that President Obama crushed Romney in.

Job Creation and Unemployment

When asked by an audience member, Romney couldn’t explain how he’d create more jobs. Repeatedly he said “I know what it takes” to create jobs. But, doesn’t he want the American voter to know? At no point did he articulate his plans. Obama, on the other hand, quoted his ability to create “5 million jobs…in the private sector alone” since taking office. He also noted that he wanted to build manufacturing jobs in “industries across the country.” He said this while mentioning that Governor Romney famously stated that the government should let Detroit “go bankrupt” a few years ago. This, Romney flatly defended. To add to Romney’s loss in this category, he said that Obama “took [Detroit] bankrupt.” What was Obama’s retort to Romney’s false claims? “We would have lost 1 million jobs…Gov. Romney doesn’t have a 5-point plan. He has a 1-point plan…to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.” To add, Romney promised “12 million new jobs.” But, he never actually told us how he’d get there. Nuff said. This point went to Obama, hands down.

Tax Policy

Romney said he wants to “bring the rates down” and “simplify the tax code.” Then, he immediately started talking about the last four years. He talked about lowering rates and removing deductions. He said that the voter could figure out “which ones to use.” What does that mean exactly? Is the plan to give voters more options or to make the tax code easier to understand? Romney failed to clear that up. One thing that Romney explained was that under his policy, no middle income family would have to pay “interest, dividends, and capital gains…[or] tax on [their] savings.” He then promised not to increase taxes on the middle class. If this is true, it would definitely lower the tax burden on families. But, as President Obama noted, his current policies have already cut annual taxes on middle class families “by $3,600.00.” He went on to outline his tax policy while disparaging Romney’s allies who are holding the “98% hostage” in favor of tax cuts for the rich. To beat Romney at his own game, the President pointed to a recent interview on 60 Minutes where Romney stated that it was fair for someone of his economic stature to pay fewer taxes than someone making 400 times less than him. Obama’s quick thinking and consistency on this issue won him the point here.

Equal Pay and Women’s Issues

Romney made the mistake of coining the phrase “binders full of women” when discussing his desire to incorporate more women into his cabinet as Governor of Massachusetts. He said that he staffed his cabinet with more women than “any other state in America.” But, his efforts seemed more like a political football than a true desire to see equal status for women in his regime. Plus, he sounded more like an HR professional than a President on this issue. He noted that he took great care in making sure that a mom on his staff could get home to her kids and prepare dinner. Since when are women the only people who need flexible work schedules? This commentary reiterated Romney’s lack of connection to the average voter. Conversely, President Obama defended Planned Parenthood and cervical screenings as “pocketbook issues.” He said “these are not just women’s issues. These are family issues. These are economic issues.” This rhetoric came across as much more valid and genuine than Romney’s. And women voters will likely agree. Again, the point went to Obama.

Immigration Policy

This is a really touchy issue. And, Romney has consistently alienated voters who care about immigration policy. The Governor has been pinned on immigration since his words in the primary elections expressing a desire to veto the Dream Act. He also famously coined the phrase “self-deportation” during the primaries when debating Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX). To date, no one has stood with him on the notion that we should make life so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they simply pack up and leave on their own. President Obama noted that the person who designed the Arizona law, SB 1070, is Romney’s top advisor on immigration. In total disconnectedness from the issue, Romney referred to non-citizens and undocumented immigrants as “illegals.” I think it is pretty obvious that Romney didn’t stand a chance here. The point went to President Obama in this no contest match-up.

The Benghazi Attack

Republicans have been trying to catch the President in some type of dubious conspiracy to cover up the attacks on the US compound in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. Governor Romney put out a press release during the ordeal which many have denigrated as untimely and unpatriotic. And, during the debate, each candidate volleyed on the issue. Romney, incorrectly, asserted during the debate that President Obama did not alert the American people that this was an “act of terror” which was 1000% false. President Obama took responsibility for the attack in Libya and noted that he, on September 12th, called the attack an “act of terror.” To which Romney confrontationally responded, “You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack this was an act of terror?” And, Crowley had to step in to fact check the Governor. With this response, Romney further proved that he is incapable of synthesizing complex foreign issues or handling tragedy with the kind of care expected of a POTUS. It shouldn’t be a campaign issue, but since the conservatives have tried to make it one, the point went to President Obama.

For all intents and purposes, one might say this was an aggressive debate. Both candidates were thoroughly prepared. But, Romney really could not stand up to President Obama’s quick wit and truthful responses. He even called Gov. Romney’s elusive tax policy stances “sketchy” saying the “math doesn’t add up.”

A few of my favorite quotes are below:

Obama:  “We haven’t heard from the Governor any specifics besides Big Bird and cutting funding for Planned Parenthood…”

Obama: “George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.”

Romney: “Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?”

Obama: “I don’t look at my pension; it’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take that long.”

Conservatives will attempt to spin this debate noting wording or Crowley’s influence as the kicker. None will note Romney’s willful disregard for debate etiquette and lack of respect for Crowley or President Obama. His demeanor was extremely off-putting and confrontational. But, in truth, the American voter agrees that this was the President’s strongest debate performance thus far and maybe even in his career. With such a strong performance, it suffices to ask what exactly happened to President Obama in the first debate two weeks ago. Was it a “rope-a-dope”? Was it fatigue? We may never know. But, what we do know is that last night’s debate signaled a stronghold for the President. And, with only one debate left, dealing with foreign policy, he has the upper hand leading up to November 6th.

View the full debate below:

See here for the full transcript.

See here for a schedule of future debates.


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