Barack Obama wins the second presidential debate - Spectator Blogs

17 October 2012

Barack Obama won the second of the three Presidential debates last night but he did not beat Mitt Romney as thoroughly as he had been beaten by the challenger in their first encounter. If you were compiling an aggregate score for the debates so far the President would still be behind.

I doubt Republicans will react to this modest reverse for Romney’s fortunes with the kind of panic that liberals embraced two weeks ago. The Democratic meltdown helped turn a setback into a rout. Suddenly momentum – whatever that is – was with Romney and it was easy for Republican raiding parties to mop up Democratic stragglers and put them to the sword. Discipline matters in victory but it matters even more in defeat.

In truth, Romney’s fightback had begun – albeit slowly – before the first debate. The debates, as we all know, don’t usually change the fundamental dynamic of the race. But there is always a first time for everything and one should remember to more often caveat one’s remarks with the reminder that the sample size for modern presidential elections remains small. The rules are not set in granite.

Even so, last night’s victory – narrow, yet clear – offers Obama a chance to check Republican momentum. It means changing the story from an administration on the back foot (Hello Benghazi!) and a suddenly punch-drunk campaign (Enough with the Big Bird nonsense already, folks!)

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So Obama’s task last night was, in essence, to ask Romney a simple, traditional question: where’s the beef? It was not one for which Romney had a particularly compelling answer. His suggestion for a universal deduction is not necessarily a bad one but saying “one way of doing that would be say everybody gets — I’ll pick a number — $25,000 of deductions and credits, and you can decide which ones to use” does rather bolster the impression the candidate might just be making a lot of this stuff up as he goes along.

And this lack of clarity or rigour with regard to Romney’s tax and spending plans produced the only truly memorable line of the night. Having totted up Romney’s figures the President turned to Romney to tell him: “You were an investor; you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal”.

No he wouldn’t and no matter how much Romney protested he had a “five point plan” Obama jabbed and jabbed again, poking Romney in the eye with the assertion that for all its apparent softness, Romney’s plan is really a one point plan: the rich will do better.

Not that Romney always helped himself. For some reason he used his closing remarks to stress that he’d be a president for 100% of the American people. This was an idiotic thing to say because, as he should know by now, 100% is a prompt to remind people about that whole unfortunate 47% thing. Sure enough, Obama pounced:

I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about. Folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives. Veterans who’ve sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country’s dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don’t make enough income.

Bang bang, you’re dead. And yet despite this more energetic, forceful, combative performance it remains the case that it’s not always quite clear what a second Obama term is really for. More of the same but a bit better is not the greatest rallying call in electoral history. It is hard to escape the impression that Obama’s campaign rests less on his own promises for a second term – which are themselves pretty vague – and rather more on the simple need to thwart Mitt Romney.

It may be that thwarting Romney is necessary but Not Being Mitt Romney is plainly a less popular and actually less necessary platform than Not Being George W Bush was four years ago. In other words, Romney isn’t the only candidate with a sales problem.

Even though I think he was bested last night the debates have plainly helped Romney. Four years ago the debates diminished John McCain; they have elevated Romney. He enjoys debating and it shows. Obama does not and that shows too.

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  • rndtechnologies786

    Your blog is too good.

  • Krishnan Unni Madathil

    As an Obama supporter, I have to say that Mitt Romney holds the stage much better in debates. He stuck to his points, and it seems he is singularly guided by his idea for jobs. Everything else – foreign policy, state of the world, religious policy is all secondary. Grudgingly, I have to accept that MR is more sure of his rhetoric than Obama. Four years is enough time to make a few right policy decisions – I believe Obama’s biggest failure – and I am not sure how MR would have acted – was to not let the banks fail.

    The bailouts were the single biggest fallacy in American history – it basically proved that if you are moneyed enough, you can get away with murder, at least the financial type. It is fairly obvious to me, as an external observer, that it does not seem likely that either of the two candidates will mean good news for those at the bottom layers of the pyramid.

    In the greater scheme of things, Benghazi can be pardoned for BO. For MR, his gaffes on Latinos, women and 47% can also be pardoned. If you take away the skin for the meat, all you have left is with the fact that it is indeed about the economy. And, within that, it is about jobs. Both BO and MR have disappointed for their lack of clarity and comprehension of proposals, but MR seems to have a slight lead at this point. That said, there are gaping holes in his proposals too.

  • Gregory

    “Barack Obama wins the second presidential debate” with a little help from Candy Crowley.

  • Redneck

    Mr Massie

    I don’t mean to be rude but I found your interpretation of last night’s outcome to be rather subjective with a hint of sycophancy towards the present incumbent.

  • Beefeater

    The “shaky deal” was ridiculous. A long, wrong, stumbling childish set-up for a weak punch line. Obama is number-challenged. Are you? The is no lack of clarity or rigor with respect to Romney’s tax plan – either on its own terms, or relative to what Romney calls Obama’s “government trickle-down” plan. Romney’s plan (capped deductions, taxpayer’s choice) does add up. Nothing Obama has offered, or achieved, adds up. Soaking the rich ain’t gonna do it. Anyone listening for substance should have been embarrassed by Obama. Only partisan point-scorers could imagine that was a good night for Obama – and only in comparison with his prior performance. By far the best lines of the night were in the sure, fluent, ringing, true litany of Obama’s failures from Romney. It’s all about the record, the record, the record. Four more years and American will be a Food Stamp nation – the 47% so compassioneered by Obama will swell. From the bottom up, from the middle out. The “economy” has been redefined by Obama as government allocated fair shots and government redistributed fair shares. Nothing rang less true than Obama’s praise of free enterprise at the end of the debate. It is just the standard appeal to American self-image, before he made clear that he was President for the 47%, by the 99%, of the 3%.
    Benghazigate (hello!) should sound the death knell for this superficial, narcissistic, meretricious, incompetent administration. Just a few weeks ago, it was made known that Obama shirks face-to-face security briefings, being happy to read the reports. Now there is a scandal about what he knew, when he knew it – and if he didn’t know it when others knew it, or if he did know it, but lied, then either way, he or others should be fired.

  • Kentc

    I think Romney did very well considering he had two opponents. Obama and Candy Crowley. Everyone in the US knows that Candy Crowley is a fanatic Obama supporter. She acted as an off stage prompter
    even though she was on stage. The consensus among the pundit class in the US is that Obama won on style and Romney won on substance. Tell me what problems are solved by style. Obama’s supporters have to say that Obama won the debate no matter what his performance. There is no way they could allow two consecutive bad performances.

  • Kevin

    the impression the candidate might just be making a lot of this stuff up as he goes along

    I got the impression that Romney could – as he did – point to his balanced budgets at Bain, the Winter Olympics and in Massachusetts, and contrast that with Obama’s doubling of the deficit. He could also point to Canada’s 20 per cent lower corporation tax rate as a source of the uncompetitiveness that may be hurting America’s employment figures.

    Paul Ryan probably did better on emphasising the strategy of raising revenue by lowering taxes, which Biden derided as “not mathematically possible”, as if taxation was simply a matter of subtracting from everyone’s “guaranteed” annual profits. Obama noticeably did not follow up on Biden’s analysis.

    Furthermore, you cannot just blush past Benghazi and ignore “Fast and Furious”. The latter seems to be an extraordinary scandal, and the former is at least a farce, though the fact that there apparently was no “video protest” at all suggests something worse.

    Debating is not boxing. The fact that Obama remained physically standing at the end does not make it a draw let alone a points victory for him.

  • Gavin TheEmperor Tyndale

    Obama won hands down, romney should go watch sesame street :)), he a liar

    • Baron

      Gavin, prepare then for a massive disappointment, the messiah will walk, walk out the White House, the laceration he’ll receive will be more than an embarrassment for the ‘feel-my-warm-balls’ tossers of your ilk, sir.

  • Brian Maple

    The President was sensational. He absolutely destroyed all of Mitt Romney’s ridiculous arguments. Who ever is attempting to argue that Romney’s plan is “better for people with pre-existing conditions” is fatally mis-informed. There have been major, international, independent studies that not only prove this to be untrue, but show that Mitt Romney’s overall proposed health care “plan” would leave 72 million American people without *any* insurance coverage whatsoever by the year 2020. When you pile this on top of his Racist/Homophobic/Anti-Woman policies it is truly astonishing to imagine that anyone in their right mind would actually think it justifiable voting for him. He and Paul Ryan have voted actually voted, on-record, **against** American women being able to be paid the same rate as American men for the doing the same work. It is 2012. In ten to fifteen years he will be looked back on as a major embarrassment for human/civil rights; not to mention, decency.

    • BillRees

      What were you watching?
      And what were you on when you were watching it?
      This election is as close to a one-issue election as we are ever likely to get – who can cut the deficit that is threatening to overwhelm America?Everything else is a sideshow, and the only question is whether the American people realise that.I think they will.The post-debate polls showed that Romney won easily on the economy, and I think that is what will determine the outcome of the election.Get a bet on Romney while you can still get him at 2/1 or better.

    • Augustus

      ” He and Paul Ryan have voted actually voted, on-record, **against** American women being able to be paid the same rate as American men for the doing the same work.”
      Then why does Barack Obama’s White House pay women 18% less than men?
      According to a White House report compiled last year “female employees earned a median annual salary of $60,000, which was about 18 percent less than the median salary for male employees ($71,000). Calculating the median salary for each gender required some assumptions to be made based on the employee names. When unclear, every effort was taken to determine the appropriate gender, the Washington Free Beacon reported.”

    • Baron

      Brian, having read your post Baron reckons humanity would benefit substantially if you did the following;

      Take your pants down, locate the dangling bit between your legs, grab it, hold tight, and pull.

      Painful? Perhaps, but less so than the vomit your brain is capable of serving, sir.

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