The candidates’ debate performance in Presidential debate #2 was a lot different than in #1. The dominant story of the first one was that Obama came off as low energy and Jim Lehrer was about as useful as a potted plant. Mitt Romney’s performance was still high energy but maybe his aggressive hard-sell doesn’t work in that format or against people who don’t let themselves be pushed around.
The underlying messages were fairly familiar. Romney has to convince us that we are living in a dystopian hellscape because of Obama’s policies and America desperately needs to change. Obama has to convince us that things aren’t so bad so muddling along as we’ve been doing for the past 4 years; and that he knows about dystopian hellscapes because that’s what America was after Bush and will be if Romney takes over. When you’re running from a bear, you don’t have to be fast. You just have to be faster than the other guy. Running for the Presidency as a Republican or Democrat seems a little like that.
Fortunately, we live in the future; which includes Twitter. And, during the debates, Twitter turns the Internet into a political Mystery Science Theater 3000, cracking wise at the TV and feeding on one another’s comments.
The meme of the night had to be: binders full of women – a bizarre phrase used by Romney during an anecdote about his time in Massachusetts designed to assure people that he wasn’t anti-woman. He had binders full of women qualified to work in his administration. Or something. I stopped listening after the phrase came out. I think he also commented on his efforts to make work schedules more flexible for women in his administration so they would be able to go home and cook dinner.
The digression from a question about limiting the availability of AK-47s digressed into commentary about marriage so fast it was disorienting. Romney was saying, I guess, that kids from stable households don’t commit crimes. Kind of a guns don’t kill people; people kill people riff. But, again, it was awkward; sounding like guns don’t kill people, single mothers kill people. My contribution to the Twittersphere: “AK47s make me think of marriage too.” But, Obama’s answer on this question made it clear that gun control is dead. He barely admitted to being against the mentally ill and criminals owning high powered firearms.
The “gotcha” moment of the night had to do with Benghazi. Obama was being indignant about Romney, saying that Romney was accusing him of not taking the safety of diplomats seriously. Romney got up and was almost giddy about trapping Obama in a gotcha moment, trying to say that Obama never – as he had just asserted – called the attack in Benghazi an “act of terror.” He was smarmy and went all-in pushing the line of attack. Unfortunately, Obama had used the phrase “act of terror” in the Rose Garden the day after the attack. Obama knew it. The moderator knew it. And when Romney insisted on making a big deal of it, both of them stood firm on that. Later video of the President confirmed that Romney was wrong. If you’re going to come off as smarmy about something, make sure you’ve got the goods. This backfired against Romney in a big way.
One of the pitches Mr. Romney seemed to make about his tax plan was a glorious future of tax free interest and dividends. How much interest does the typical middle class bank account yield? Ten bucks? Maybe I didn’t hear him right, but if that was meant as an appeal to the average voter, I don’t think it connected. “Good news poor people: tax free dividends!”
Romney’s tax plan still doesn’t add up. I don’t buy that Obama is going to balance the budget, but he has a track record that makes some sense. Huge deficits when the economy was in free fall, lesser deficits more recently. And imposing some tax increases on incomes over $250,000 per year at least sounds like a rational way to cut into the deficits somewhat. By contrast, Romney is pretty clear on big tax cuts but a lot less clear on where he gets the money to pay for those cuts, let alone get out of the hole we’re already in. Reminds me of the Bush campaign in 2000. We had finally started making some headway on the national debt, then this guy comes along proposing enormous tax cuts. I was howling at the time. “Things are fine. Pay the debt. Forget tax cuts until the debt is paid off.” No, no; I was told. Paying off the debt too fast is dangerous! The dotcom bust came and went along with the real estate bust, 9/11, and the Iraq war. But the tax cut remains, along with deficits and the debt. Romney’s proposed tax cut strikes me as more of the same only with even worse timing.
Not candidate specific, but I find it disturbing that networks regard fact checking as extra special bonus coverage
Finally, Barry Green’s tough questions aren’t. One of the questioners prefaced his question as being a little tough then asked a question of the “if you were a tree, what kind would you be” variety. Something along the lines of “what misconceptions do people have about you?”