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Oct 17 2012

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Obama vs Romney – Round II

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Obama New & Improved – But Enough?

Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The Commentariat told us to expect a freshly focused, engaged and energized President Obama last night. And that man did in fact, show up at last night’s second presidential debate. In fairness, however, in comparison to the POTUS that went to Denver, there was really nowhere for Obama to go but up.

We were told that it would be hard for Mitt Romney to dominate the debate as decisively as he had done in Denver, and that was also true, if only because the President didn’t “mail it in” this time.

The enormous change in the electoral landscape since October 3rd was reflected in the individual candidate presentations.

In Denver, Obama essentially tried to sit on his lead. With the swing state polls turning decisively in his favor through the month of September, Team Obama calculated that by just showing up, POTUS would cement his gains leading to electoral victory. In contrast, with everything to lose, Mitt Romney came out swinging and by force of will and determination, completely upended the presidential race.

Last night was an evening of role reversal. It was POTUS who had everything to lose.

Instead of dominating the swing states, Team Obama is now hemorrhaging support in the critical states, with disturbing, isolated, polls showing pro-Romney movement in Democratic bastions such as Pennsylvania and even Minnesota. By turn, it was a more cautious Mitt Romney that showed up, aware of his fresh gains and momentum, and intent on saying nothing that would endanger them.

That was the subtle central dynamic from last night.

Overall, the President was relaxed and modulated.

Though the majority of his presentation was made up of the exact dialogue from his political ads, he did manage to get in all of the popular attack lines that Vice President Biden had snarled and cackled his way through last week, but he did so in a more refined and effective manner.

In contrast, Romney appeared tenser and either passed up or missed obvious openings to attack the President’s record that he had capitalized on in Denver.

In the very first question, from a student seeking reassurance that there would be a job for him after college, Romney focused on fuzzy education metaphors without either presenting his economic plan or showcasing the Obama administration economic failures that has created the current uncertain job market.

In addition, in response to a question on energy policy, Romney inexplicably made no mention of the Obama administration’s $90 billion clean energy program, where yet another company, supported by over $200 million in taxpayer funds – battery manufacturer A123 – had gone bankrupt that very day.

Romney was also more prickly, quarrelsome and defensive than in the first debate. This was summarized in a mistaken debate strategy of having Romney question the President directly.

History already shows the singular unwillingness of Obama to take responsibility for anything, let alone agree with a point of order from his opponent in front of a national audience, three weeks before an election.

 To think otherwise is pure folly.

And understanding that Obama was never going to cede ground, the strategy in practice was distasteful, with two candidates for the presidency bickering like women in a sewing bee. Think about it. When Romney staged a fight with Obama about arcane public land use permits for energy exploration, what do you remember? The substance or the fight?

That said, despite a more smooth and fluid performance than Romney, a review of the transcript shows two yawning gaps in the President’s exposition that are truly central to the election campaign.

The President provided almost nothing but educational bromides, an aspirational promise to manufacturing and a soak-the-rich tax code as the meat of a second term agenda. Tellingly, POTUS made no defense of his first term performance, but to rely on the tired and threadbare excuse that he inherited an economic crisis. For the fact-checkers out there, the recession officially ended in June 2009. What we have had since is supposed to be the Obama “recovery.”

It was at this juncture of presidential silence that Romney was most effective:

“I think you know better. I think you know that these last four years haven’t been so good as the president just described and that you don’t feel like you’re confident that the next four years are going to be much better either.

I can tell you that if you were to elect President Obama, you know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get a repeat of the last four years. We just can’t afford four more years like the last four years.

He said that by now we’d have unemployment at 5.4 percent. The difference between where it is and 5.4 percent is 9 million Americans without work. I wasn’t the one that said 5.4 percent. This was the president’s plan. Didn’t get there.

He said he would have by now put forward a plan to reform Medicare and Social Security, because he pointed out they’re on the road to bankruptcy. He would reform them. He’d get that done. He hasn’t even made a proposal on either one.

He said in his first year he’d put out an immigration plan that would deal with our immigration challenges. Didn’t even file it.

This is a president who has not been able to do what he said he’d do. He said that he’d cut in half the deficit. He hasn’t done that either. In fact, he doubled it. He said that by now middle-income families would have a reduction in their health insurance premiums by $2,500 a year. It’s gone up by $2,500 a year. And if Obamacare is passed, or implemented — it’s already been passed — if it’s implemented fully, it’ll be another $2,500 on top.

The middle class is getting crushed under the policies of a president who has not understood what it takes to get the economy working again. He keeps saying, “Look, I’ve created 5 million jobs.” That’s after losing 5 million jobs. The entire record is such that the unemployment has not been reduced in this country. The unemployment, the number of people who are still looking for work, is still 23 million Americans.

There are more people in poverty, one out of six people in poverty.

How about food stamps? When he took office, 32 million people were on food stamps. Today, 47 million people are on food stamps. How about the growth of the economy? It’s growing more slowly this year than last year, and more slowly last year than the year before.

The president wants to do well. I understand. But the policies he’s put in place from Obamacare to Dodd-Frank to his tax policies to his regulatory policies, these policies combined have not let this economy take off and grow like it could have.

 Median income is down $4,300 a family and 23 million Americans out of work. That’s what this election is about. It’s about who can get the middle class in this country a bright and prosperous future and assure our kids the kind of hope and optimism they deserve.”

Simply devastating, but Romney’s high points came in the details, not the overall narrative of the debate, which the president dominated.

This is why surveys show Obama winning the debate.

According to CNN, Obama won the debate 46-39 percent. CBS found that by 37-30 that Obama won.

POTUS needed a win, and he got it, though not nearly as convincingly as Romney’s dominance in Denver.

But like the strong points in Romney’s debate performance; it is in the details of the snap polls that we find the most telling facts.

  • On the economy, Romney beat Obama by 18% in the CNN poll and 21% in the CBS poll.
  • The CNN poll had Romney up on handling taxes (7%) and the budget/debt (23%)

The number one issue for Americans is jobs and the economy. On substance, Romney blew the president’s doors off – again.

  • CNN polled on which candidate had a clear plan — Romney was -1 (49-50) and Obama was -23 (38-61)
  • Romney led on health care (49-46), being a better leader (49-46), and giving direct answers (45-43)

To the issues of leadership, and the constant Obama harping on Romney’s tax plan, it would appear that Team Obama is beating a dead horse.

  • Obama led on being likeable (47-41) and who cared more about the questioners (44-40)

This has always been an Obama strength. But it is his only apparent strength. Given the issues at stake, is it enough?

Finally, there were two big losers in last night’s debate, the town hall debate format itself, and CNN’s Candy Crowley.

If the Commission on Presidential Debates is unwilling to change the rules of the town hall format to make the sessions more productive, they should abolish it in 2016.

The fact is that the setting is fake and uninformative. Sadly, the participants are props in a faux demonstration of representative democracy. How can it be otherwise when it is the moderator who ultimately chooses the questions? And the Commission approved time limits allowed for very little give and take between the candidates, which would have actually made the format meaningful.

Take fewer questions or extend the debate to two hours. Doesn’t the nation deserve at least that much?

And then there is Candy Crowley.

At one point, Crowley made a joking reference that her colleagues “would run her out of town.” After last night, allow that process to begin by banning Crowley from ever moderating a presidential debate again.

Crowley used ten questions out of nearly 100. I’d like to see the others that didn’t merit attention.

Honestly, this is Crowley’s idea of what is mainstreaming in the American electorate? Equal pay provisions for women? Gun control? How Romney is different from George W. Bush?  Sounds awefully “Inside-the-Beltway” to me.

For Americans at large, the inanity is jaw dropping.

What about Medicare/Medicaid? And the coming entitlement crisis. What about the housing crisis and the inability to access credit? What about the implications of Obamacare and the quality of health-care? Was there not one question on poverty or hunger?

Everyone has an issue that is near and dear to their heart, as we (unfortunately) saw last night. Not every issue deserves to be brought up in a presidential debate where the economy, social policy and budget are so critically important, and yet so unexamined.

And Crowley committed the unpardonable sin of stepping into the debate as referee as well as moderator, when she took sides against Mitt Romney to confirm Obama’s take on the President’s Sept 12 statement on the Benghazi attack, a position that she ultimately had to walk back after the debate was over. In fact, the truth was self evident. If POTUS had called Benghazi a terrorist attack on September 12th, why did he spend the next two weeks blaming an anti-Muslim video for the attack, including at an address before the UN?

Crowley facilitated presidential misrepresentation in front of a national audience.

And those questions – on Bush, gun control and equal pay – would not they be seen as issues that favor Obama, and are hardly central to the issues most concerning Americans now? Is this was passes for an unbiased accounting of the issues?

It’s tragic.

In the end, the media always needs a fresh narrative and last night delivered. The Romney surge has now become the Obama comeback. The President certainly stopped the bleeding last night and gave his supporters something to cheer about.

Did it help with those who will decide the election? Did he change the momentum of the race?

That is yet to be seen.

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