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Oct 17, 2012

Rundle: Obama did better, but this was no home run

Republican Mitt Romney exposed his neck in the second US presidential debate in New York today, but Barack Obama didn't sink his teeth in. Our man watched on from a bar in Brooklyn.

President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney fought a gritty, hard-fought encounter, unfocused and bitsy, with none of the freewheeling intensity that made the vice-presidential debate such a gripping encounter. Democrats are still likely to be left underwhelmed by their man after the second presidential match-up in New York.

Though it had none of the walkover feel of the first debate, it was nevertheless far from genuinely engaging, tense and hard-fought throughout, without being pleasurable, like sex. Republicans are likely to score it a clear win for Romney, and I suspect many Democrats, if they are honest, will give him a narrow win on points, with Barack Obama once again unwilling to do what many wanted of him — to skewer Romney’s fantastical claims about creating a magical new economy in four years. Still insisting on defending and proclaiming his record, Obama remained unwilling to do what many people believe is essential for him to do if he is to win the election clearly: instil a deep fear of the alternative in enough of the population to swing key states.

The format was a “town hall-style” debate, chaired by right-of-centre CNN host Candy Crowley, who proved no better at controlling the flow of the event than the hapless Jim Lehrer of the first debate. Inevitably, the format — with nominated “ordinary” citizens reading their questions, but with no opportunity for follow-up — degenerated into something of a free-for-all, with the questions serving as a pretext for point scoring and rolling out agendas. As the debate began, the crowd at the upscale Brooklyn hipster depot your correspondent had for some reason decided to roost at, tensed over their sour apple martinis — would Obama bring his game? Or would this be the end of the road, and the beginning of adjusting to a Romney presidency?

Well, Obama didn’t disappoint, but he didn’t, erm, appoint either. The first question was from a student about lack of jobs, what is there to hope for, blah blah. He sounded like a drip, but neither candidate could say that of course. Romney had won the toss, and kicked into a familiar spiel about how disappointing the last four years have been, and how everything, everything would be solved if he were given the opportunity to fix it. “Twelve million jobs in four years!” By now Romney has managed to turn, or it has been turned for him, from nervy boy into — well, I dunno. Willy Wonka? The Candyman? Something between a Uniting Church preacher and a children’s TV show host, and the pilot in Flying High (“Bobby, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”). So every answer becomes more and more “gosh” and “gee whiz” and “everything will be fine” because, and this would be the refrain through his presentation, “I’ve been in business, I know how to do this”.

Obama sandbagged him early by announcing a five-point plan for his second term, which was pretty much more of the same: education, increase smart jobs, smart energy, and I forget the others. That not only pre-empted Romney’s five-point plan, but allowed him to get in the first hit of the evening: “Governor Romney has said he has a five-point plan — it’s a one-point plan, tax cuts for the rich.” There was then a very messy encounter as to whether domestic oil production has fallen under Obama, with Romney firing direct questions at Obama — apparently in contravention against the debate rules — and at one point telling Obama: “You’ll get your turn in a moment.” It was a real chest-butting moment, which Obama did not come out the better from.

By now the crowd, and one’s heart, was raging for Obama to really go Romney, to make some connections between his fantastic promises. A question on taxes and who would cut what allowed Romney to repeat the notion of “we can do better than this”, but Romney left a few hostages to fortune. Talking about his bundle of tax plans he said: “Look, I’ll pick a number — say you save $25,000 over x years …” That was the point at which I began putting a new section in my notebook with indented brackets: TOSHS — “things Obama should have said”.

TOSHS 1: “Pick a number is the truest thing Romney has said because that’s his whole approach to economic policy. Promise everything and pick a number. We had eight years of that under Bush and that got us to where we were when I took over.”

Obama at least went into the way Romney’s plan of tax cuts, deficit reduction and military spending didn’t add up, but man, hammer it home, hammer it home. Where’s the hammer? Is Jimmy Carter using it to build homes? You may need it back soon.

“… Romney was exposed, and began to show some neck, and Obama didn’t get his teeth sunk into it.”

Following that it was a slog through the undergrowth. Obama got a softball/Dixer regarding equal pay for women, allowing him to talk about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and sending Romney off on a mad thing about his term as Massachusetts governor and finding women executives by “going through the binders” which sounded like a Mormon thing. That led into a curly one for Romney: “What is the greatest difference between you and George W Bush?” “Well I differ from President Bush in that I come from a different world. I started a small business …”

TOSHS 2: “Small business?! It was a capital firm backed with millions by banks after you did two Harvard degrees supported by your father’s shares, you poltroon. Jaysus!”

What Obama said: “Well we’ve spent a few years digging our way out of policies governor Romney wants to repeat, policies that were misplaced …”


Faaaaaaaark …

This segues into immigration, and Obama managed to tie Romney to the Arizona rules which are killing the Republican Hispanic vote — that gets a genuine Romney bluster and prevarication — and by the end of it, Romney was starting to fragment a little. We were seeing the Romney of the public appearances hemming and haawing and not good on presenting himself, resenting it really, which was where Obama needed to have him. That was cut short a little by a question on Libya. Obama took the high road, of commander-in-chief  — “I stand in front of those coffins coming out of the plane” — which was a breaker on Romney who badly overextended himself, arguing that Obama hadn’t called the raid on the Benghazi a terrorist attack. Obama countered that he had called it thus in a Rose Garden press conference on the second day. Romney doubted that, and moderator Candy Crowley stepped in to say that, in fact, the President was correct — which got a round of applause from the audience. That seemed to rattle Romney for the rest of the debate and he fumbled the pass into a subsequent question on guns, trying to triangulate between NRA backing and a dozen massacres, got onto “fast and furious”, a bungled sting operation on the Mexican border, which managed to let a bunch of guns fall into the hands of cartels, with which the Right are obsessed, but which no one else cares about a whit.

We hit a question on China; Romney tries to slate Obama as China-coddler, says he will define it as currency manipulator and reintroduce tariffs. I await howls of outrage from the Right at this return of protection, and the acknowledgement that Obama is a more free-trade President, while knowing they won’t come. At last something honest is said in this debate, and by Obama: “A lot of these jobs are not coming back. We need better jobs, so we need to invest in education not tax cuts for the rich …” Even the moderator piled onto Romney here, with his fantasy idea that only government regulation is keeping the US from being fully competitive with China, another TOSHS.

They wrapped it up with the traditional hippy weird-arse question — “what is the most mistaken belief people have of each of you? — which led each to lay into what is ignored about the other, and where Obama finally, finally, played the 47% card. And then it was over, and the hipster den emptied in minutes, as everyone deserted their half-finished piss-weak beers, it being a school night.

Well, it sure as hell wasn’t a big Obama loss, though I bet Fox News is spinning it as such even now. But Romney was exposed, and began to show some neck, and Obama didn’t get his teeth sunk into it. I cheered along with the Obama feints like the rest of the crowd, but afterwards there was that empty feeling, a missed opportunity, and the realisation that two people had tangled, one in fantasy, the other in the real. Like sex. Also a sudden need for snacks.

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13 thoughts on “Rundle: Obama did better, but this was no home run

  1. zut alors

    At best Romney comes across as smarmy. I heard most of the ‘debate’ and then asked myself why I bothered – lost time can never be found.

    As for TOSHS, it wouldn’t harm Barry to remind voters he inherited a Bush-Greenspan GFC – they set it up, he’s had to wrestle with it and cop the rap.

  2. michael r james

    “Democrats, if they are honest, will give him a narrow win on points..”

    Hmmm. No. After the first debate you thought it was a draw when clearly Obama had underperformed and Romney had overperformed. This time it was about as good as anyone can expect from BO. He simply never gets into attack-dog mode. But it was good enough for it to be either a draw or a technical win for BO.

    But you list many points on which Obama actually scored.

    Romney made one of the few clear open mistakes about the Libya terror claim–AND it was pointed out by the moderator! The other one was Romney’s rather hectoring of the Prez about his pension which was ill advised and you will have to admit BO won that with a very nice and cool response. He even got applause (since MR had just broken the rules the audience did too.)

    I’ll agree of course that Obama could have and should have said more about the causes of the financial mess. All the spinmeisters and focus groups apparently say that the candidate cannot spend much time on the past–it comes across as making excuses, and the public have no interest in the past. (Clearly not true given the questions on Bush & jobs over the last decade). But this can be framed in a way to hit home for most people: the biggest recession in the US and world since the Great Depression. How long did it take the world to dig itself out of that one? It doesn’t happen in one term. And the US is a supertanker, a freight train etc. .. cannot be turned around on a dime like Romney suggests he can–without giving any credible plan or details of how. Then he should say that Romney is naive about this. (A reference to the last successful milliionaire businessman–Hoover–would be a history lesson too far I suppose?)

    Of course what matters and who matters, are the Hoosiers. On tv last night there was a piece on this, on the small town in Ohio that was saved by the GM plant, but the mayor who admitted BO saved it, still didn’t believe it was the role of government (“to run up the credit card”) and seemed sure to vote Republican! Would he have been changed by this debate? No. How about the 4000 townspeople who all admit the town would now be a ghost town if not for the GM bailout? Dunno. Americans can be pretty thick.

    But I think Obama achieved several things in this debate. Not least stabilizing the vote seepage to MR, and stopping Romney’s (slow) mo. BO is actually still a bit ahead in Ohio. But it has produced lots of talking points for the media and barfly joes for the next few weeks. I thought Romney’s first 2 minutes set the whole tone: tons and tons of promises but so starkly devoid of any detail on how he would achieve any of it. Do they really think the public is so dumb?

    At the end, the camera showed that woman who asked the Bush question handing her card to Romney, but I wonder, was she convinced by MR? I hope the press caught up with her later…

  3. Kevin Herbert

    Both these men a monumental frauds who represent the corporate interests & the one foreign government who own DC.

    It doesn’t matter who wins as democracy is dead and buried in Federal politics in the US.

    For the record Obama has led the US further to the right than Bush 2 ever did.

    With the MIC & the US Fedewral Reserve fully in control over the past 20 years, the US is now over $16 TRILLION in debt with no plan as yet as to how to reduce the debt meaningfully. Unemployment is still sky-high and closer to 20% than the fudged figures of around 9%.

    The U.S. Constitution is held in utter disregard by EVERY branch of government in Washington, D.C.

    In fact, the US Government under ‘George Obama’ now even claims the right to indefinitely detain American citizens – or even assassinate them – without so much as a trial!

    This tragedy didn’t happen overnight.

    Statists in BOTH parties have played their part in pushing the US to the brink. And no single race this November is going to do anything except continue to wage permanent war in the Middle East.

    The US in is deep trouble

  4. Ryan Ratcliffe

    i think maybe Mr Rundle should avoid bars and alcohol when watching these debates.

  5. michael r james

    More bad news for Romney today (in Republican state attorney-general trying to fix the election, again):

    [The Supreme Court delivered a victory to President Obama’s reelection campaign Tuesday, saying it would not set aside a lower court’s ruling that all Ohio voters be allowed to cast ballots in the three days before the Nov. 6 election.
    The Obama campaign had sued the state over its decision to end early voting on the Friday before the election for all but members of the military. The campaign said the decision would disproportionately affect poor, elderly and low-income voters, who are most likely to take advantage of early voting.
    A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit agreed. It said that if Ohio is going to open polls for military voters during the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the election, it must allow all voters to participate.
    “While there is a compelling reason to provide more opportunities for military voters to cast their ballots, there is no corresponding satisfactory reason to prevent nonmilitary voters from casting their ballots as well,” the appeals court said.
    Without comment, the Supreme Court turned down Ohio’s request to revisit the lower court ruling. There were no noted dissents to the decision.]

  6. Kevin Herbert

    The fact that the US Federal Reserve bank – the world’s most powerful institution – is run by private banks and operates in secret will not be discussed by these two lightweight stooges.

    They’re not allowed to question this scenario that’s been in place since 1913, by those corporate interests & the one foreign government’s DC representative who own DC.

    Disagree with them, and you’re out in at the most 2 Congessional terms.


  7. Luke Miller

    I feel that Debate Obama is hobbled by the extremely slick production values and strong narrative he has applied to his campaign and presidency.

    When everyone has been subjected to lots of footage of highly scripted, highly edited footage designed to make him look good, the unfiltered version is always going to come across as more listless and less pithy. A victim of his own success in a way.

  8. moe hassan

    two absolute rotten candidates, it’s essentially a hopkins choice. although I would say obama is slightly better with a hint of populism; but we know judging by his last four years, he won’t deliver. romney on the other hand, is an absolute degenerate with no apparent likability factor at all, masquerading with a brazen class-warfare policies. whomever they choose, I understand their despair, it really is one crapiola of a choice.

  9. Holden Back

    For a Mormon presidential candidate to mention collecting ‘binders of women’ and not realise the public is thinking of the polygamists’ ‘joy books’ mentioned in “Big Love” is amazing.

  10. zut alors

    binders = catalogue