by Pamela Powers Hannley
The second 2012 presidential debate was a rousing throwback to old school American politics. Both candidates were "fired up and ready to go." Both delivered a few zingers and gotcha moments. Both explained their plans for America's future... well, sort of.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney-- obviously hoping for a repeat of the frist debate in which he appeared energized, arrogant, and on top of his game, if you ignore the lies and the moderator bullying-- started the second debate smiling and upbeat. About 30 minutes into it, Romney was scowling in the background as President Barack Obama actually answered policy questions. By the end of the debate, when the families came on stage, both Romney and wife Ann had those "holy shit what just happened?" looks on their faces.
So, why was the second debate so different from the first one? Obviously, after the first debate, Obama realized that Romney wasn't going to play by anyone's rules but his own (ie, stick to the truth, stick to the question topics, stick to his previously stated views, or stick to the agreed upon debate rules). In the first debate, Obama seemed confused and frustrated by Romney's reckless but masterful disregard for propriety, and Obama didn't call him out on it, which is why, I believe, many people said Obama was "off his game" that night. Where was our witty, intelligent guy? Why didn't he point his finger at Romney and say, in prep school style, "You, Sir, are a liar!" Or, in Chicago style, "What you talkin' bout, n....?" [Sarcasm alert.]
Last night, Obama-- and moderator CNN's Candy Crowley-- took the gloves off with the prep school bully turned vulture capitalist. Obama and Crowley both called out Romney when he didn't answer the questions or answered a completely different question than what was asked. In his element with the town hall format, the president was quick-witted and light on his feet, when he said that Romney's economic plan was a "sketchy deal"; when he said that Romney didn't have a five-point plan, he had a one-point plan; when he ripped Romney's infamous 47% comment (after Romney opened the door by saying he cared about 100% of Americans); or when he answered the first college student's questions about post-graduation employment with a specific list of policies (when Romney had just shined the student on with platitudes).
But I think the best performance of the evening was by Crowley. Let's face it. Jim Lehrer blew the first debate. He allowed Romney steamroll him... repeatedly. The debate was such a mess that it was difficult to figure out the format or what the questions were half the time because both candidates (but mostly Romney) were allowed to stray. Crowley-- who is being attacked today by the right for her active role in actually moderating the debate-- did her best to keep the debate moving and make the candidates stick to the format and the questions.
Personally, I don't see how anyone could be undecided after last night, but if you are, undecided, check out this story by the New York Times after the jump and get off your duff.
Idiot's Delight from the New York Times...
You’re an undecided voter. Your time is up. The rest of us are sick of pretending to care about you, saying nice things to you, doing your damn laundry.
Decide, O.K.? When the choice was between Scrooge McDuck and the Kenyan Socialist, you couldn’t make up your mind. Now that you know it’s between two Harvard know-it-alls, with clear, divergent views of government, you’re waiting for — what? The long-lost Mormon tablets to reappear? Donald Trump to reveal what his phantom investigators found among the birth records in Hawaii?
No, of course not. To your credit, you don’t take your talking points from the toxic menu of far-right radio nor from the conspiracy theorists of the paranoid left. But that’s the only nice thing I’m going to say about you.
You’re not Solomon, carefully weighing the choices. You’re a ditherer. You probably panic at “paper or plastic” in the supermarket, backing up the checkout line. We know all about you, because the campaigns have spent millions studying you, probing you, stuffing you with those little sausage things. Your every emotion is wired and registered.
And here’s what we know: there aren’t that many of you, not compared with past years. In 2008, 1 in 7 voters was persuadable at one time. This year it is closer to 1 in 20 — about 5 percent. And in your hands, the savants of politics say, rests the future of the republic.
But here’s the thing: while we’re paying so much attention to you, you’re not paying that much attention to known facts about the two men who want to lead the United States. You barely keep up on the news. If you’d been paying attention, of course, you wouldn’t be undecided.
You, most likely, were not among the millions of Americans who watched the first presidential debate. Of all voters, the undecided were the least interested in the debates, a Washington Post poll found last week.
So, here’s what you missed, or may have heard something about today: Mitt Romney wants to fire Big Bird. He’s got a plan, mostly secret, to restore America to fiscal sanity. But first, he wants to cut taxes by 20 percent. Ultimately, that will cost $5 trillion. At the same time, he wants to add things to the defense budget. And none of this will add a penny to the debt.
A third grader could tell you that his numbers don’t add up. Go ahead, ask a third grader. Romney knows it doesn’t add up, so he’s not specific. Oh, except for Big Bird — no more subsidies for PBS, you monotoned moochers. That’s 0.00014 percent of the budget.
I forgot: you hate policy-wonk stuff, so those numbers are not likely to move you. Then listen to your heart — the one that may stop beating earlier than you think, if you have a pre-existing condition. Romney vows to throw out Obamacare, which will cover that condition. But he says his plan would cover it as well. That’s true, but only if you live in a state, like Massachusetts, that already has Obamacare. Otherwise, in all truth, you’re toast. He said so earlier this month, when he explained that the millions of Americans who would lose health care once he kills it can always go the hospital emergency room.
Maybe you just want an overarching philosophy. Romney’s slogan is “Believe in America” (as opposed to, say, Lichtenstein). He summarized his view Wednesday night: “I’ll restore the vitality that gets America working again.” You would think he has some fiscal Viagra in mind, but again — no specifics.
On to Obama. He saved the auto industry; the recovery in Michigan and Ohio was not an accident. You didn’t like the stimulus because, like, where’s my bailout, dude? But the unemployment rate would be 10 percent, not 8, without the stimulus. Whatever. You don’t know about any of this because Obama never brought it home on Wednesday, and therefore it will not be part of the distant chatter that will find its way into your orbit over the next few days.
Obama’s opponent thinks that nearly half of all Americans — many among you — are deadbeats and victims. Obama didn’t bring this up, either, and Romney certainly wasn’t going to.
For philosophy, Obama gave you this: “Are we going to double down on the top-down economic policies that helped to get us into this mess, or do we embrace a new economic patriotism that says America does best when the middle class does best.”
There you have it — a clear choice, as everyone keeps telling you. But still, you’re not sure. You say you don’t like either of them. Romney’s too snooty and just plain weird. Obama’s too professorial and goes on, and on, and on. You say they’re corrupt, all politicians. You say there’s no difference between the parties. You’re wrong, but we’re not supposed to tell you that.
The headline of an Associated Press story on you was typical: “Many Watch Debate; Some Are Pleased, Few Are Moved.” After the debate, a CNN focus group of your type found that eight of you were now leaning toward Romney, and eight of you were coming over to the Obama side. No real movement, in other words.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, after many years of sitting with you during past presidential debates: we don’t like you. Not because you can’t make up your mind, but because you won’t.