Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Second Debate

Last night's debate was an event with mixed blessings.  Clearly, the President did a better job than in Denver.  The  CNN poll thought Obama was the winner 46-36%. CBS agreed but by a closer margin 37-33%.   I think the CBS poll is closer to how I saw it.  But both polls were within the margin of error.  Clearly the President was stronger and more agressive.   But I also thought the President looked a bit uneasy.   I also thought Romney looked a bit tired.   The bottom line is that Romney looked presidential, so did the President - so most of the commentary has been for supporters to confirm their beliefs.  One of the best tweets of the night was from Rich Lowry who commented "This is the crux of the debate Obama says Romney's policies have been tried and failed; Romney says Obama's policies have been tried and failed."  At the same time Lowry commented in a longer piece that 

"Romney, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as good two weeks ago. I think he’s at his weakest as a performer when he gets a little too worked up and shows too much concern with the rules. He did both tonight. He also said “I know what it takes to grow the economy” much too much for my taste — a line I don’t find very convincing since it’s based on biographical assertion. Finally, I understand his instinct to try to nail the president with killer questions, but it sometimes came off as badgering and contributed to his tripping up on Libya. All that said, it was a solid performance overall and occasionally excellent. He was strong on energy at the beginning and superb in an answer toward the end encapsulating Obama’s false promises. The question about how he’s different from Bush was a gift, and he mostly took advantage of it. The big take-away from the debates so far — and the problem President Obama has — is that Mitt Romney has established himself as a plausible alternative with a plausible plan. Absent some terrible gaffe in the next debate, it’s hard to see how that bell is going be un-rung."

Here are some thoughts on five key issues:

Libyan Attacks - One of the key exchanges was on whether the President called the incidents in Behghazi as an "act of terror" or whether it took him a while to come around to the view that the attack on the embassy was precipitated as a result of some film that no one saw.   The transcript of the President's Remarks do indeed use the word "acts of terror" - the timeline on what the Administration actually said is confused at best.   Here are two paragraphs from the President's remarks on September 12 -

Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths.  We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.  But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.  None.  The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.
Clearly the President used a term which would fit the bill.   At the same time however, if you look at the timeline constructed by the Washington Post the Administration shows a remarkably flat footed response.   The charge that they were unprepared and seemed for a while to ignore the real causes of the attack cannot be denied.   On numerous occasions the Administration said things like the attacks were "spontaneous, not premeditated" (Susan Rice, September 16 from ABC This Week) or "no evidence that this attack was not spontaneous" (Jay Carney, White House Briefing, September 18, repeated on the 19th),  Or on the 20th, in response to a Univision reporter's question:

” QUESTION: “We have reports that the White House said today that the attacks in Libya were a terrorist attack. Do you have information indicating that it was Iran, or al Qaeda was behind organizing the protests?” OBAMA: “Well, we’re still doing an investigation, and there are going to be different circumstances in different countries. And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests –” QUESTION: “Al Qaeda?” OBAMA: “Well, we don’t know yet.”

Then on the 24th on the View he explicitly avoided calling the attacks in Libya and Egypt an act of terror.

Energy - From my perspective Romney nailed the President for his policies.  Obama tried to come back and Romney nailed him again.  The President has to live with his Secretary of Energy who has made some outrageous comments.

The Economy - While a lot of the discussion about the economy was pretty wonky Romney scored points on the failures of the administration to get real growth.  Romney's claim about developing 12 million new jobs (which works out to 250,000 jobs per month) is nothing spectacular except when compared to the Administration's record.    The President was able to slip in a comment about the 47% remark in a place where Romney could not respond.   

He said -

"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."
Romney should have seen that one coming.
Taxes - While there was the usual back and forth about the issues surrounding dynamic scoring of the Romney plan there were two items that I thought were interesting.   First, the claim that Obama gave the middle class taxpayers a $3600 tax cut is a bit misleading (according to the Washington Post) - Obama made it sound like a total tax cut of $14,400 but in reality it was $3600 over the four years including the $1000 per year of the Social Security rate cut.   But what was more interesting was Romney's response on his proposal for a deduction limit.   One taxpayer, Mary Follano,  asked about what provisions in the tax code relating to the middle class would not be harmed.  Romney came up with a figure that taxpayers would have a $25,000 exclusion for deductions and credits.   That seems to be a change from an earlier proposal to set the limit at $17,000.

Comparison with George W. Bush - One could have expected a question to understand how Romney is different from Bush and it came up.   I thought Romney handled the question well.  He laid out several comparisons where there were differences.   The next question then went to someone who siad he had voted for Obama in 2008 but had not seen much progress.   From my perspective Romney won those two exchanges.   

The final debate is supposed to be on foreign policy, I expect that both sides will polish up their memes on the Libyan attack.

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