Friday, October 19, 2012

The Second Presidential Debate In Depth

by Blueberry T

(Here is a link to the debate and you can find a full transcript here)

America got to see a different President Obama and a different Mitt Romney on Tuesday night.  President Obama was polite and controlled, as he always is, but this time he was fully engaged, quick, feisty and willing to fight.  He also was able to express his message more clearly and with passion and conviction. 

Romney tried to be the same guy from the first debate, but this time Obama didn’t let him control the narrative nor the tone, and challenged him when he lied or was mistaken (as did Candy Crowley, famously, on Libya).  The result was that Mitt, the control freak who is used to having his way, often appeared rude, interrupted both the President and Crowley, ignored the debate rules that his team had negotiated, had to be told to sit down (!!) and came off as overbearing, peevish and negative.

The personal dynamics between President Obama and Mitt Romney were fascinating.  The impression I had was that they really do not like each other AT ALL.  The President deftly challenged Romney not only in what he said, but in his movement into and around the “ring,” and his gestures.   They seemed, at times, like boxers in a ring, the way they were moving, pointing, gesturing. For his part, Romney had apparently spent a lot of time memorizing statistics to sound impressive, but it’s not clear that anyone was actually impressed by them.  While at times he sounded authoritative in a “I know what I’m talking about” way, mostly he sounded authoritative in a bad way – like the overbearing boss who is pompously talking at you, rather than someone asking for your vote.  IMHO.  I admit I am biased.

Job Prospects and The Economy:  In response to a question from a college student about the economy and job prospects, Romney began by talking about college grants in Massachusetts (which cover tuition but not fees, where state has shifted a lot of the costs) and supporting Pell Grants (which his running mate’s budget would cut).  He claimed he would reverse the “more debt, less jobs” scenario that college students face.

Obama rebutted with his 5-point economic plan: increase manufacturing jobs (with reminder that Romney said “Let Detroit go bankrupt”); high-quality education; control our own energy; reduce deficit including higher taxes on wealthy; invest in American infrastructure.

Romney jumped on Crowley’s followup question about unemployment with a convoluted discussion of the 7.8% employment figure that acknowledged it is the same as when the President took office (hah!) and then an even more convoluted claim that the President actually followed his recommendation to let Detroit go bankrupt (right!). He also mentioned his own “5 point plan” talking point, sans detail.  (Couldn’t he have at least picked a different number?)

This time President Obama challenged him directly:  “…what Governor Romney said just isn't true… Governor Romney says he's got a five-point plan? Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That's been his philosophy in the private sector, that's been his philosophy as governor, that's been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.  You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less. You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money.  That's exactly the philosophy that we've seen in place for the last decade. That's what's been squeezing middle class families.  And we have fought back for four years to get out of that mess. The last thing we need to do is to go back to the very same policies that got us there."

Energy:  President Obama talked about controlling our own energy (not “energy independence”) and said his administration has increased oil, natural gas and coal production; doubled fuel efficiency standards; doubled “clean energy” production – together resulting in lower oil imports.  He emphasized the importance of energy efficiency and clean energy for the future economy.  He mentioned improving environmental protection while increasing production.  Obama:  “Now, Governor Romney will say he's got an all-of-the-above plan, but basically his plan is to let the oil companies write the energy policies.”

Romney criticized Obama’s energy policy by claiming that he had cut in half the leases on public land, and promised more drilling, more permits and licenses, nuclear, less regulation, you name it, everything including the kitchen sink.  He criticized EPA and made environmental protection seem trivial and misguidedRomney:  “We're going to bring that pipeline in from Canada. How in the world the president said no to that pipeline, I will never know.”  During this segment, Romney flagrantly ignored the debate rules, directly (and somewhat rudely) questioning the President about leases on federal lands.   

Obama responded very effectively, explaining that they adopted a “use it or lose it” policy and also using the opportunity to take back the floor (capitalizing on a mistake by Romney).  Romney again claimed production was down, which Obama said was “just not true,” as they got into some back-and-forth where Romney became more overtly disrespectful (like in the first debate).  He said he would “fight for oil, coal and natural gas” (there's Mitt, fighting for the little guy!) and support drilling offshore in AK and VA, among other things. 

Personally, I found the energy discussion to be too focused on drilling and coal production.  Neither of them addressed the huge subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear that tilt the playing field against renewables.  Obama did have a minor “gotcha,” pointing out that Mr. Coal Romney shut down the Salem Power Plant, saying “this plant kills.”  (I know a lot about this situation, and it was actually a really good thing to shut it down; too bad Romney ran from it as fast as he could.)
Obama on gas prices:  “He said when I took office, the price of gasoline was $1.80, $1.86. Why is that? Because the economy was on the verge of collapse, because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression, as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney's now promoting.  So, it's conceivable that Governor Romney could bring down gas prices because with his policies, we might be back in that same mess.” [Laughter.] 

This segment was really interesting in terms of body language and especially President Obama’s turning his back to Romney while making his case to the audience, and then turning back to Romney to tie him to his counterproductive policies.  Obama kind of reminded me of a matador.  Romney insisted on a rebuttal even though Crowley told him it was not his turn, and Obama ended the segment with “I’m used to being interrupted” [by Romney], highlighting Romney’s rudeness and unwillingness to follow the rules. 

Taxes:  Romney tried to explain the seeming contradiction with his first debate claims, now saying he would indeed bring the rates down for all brackets, but nevertheless would not lower taxes for the wealthy. (StephenColbert is brilliant on this.)  Romney: “I'm going to bring rates down across the board for everybody, but I'm going to limit deductions and exemptions and credits, particularly for people at the high end, because I am not going to have people at the high end pay less than they're paying now.  The top 5 percent of taxpayers will continue to pay 60 percent of the income tax the nation collects. So that'll stay the same.”  [This contradicts all independent analyses.]  He repeatedly said middle-income people are going to get a tax break and proposed a la carte deductions of up to $25,000 (last time it was $17,000), plus no taxes on dividends, interest or capital gains for middle income taxpayers.

Obama focused on what he has accomplished, including tax breaks for middle class families and small businesses, and what he wants to do: raise taxes to Clinton-era rates on income above $250,000.  He pointed out that this would be a done deal, were it not for the GOP obstructionists in Congress, and that the economy boomed and we reduced the deficit during Clinton’s term.  He also reminded viewers that Romney said it was fair for him to pay a lower rate than someone making $50K.  President Obama emphasized that he fundamentally disagrees with Romney, who has campaigned for a year on tax cuts (not just rate cuts) for all, including the top 1%.  Obama went through the arithmetic, showing how it doesn’t add up and then hit him with this:  “…[Businessman Romney] wouldn't take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn't add up…closing deductions for wealthy individuals, that will pay for about 4 percent reduction in tax rates…You're going to be paying for it. You're going to lose some deductions, and you can't buy the sales pitch. Nobody who's looked at it that's serious, actually believes it adds up.”  Zing!

Romney went through a bunch of statistics about employment and claimed he is ALL ABOUT JOBS.  He went through his 5-point plan (energy independence, trade with Latin America, cracking down on China (hahaha), balanced budget, training workers, championing small businesses.  Woopsie, that’s 6! Maybe he can’t count after all.)  I did have to agree with him on one point: he said he knows why jobs go – and that, I’ll grant him, is really TRUE.  (Just ask the #Sensata workers.)

Interestingly, Crowley tried to give Romney an easy out, asking if he would reconsider the 20% cut if the numbers turn out not to add up, but he didn’t take the life line.  Instead, he dismissively said, “Of course they add up” and then touted his experience balancing budgets as a businessman, running the Olympics and as Governor.  He conveniently omitted the parts about the government funding and bailouts he actively sought and received in each of those roles – detailed here [Bain bailout; Olympics (here and here); profiting from auto industry bailout and on seeking government handouts].  

President Obama tried to respond but Romney would not shut up.  I think he came off as very pushy, but he had that smug smirk (kind of like this one), so he was obviously very pleased with himself. 

Fair pay for women:  Obama showed that he understands this issue because his mom was a single mother who put herself through school and raised her kids, and his grandmother hit the glass ceiling.  This is such a priority for him that the first bill he signed was the Lily Ledbetter Act.  He also noted that he expanded access to Pell Grants and cut out middleman (banks), which represent significant economic benefits to young women.  He emphasized the work his administration is doing to end discrimination. 

We were then treated to Romney’s Instant Classic:  “I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full ofwomen.  [I would actually have given Romney a bit of a break here on his appointments in MA, but he messed it up so badly it’s just pathetic!  It’s kind of like a 47% comment, showing what he really thinks and what he just says to try to be politically correct.]

Obama pointed out that Romney said he’d “get back to you” on Lily Ledbetter, and supported defunding PP and employer-determined limits on contraceptive coverage.  Obama did an excellent job making clear these are both health and economic issues.  “…one of the things that makes us grow as an economy is when everybody participates and women are getting the same fair deal as men are.” 

Romney says everyone should have access to contraceptives.  Wait, what… !?  “I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And — and the — and the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.”  OMG.  Are Conservative heads exploding?

Concern about Returning to Policies of Bush Administration:
This was odd.  Romney differentiated himself from Bush in these ways:  Access to new technology to optimize energy production and become energy independent; Trade - Crack down on China (sure you will!) and expand trade to Latin America; Balanced budget; Championing small business and anti-Obamacare.  If this sounds suspiciously like his 5 (or 6) point economic plan above, that’s what it is – just repackaged to answer this totally different question.  He just fudged it.    

Obama instead pointed out the similarities of Romney to Bush on economic policy:  “Like Bush, tax cuts are centerpiece of Romney’s economic policy; that’s what caused deficits in the first place.  Romney pioneered outsourcing, is currently investing in technology to allow China to spy on its citizens. Governor, you're the last person who's going to get tough on China.” 

The President said he had signed 3 trade deals and set up task force to go after unfair trade practices, brought twice as many cases and won every case.  (I didn’t know that!)

Then came this excellent point:  “But the last point I want to make is this. You know, there are some things where Governor Romney is different from George Bush. George Bush didn't propose turning Medicare into a voucher. George Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform. He didn't call for self-deportation.  George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, so there are differences between Governor Romney and George Bush, but they're not on economic policy. In some ways, he's gone to a more extreme place when it comes to social policy. And I think that's a mistake. That's not how we're going to move our economy forward.”

I voted for you in 2008 but times are tough…why vote for you again?
Great answer from OBAMA: “Well, we've gone through a tough four years. There's no doubt about it. But four years ago, I told the American people and I told you I would cut taxes for middle class families. And I did. I told you I'd cut taxes for small businesses, and I have.  I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after Al Qaeda's leadership like never before and Osama bin Laden is dead.  I said that we would put in place health care reform to make sure that insurance companies can't jerk you around and if you don't have health insurance, that you'd have a chance to get affordable insurance, and I have.  I committed that I would rein in the excesses of Wall Street, and we passed the toughest Wall Street reforms since the 1930s. We've created five million jobs, and gone from 800,000 jobs a month being lost, and we are making progress. We saved an auto industry that was on the brink of collapse.

Now, does that mean you're not struggling? Absolutely not. A lot of us are. And that's why the plan that I've put forward for manufacturing and education, and reducing our deficit in a sensible way, using the savings from ending wars, to rebuild America and putting people back to work. Making sure that we are controlling our own energy, but not only the energy of today, but also the energy of the future. All of those things will make a difference, so the point is the commitments I've made, I've kept.

And those that I haven't been able to keep, it's not for lack of trying and we're going to get it done in a second term. But, you should pay attention to this campaign, because Governor Romney has made some commitments as well. And I suspect he'll keep those too. You know when members of the Republican Congress say, "We're going to sign a no tax pledge, so that we don't ask a dime for millionaires and billionaires to reduce our deficit so we can still invest in education, and helping kids go to college. He said, "Me too."  When they said, "We're going to cut Planned Parenthood funding." He said, "Me too." When he said, "We're going to repeal Obamacare. First thing I'm going to do," despite the fact that it's the same health care plan that he passed in Massachusetts and is working well. He said, "Me too." That is not the kind of leadership that you need, but you should expect that those are promises he's going to keep.

Romney responded that the last four years haven’t been good and then he said THIS:  “I can tell you that if you were to elect President Obama, you know what you're going to get. “  Now, I know what he meant to imply – but my reaction is, “YEAH, AND WITH YOU, WE DON’T BECAUSE YOU WON’T SAY WHAT YOUR PLANS ARE.”  Romney then went into a litany of things that he claimed the President promised but didn’t deliver (some true and many false), but failed to mention that the reason is the obstruction of the GOP in Congress.  He criticized Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, yada yada.  This segment was probably the most effective that Romney was in the debate, if you don’t mind the pontificating tone, but it gave a lot of fodder to fact-checkers.   

Path to citizenship:  Surprise!!  Romney favors legal immigration!  But he is opposed to illegal immigration.  Wow, I’m glad we got that straightened out!  Interestingly, he supports a “pathway” for kids to become “permanent residents” of the US.  Note: he did NOT say “citizen.” This is to appease the right-wing.  He criticized the President for not solving the immigration problem.  (Also, see this from  

President Obama extolled the value of immigration to this country and pointed out what he was able to do, largely without the cooperation of Congress, by streamlining the process for legal immigration, beefing up border security, prioritizing enforcement and proposing a pathway to CITIZENSHIP for kids.  Obama pointed out that Romney said he would veto the DREAM Act, proposed “self-deportation” and supported Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.  Romney denied this, but Obama noted that Romney’s top advisor on immigration wrote the AZ law (not just E-verify part) and pointed out that Republicans are not serious about immigration reform:  “We have not seen Republicans serious about this issue at all. And it's time for them to get serious on it. “

Romney insisted on breaking the rules again, over objections, by slipping in an off-topic remark about China investments, setting himself up for Obama’s quick comeback:  “I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long.”  Hahaha, he deserved that!!  And then Crowley had to tell Romney to sit down.  It reminded me of a “petulant child.”  (Now we know that the Romneys were projecting.) 

LibyaThis question elicited the most passionate and dramatic moments of the debate.  The question was, who denied enhanced security, and why?  President Obama began with a tribute to our diplomats  and then spelled out his immediate response to the crisis: 1) beef up security; 2) find out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again; 2) hunt down those who did this to bring justice. You could hear the umbrage in his voice in describing Mitt Romney’s craven, opportunistic response WHILE THE SITUATION WAS STILL UNFOLDING.  He emphasized that his foreign policy actions have been consistent with what he said he would do.  He was very intense in saying that he is the one who meets the coffins when they come home, and “you know, I mean what I say.”

Romney showed no shame for politicizing the attack.  He went off on his false “apology tour” meme and tried to characterize President Obama’s foreign policy actions as weak and ineffective.  You would think that President Obama had ignored warnings of terrorists using airliners as missiles to attack targets in America.  (This part is where many people may have wanted to punch Romney, but weren’t stupid enough to say so publicly.)  

One of the most powerful moments in the debate was the President’s emotional response to Romney’s insinuations about Libya; he reiterated what he had said in the Rose Garden the day after the attacks, described  meeting the coffins and grieving with the families (not mentioning that two families have admonished Romney for politicizing the attack), and turned to Romney to say directly to him:  “The suggestion that anybody on my team … would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as President.  That’s not what I do as Commander-in-Chief.”  You may wait a long time before you see President Obama again calling someone on the carpet so publicly, and it was truly well deserved. 

animated gif thanks to BicPent

In a beautiful irony, this led directly to Romney’s huge, smug, self-satisfied gaffe about the President’s statement on Libya, for which Candy Crowley eventually publicly corrected him.  President Obama’s “Please proceed, Governor” may be the most under-rated line of the debate, and divine retribution may be real, after all.  Here is a link to that exchange, with thanks to our reader HonestyinGov, and Jon Stewart's great take on it (with h/t to HopeforAmerica). 

Limiting Assault Weapons:  Although it was a victory that this question was asked, this segment was disappointing to everyone who wants to see more effective gun control.   President Obama affirmed 2nd Amendment rights but recounted one of the many stories of gun violence during his presidency.  He talked about a few minor improvements (better background checks, keeping guns from criminals, a “conversation” about reintroducing an assault weapons ban) but then shifted to discussing other sources of violence.  He then moved to opportunity for young people.

Romney said he is not in favor of new gun laws, and falsely or mistakenly said that automatic weapons are illegal in this country, but they are not.  I'm just curious how he missed that minor detail, since it was well publicized in the Aurora case and others that the weapons and ammunition were obtained legally.  Is he seriously unaware that the assault weapons ban expired and has not be reenacted?

Romney shifted this topic into a critique of single-parent families and threw in some more craven opportunism by getting into “Fast and Furious.”  Crowley had to explain to him that the assault weapon ban is no longer in place and shifted the conversation back to that and to the law that he had signed in Massachusetts.  Obama’s excellent response:  “Governor Romney was for an assault weapons ban before he was against it” and changed position because he wanted NRA support.  
He then shifted the topic to education and how that would build opportunity and improve the economy and hit Romney’s lack of support for teachers. 

How to Bring Jobs Back:  Romney started with a bunch of blather about why China and other countries have attracted so many jobs (he would know), and said he wants to make America the most attractive place for business.  He then went into a riff about how he would be so tough on China, said he will penalize their currency manipulation on Day One.  He said corporate tax is too high.  I’m surprised Romney’s pants didn’t spontaneously ignite when he said: “The rate of regulations have quadrupled under this President.”

Obama agreed that corporate taxes are too high but said they would solve the problem differently – he wants to close loopholes that allow tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas, for example, and to increase exports and push trade deals,  He reminded viewers that Romney and Bain were pioneers of outsourcing and pointed out that his administration has dealt with Chinese currency manipulation effectively.    

Romney could only repeat that China has been cheating (currency; stealing technology); he would cut taxes (what a surprise), but then ended by saying, “Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs.”  (But…but…I thought he said it did and blamed Obama for not creating them.  I’m so confused.)

Biggest Misperception about Yourself:  Romney began by blaming the President’s campaign for mischaracterizing him.  He then said he cares about 100% of the people, implying that it was the Obama campaign who suggested otherwise.  NO, MITT – we heard YOU say that you didn’t care about the 47%.  He claimed to care about people, care about the middle class, believe in God, believe we have a responsibility to care for one another… he is a can-do guy because he’s done these things in business and government.  Trust me.

Obama (you should listen to this because he says this with such passion):  I think a lot of this campaign, maybe over the last four years, has been devoted to this notion that I think government creates jobs, that that somehow is the answer.  That's not what I believe. I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world's ever known.  I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded. But I also believe that everybody should have a fair shot and everybody should do their fair share and everybody should play by the same rules, because that's how our economy's grown. That's how we built the world's greatest middle class.

And — and that is part of what's at stake in this election. There's a fundamentally different vision about how we move our country forward.

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.

And I want to fight for them. That's what I've been doing for the last four years. Because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds.  When my grandfather fought in World War II and he came back and he got a G.I. Bill and that allowed him to go to college, that wasn't a handout. That was something that advanced the entire country. And I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That's why I'm asking for your vote and that's why I'm asking for another four years.

Finally: Do you want THIS GUY as your President?  He looks like the kind of guy who would strap his dog to the roof of the car, or hold down a gay kid and cut off his hair.

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