Barack Obama did Democrats the courtesy of showing up for the second presidential debate, which was more than he did for the first. Unlike his lackluster performance in the first debate, Obama actually took the game to Mitt Romney, and showed Romney up for what he is (and for a change).
Obama is not a great debater; he missed a bunch of opportunities. By contrast, Romney is a terrific debater because he is unencumbered by any facts. He is willing to say anything in the moment if he wins the point. This was the untold story in the first debate. Democrats were so intent on attacking Obama for his performance that they failed to attack Romney for revealing himself as totally without principle. He is the quintessential hollow man. Romney was anti-coal before he was pro-coal. He was pro-choice before he was pro-life and now apparently modified pro-choice again. He abhors regulation except when he’s for them. He invented Obamacare back when he was a governor, but now he’s the chief critic.
Romney slid through the first debate because of Obama’s poor performance. You would have thought, based on the poll bounce he got, that Romney was the greatest public speaker since Cicero. This time, Romney’s slipperiness worked against him, helped in large part because Candy Crowley offered a demonstration in journalism by calling Romney out on his Libya comments. (This quickly led to right-wing attacks on Crowley, some of them homophobic.) Romney also helpfully tied himself in knots on a variety of issues, including immigration (he’s gone totally 180 there) and, especially, women’s issues. While we’re all relieved to know that Romney has “binders full of women” to choose from for Cabinet posts, he was unable to connect to women in a way that is going to help him at the polls.
Obama talked about contraception and Planned Parenthood as “pocketbook” and “family” issues. He smartly positioned Romney to the right of George W. Bush. And he proved he could eviscerate Romney, not just on Libya, but also on Romney’s “47 percent” comment. These were effective moments, and Romney didn’t have anything comparable. In fact, by the end of the debate, Obama was on a roll and Romney seemed off his game, which was a relief to all the Democratic pearl-clutchers, most notably Andrew Sullivan, who were convinced Obama was a closet Republican throwing the election for Romney.
And finally, can someone, anyone, please ask a gay question at one of these debates? Gay marriage, DADT, Project Runway, Kurt and Blaine–we don’t really care. Can we just get a little acknowledgment, particularly given the difference between the parties?
Who knows? Perhaps the country could learn something.
Photo by BarackObama.com