Despite all of the fireworks involved, from the increased feistiness of Pres. Obama to the continued pounding away on the economic numbers by Mitt Romney, not much has changed following the 2nd Presidential Debate. I have it scored as a draw, with perhaps a slight edge to Gov. Romney given that he was outnumbered 2 to 1.
The snap polls taken immediately after the event were inconclusive. Many of the talking heads said that Pres. Obama won the debate "on points", while two focus groups of undecided voters gave the nod to Gov. Romney by a large margin. Obviously, the political commentators on the left and right heavily favored their candidates.
The biggest argument for giving the victory to Obama was simply that he didn't do as poorly as he did in the first debate. A pretty low hurdle to clear. The biggest argument for not giving the victory to Romney was his failure to capitalize fully on the chances he had to dominate, as he had in the first debate. A factor that had many scratching their heads. The biggest argument for giving the victory to Romney and not to Obama was the fact that both the VP debate and the 2nd Presidential debate performances weren't enough to change the status of the respective campaigns in the polls. While the President may have slowed Mitt Romney's momentum, he failed to stop it, much less reverse it.
The debate was marred to some extent by the actions of the moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley. She broke a major tenet of being a moderator by inserting herself into the debate. Not only did she select questions favorable to Obama, she interrupted Gov. Romney 3 times as often as Obama (28 to 9 if you're keeping score), and even went so far as to "fact check" Gov. Romney in Obama's favor during the discussion of the handling of the events in Benghazi, Libya, having to backtrack later when she was proven wrong (in spite of "just happening" to have the transcript of the President's remarks in front of her. A fact known to the President beforehand, since he was the one who asked her to present it.) It was no surprise that she was going to tilt things as far towards Obama as she could, given her assertion that the choice of Paul Ryan as Gov. Romney's running mate was tantamount to a "death wish". It was obvious from the questions chosen by Ms. Crowley for each candidate that she was biased. Not surprising, all of the moderators are from the liberal side, but at least the previous moderators were able to largely keep their personal political leanings out of the debates.
We got a question from a college student asking for reassurance that he would be able to support himself after graduation. Neither candidate gave a direct answer to this question. Understandably so. No President can guarantee anyone any particular job. All they can do is try to implement policies that foster an environment where businesses can start up, expand and create jobs. This first question, addressed to Romney, has no clear, satisfying answer. The back and forth degenerated to a non-informative did to/did not over Romney's supposed desire to "let Detroit go bankrupt" versus Obama's actually taking the automakers through bankruptcy using taxpayer money.
The next question, for Pres. Obama, concerned the rising gas prices and the fact that his Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, has repeatedly said that it's "not the job of the Energy Dept. to help lower gas prices". Obama was asked directly whether he agreed with that statement. This is a situation where the President can, indeed, have a direct (although limited) effect on the situation. We saw this in action when the first President Bush announced a plan to increase exploration and development of domestic energy sources. Obama's answer was to blame the Republican's opposition to his subsidies for unproven "green energy" companies.
He claims to have an "all of the above" energy policy, despite his actions to limit and prevent domestic energy development on public lands. When called on this, when Gov. Romney pointed out that the increase in domestic energy production (oil & gas) that Obama was attempting to take credit for was entirely due to increased production on private property, and that actual production of oil & gas on public (federal) lands was down 14% and 9% respectively, and that Obama had reduced the number of permits and leases by nearly 50%, all of which has been independently verified, he repeated his assertions, effectively calling Mr. Romney a liar. When asked by Mr. Romney to clarify the matter by telling the people just how much his administration had reduced leases, Obama refused to (couldn't) answer. He was also unable to answer the charge that his EPA did all it could to prevent development of the oil fields in the Bakkan Range in North Dakota by suing them and bringing criminal charges (since dropped) over the deaths of a few birds.
The next was a doozy. Taxes. A woman stood up to deliver her question to Gov. Romney concerning his tax plan. How could he reconcile the tax rate reductions with the elimination of tax credits? Would he cut her deduction for mortgage interest? For charitable donations? The Child Tax Credit? The Education Credit?
In his answer to this one, Mr. Romney was as specific as he could reasonably be, I thought. He mentioned as one possibility the capping of itemized deductions. People would have a maximum amount (in this case, $25,000) they could deduct from their income, using whatever deductions they qualified for. The capping of deductions and credits would have a much greater impact on the upper income brackets than the middle income, since it's been a complaint of liberals and progressives for years that "the rich" have access to tax breaks and shelters unavailable to the middle class and the poor. He also brought out something new. The elimination of income from interest, dividends, and capital gains being subject to taxes for those earning under $200,000 per year. A move sure to spark more investment and savings (thus increasing economic growth for all), helping people provide for their own long term needs. Obama not only repeated the discredited assertion that Romney wanted to increase taxes on the middle class to "give the rich another $5 Trillion in tax cuts", he expanded on it. He now claims that Romney's tax plan would add some $8T to the debt, stubbornly insisting that there is no way for such a plan to work without increasing taxes for the poor or cutting necessary services. Again, in the face of being called a liar, Mr. Romney vowed that he would not institute any tax policy that would either raise taxes on the middle class or reduce the tax burden on the upper income, saying, "The top 5 percent will continue to pay 60 percent [of total Federal Income Taxes], as they do today."
Then came the softballs. After having such a tough time, apparently Ms. Crowley felt that the Pres. needed a break. Next question (to the President): What would you do to address the issue of inequalities in the workplace? Women making 72% as much as men? (This issue must have been intentionally chosen by the moderator to provide Obama an easy out. This issue isn't even on the radar of any of the political polls). Again, Mr. Obama didn't provide a direct answer. He went off on a tangent on the need to increase availability of college education aid programs. Mr. Romney pointed out how, as Governor of Massachusetts, he specifically asked for more qualified female candidates to fill senior positions in his administration and how a non-partisan group provided him with "binders full" of qualified candidates. This resulted in him having the largest number of women in senior positions of leadership of any other state in the nation. Pres. Obama turned this around into an off-topic argument about Gov. Romney's proposed elimination of federal funding for Planned Parenthood. How that relates to the issue of "pay equality", I don't know. Somehow, both Gov. Romney and Pres. Obama forgot to mention the fact
that the Obama administration pays it's female staffers 18% less then
their male counterparts.
Then we get to the most obvious illustration of the moderator having a bias towards the Democrats in general and Obama in particular. The President's team has spent the majority of the last 3 1/2 years blaming the economic situation on former President George Bush. In light of that, this question seems particularly suspect: "I am an undecided voter, because I'm disappointed with the lack of
progress I've seen in the last four years. However, I do attribute much
of America's economic and international problems to the failings and
missteps of the Bush administration. Since both you and President Bush are Republicans, I fear a return to the policies of those years should you win this election." THIS, is an undecided voter? Right. And I'm a closet liberal Democrat.
I won't continue this further. This blog post has already gotten longer than I had planned, but I wanted to illustrate my frustration with the bias exhibited by a moderator who is supposed to be, to steal a phrase, "fair and balanced"; with the continued lies by the President and the candidates' mis-characterization of each other; with the lack of short, clear, direct answers to questions posed. Perhaps the final debate on Monday (moderated by Bob Scheiffer, of all people) will provide a little more clarity. Although, if you are still truly undecided at this point, I'd say you have been keeping yourself willfully uninformed.
One last note. We can all thank the constraints of time for the fact that Ms. Crowley didn't have time to get to the question of global warming. Yes, she had actually approved the question and had it on her list. I wonder if there's any chance of getting a moderator from FoxNews for one of the next rounds of debates?