In the Second Presidential Debate of 2012 last night, President Obama made a stylistic comeback the likes of which we haven’t seen since President Reagan came back from his bizarre first debate with Walter Mondale in 1984.
The difference is that while President Reagan was defending a substantively impressive first term, President Obama was avoiding defending a questionable record in his first term.
The President was clear, articulate, aggressive, and undaunted. The contrast was so striking with his first debate that all Obama supporters could cheer their candidate’s recovery.
On substance, however, Gov. Romney won hands down. About an hour into the debate he rattled off a list -- an extensive list -- of presidential stewardship failures, a list that President Obama never addressed: unemployment rarely below 8% and in reality 10.7% when you include those who have given up looking for work, despite promises that it would be around 5%; gigantic increases of citizens receiving food stamps; no addressing the fact of exponentially rising entitlements; promises to cut the deficit, followed by a doubling of said deficit accompanied by ever-rising frightening debt approaching soon 16 trillion dollars.
The president never responded to the issues, nor did he respond to the list of foreign policy incipient disasters then gone over by Gov. Romney: Iran, Israel, Syria, etc.
The president still has not answered questions regarding why his confiscatory taxes on small businesses do not destroy job creation in America. Gov. Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan raise this issue in every debate, but the moderators, who find discussions of small business irritating and confusing, quickly change the subject.
Moderator Candy Crowley with an incongruous paroxysm of partisanship defended the president's claim that he called the attack in Benghazi “terrorism,” flummoxing the challenger. The issue was not whether the President called the Benghazi murders terrorism initially, it was whether in the subsequent days he mischaracterized the attack as due to angry protests against an anti-Muslim video, which he did several times, including an address to the U.N.
Electoral consequences of the night? Unsure here, but on style it was a blistering comeback for President Obama and on substance another victory for Gov. Romney.
Gov. Romney, reminiscent of President John F. Kennedy’s famous “We can do better,” said less elegantly that Americans should not have to “settle for this.”
That may be the straw that breaks the Administration’s re-election back in the final weeks of the campaign.
The Premier blog of conservative and Republican politics and ideas in the Free State, named one of Maryland's best political blogs by the Washington Post.
Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013)