Barack VS Mitt: Round Two
A second debate saw Barack Obama pack a lot more punch than his previous debate had seen. He was more feisty, aggressive and confident which resulted in a more evenly matched debate this time round. The venue may have helped in this regard as the two candidates were surrounded by a crowd of undecided voters and given questions that were genuinely troubling the American public. These included among the more general foreign policy and economic questions, subjects like sexism in the job market, gun control and immigration. But frustratingly both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney proved reluctant to answer such questions directly and often went off on tangents on matters scarcely linked. For example when asked about assault rifles, Barack Obama managed to get stuck onto education (with the moderator, Candy Crowley, clearly prodding him to get back onto subject) while even more astonishingly Mitt Romney managed to suggest marriage was the key to better gun safety. In another case, Barack Obama was asked a very clear question on whether he thought it was the government’s responsibility to control gas prices, but managed to answer in such a roundabout manner that Candy Crowley had to repeat the question again at the end (to no avail). The design of how the candidates were supposed to answer questions (with one standing up while the other sat down) also resulted in a humorous standing battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to try and get their opinions across.
But what did we learn about each candidate in this debate?
With Barack Obama, the current president, this was a chance to settle the score after a tame performance in the last debate. Many wanted to see him fight his points more and importantly question Mr Romney’s policies further. He achieved this well by poking fun at Mr Romney’s 5 point plan, suggesting it as more of a 1 point plan to help the rich. Barack Obama then further attacked Mitt Romney’s economic plans by suggesting even he wouldn’t agree to a financial plan that proposed $7 trillion increases in the budget, yet no increase in the budget deficit and vague plans to increase revenue. He also got a critical political punch in by hammering home his saving of the American car industry (referring to when the government stepped in as lender of last resort to save the failing businesses). At the time Mitt Romney argued against this and suggested private money be used, as government money would stifle the car market and destroy the whole industry. In reality the opposite happened and Mitt Romney was left trying to re-word his past statements. Barack Obama also got in some entertaining “zingers”, as he reflected questions over his pension by pointing out it wasn’t quite as big as Mr Romney’s and caught Mr Romney out when accused over the validity of his statement about the deaths of the diplomats in Libya, with the moderator confirming Barack Obama was telling the truth (to unauthorized applause by the crowd). On his policies, Barack Obama seems to be defending his record, continuing the same for the successful parts and promising improvements in the promises he couldn’t keep.
Barack Obama puts Mitt Romney under more strain.
With Mitt Romney, the challenging Statesman, a repeat performance of the first debate was expected. He couldn’t quite repeat that this time round, but still held his ground well when arguing over different policies. He managed to avoid questions over his 5 point plan (like which tax loopholes he would close) and did well to challenge the president on his energy record (with oil production on federal land indeed having fallen) and his economic record as a whole. In this regard Mitt Romney has some strong ammo, with the amount of Americans in jobs indeed lower than it was when Mr Obama took over, while he cleverly managed to reflect questions over his similarity to George Bush by pointing out that the trillion dollar budget deficits that Mr Obama had criticised in the past have been more than doubled during his term in power. Yet he still fell into some traps over simple questions, for example when he was asked on the glass ceiling for women in the workplace, his answers seemed to patronize women when he suggested they would need more flexible hours and that company’s would be so anxious in his new economy that they would have to hire women. Another mistake was that when he was answering a question on immigration, he managed to bring up that he had lost to John McCain, reminding voters that the man Barack Obama had beat 4 years ago was deemed a better candidate than Mitt Romney. On his policies meanwhile we haven’t learnt a lot, as he keeps vague what his tax plan would entail and what exactly he plans to do to create jobs in America (especially shown when he was asked directly how to stop jobs going to China and couldn’t come up with a clear answer).
Mitt Romney catches Barack Obama out on his increases to the budget deficit.
But credit should go to Mitt Romney for making these debate mores about Barack Obama’s track record and less about his own past and future policies. His best chance of winning is by convincing the American public that they can’t afford to keep Barack Obama in power after 4 years of “economic stagnation “. Conversely, his biggest worry is the American public realizing the lack of substance behind his foggy 5 point plan and the controversial moral issues he carries with religion and sex. Interestingly, some key areas of debate have yet to come up. Foreign policy over Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Israel have yet to come up in detail like they did in the vice presidential debate. While social issues like gay marriage, abortion and religion have yet to be debated, which could provide an interesting divide between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and perhaps America itself. Hopefully we will see these issues come out in the next debate which I will review as I have in this debate.
In terms of who won, this was probably a draw. Though for undecided voters like those in the crowd, neither candidate managed to clearly show why they should be the man to choose. Barack Obama avoided tricky questions over his 1st term just as much as Mitt Romney avoided questions over his hazy policies. The next debate will give both candidates another chance to win over undecided voters, but if you’re expecting clear answers to the tough questions, don’t get your hopes up.