By: James Di Fiore
In the run-up to the second presidential debate there was an interesting caveat being discussed by the self congratulatory cable news network, CNN. Eager to guarantee themselves as large an audience as possible, CNN talking heads focused much of their pre-debate coverage on moderator Candy Crowley. Crowley was the first woman in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate, and her performance may have set back female moderators another 20 years.
Crowley could not keep either candidate under control, with Mitt Romney talking over her for nearly a full minute at one point. Barack Obama was also uncooperative, extending his answers long after Crowley had attempted to move to new questions or follow up discussions. Romney went as far as flatly rejecting Crowley with a stern “No!” as she tried to wrestle back her role, an awkward moment making Romney look like a bully and Crowley a meek intermediate.
The debate featured two candidates with starkly different approaches and delivery styles. Obama began the debate with an almost whiny cadence, a bi-product of both the town hall format and his tactical strategy of not repeating the staleness of his first debate. Whenever Obama tried to hammer Romney with effective responses he delivered them with all the zeal and excitement of a laundry list. While he did run down all the most glaring inconsistencies in Romney’s platform, he seemed annoyed at Romney instead of being energetic and substantive with his delivery.
Romney’s problems were more on the surface. He fumbled his words and came up with bizarre ad libs when under the gun. When trying to convey his record as governor of hiring more women to his cabinet than any other state, he spoke of receiving “binders full of women” from women’s groups, setting off the Twitterverse and cementing the debate’s most talked about quote. He also borrowed a page from Obama’s first debate strategy by not addressing the most aggressive accusations from the president, including the across-the-board 20% tax cut and which tax loopholes Romney would close. The one seemingly easy issue to hammer Obama with was Libya, but Romney fumbled that topic by challenging what Obama said a day after the attack. Obama correctly told the audience that he referred to the attack as an “act of terror”. Romney awkwardly suggested the president did not call it an act of terror until 2 weeks after the tragedy took place, prompting Crowley to weigh in and inform Romney that Obama had indeed made the statement. If Romney was more savvy he would have focused on the Obama administration’s inconsistent statements and called out the White House for being either incompetent or dishonest.
Obama appeared to win the debate, although it wasn’t the obvious landslide Romney had in their initial head-to-head. The president’s delivery was once again a tad lackluster, but he did not avoid laying out some of the most obvious arguments this time. Romney had far too many errors in judgment and silly improvisational phrases to be considered the winner by most serious pundits, and he will have to shed that unsettling laugh if he wants to win over the audience for the last debate on October 22nd. Obama should not get cocky either and needs to understand that while he won this debate, it was not as good a performance as Romney had in the first debate, despite the half truths and outright distortions.
As an aside, America’s undecided voters might be some of the most attention starved individuals on the planet. If you are unsure who you should vote for between these two candidates this late in the game, not only are you not paying attention, you are also not a very serious person. But that, as they say, is an entirely different kind of debate.