A solid debate ‘win’ for Obama

REUTERS/Jason Reed
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney pictured during last night's debate in Hempstead, N.Y.

To me, the debate Tuesday night was a very solid “win” for President Obama, more so than most of the instant analysis or early polling suggested.

Gov. Mitt Romney continued to refuse to explain his policy proposals – especially his magical tax plan. But this time, Obama rather sternly pointed out this problem. As in this from Obama:

Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal, and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up.

By the debased standards of probative value we bring to such things, it was a lively, substantive and informative debate, but only by those debased standards. It’s hard to believe that anyone who has been paying attention to the campaign or to the news would have actually learned many new facts. There were countless examples of the two men exchanging self-serving half-truths that, when assembled, never added up to anywhere near a whole truth but will provide plenty of work for the fact-checkers.

Emotional highlight

The emotional peak of the evening (and also one of the best examples of what I mean about probative value) may have occurred at the end, over the tragedy at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which the U.S ambassador and three other U.S. officials were killed.

The regular guy from the audience (one Kerry Ladka) asked Obama rather bluntly and succinctly: “Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?”

“Well, let me first of all talk about our diplomats, because they serve all around the world and do an incredible job in a very dangerous situation,” Obama began his reply.

According to the transcript I’m using, Obama spoke for eight paragraphs (and clearly would have gone longer if moderator Candy Crowley hadn’t stopped him) but the president never commented on either who denied enhanced security, nor why, although he did say that he would “investigate fully, regardless of where the facts lead us.”

He segued into a general review of his foreign policy accomplishments – promises made, promises kept. And frankly, the list was impressive, including, as it did, the winding down of two wars and the killing of Osama bin Laden.

But Romney smelled some home cooking, and when his turn came (he kept it to just seven paragraphs), he turned back to Libya and asserted that it had taken two weeks for Obama to acknowledge that the attack had been conducted by terrorists.

To me, this “fact” would be not much more than a gotcha. I’m more impressed with winding down those wars, (although that part of Obama’s answer was not responsive to the question) and view Romney’s effort to capitalize on the Benghazi incident as crassly political. But, it turns out, Romney’s “fact” was also flawed because, unbeknownst to Romney (and I’ll admit I was also unaware of this) Obama referred (somewhat indirectly) to “an act of terror” on the very first day after the attack. So Romney is going to get dinged by the fact-checkers.

Two wars

But really, if we are going to decide whether to reelect Obama, and if his handling of foreign policy is one of the factors on which we are going to decide, isn’t the winding down of the two wars actually a lot more relevant? Romney has occasionally expressed some quibbles about those policies, but the chink-du-jour in Obama’s foreign policy armor is all about Benghazi. This is what I mean about probative value.

Anyway, there were plenty of moments like these. Romney did a pretty good job of indicting the state of the economy, but a much worse job of convincing anyone other than the already-convinced that he has a plan that will get better results.

The instant polling gave Obama the edge. A CNN poll of registered voters who viewed the debate found that 46 percent said Obama won; 39 percent said Romney did. A poll using an online panel of uncommitted voters and conducted by CBS News found 37 percent said Obama won, 30 percent said Romney did and 33 percent said the debate was a tie.

The instant analysis, other than on Fox (where both Sean Hannity and Karl Rove opined that Romney had torn Obama apart), was that Obama had either won big or won small or at least halted the Romney surge in the polls that started with the first debate (although we’ll really need some more polls to confirm that).

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Comments (37)

  1. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/17/2012 - 09:28 am.

    Acts of Terror

    Eric, I’m going to have to disagree with you on this point. The Obama administration spent a couple of weeks trying to convince everyone that the Benghazi attacks were not terror related but were the fault of a small time movie maker. They did this in the face of explicit information from the intelligence community. Why they would do such a ridiculous thing is a matter of opinion but this is in fact what happened.
    This isn’t a small thing either. I’ve read that once the President deems something an ‘act of terror’ it puts more machinery in place to fight back. The delay here hampered that effort. In the big picture, I don’t know big a deal Benghazi is, but the Obama administration deserves some heat, both for the inaction and the cover-up since.
    Crowley’s ‘correction’ was inexcusable. Especially since she was wrong on the facts, as she has since admitted. If a candidate wants to claim that the sky is green, it is up to other people to correct them, not the debate moderator. This was wildly unfair to Romney.

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/17/2012 - 12:55 pm.

      “an act of terror” ??


      I think you got the quote wrong. Several comments down, Paul U. provides the quote correctly; Thank You. It is a general statement; one that could be made by a U.S. President any day of the year. I think that the administration was already hedging their bet the day after the attack, using the literary device of foreshadowing, to provide a foothold for a future day, or future week in this case.

      Peder nailed it with the green sky analogy; debate moderators are expected to maintain a thin veneer of impartiality by not making either candidates arguments for them. Getting it wrong really drives home the importance of the moderator’s demeanor and ethics. Sure, everyone is allowed mistakes, but it was not her mistake to make.

    • Submitted by Sean Huntley on 10/17/2012 - 01:10 pm.

      “Crowley’s ‘correction’ was inexcusable. Especially since she was wrong on the facts, as she has since admitted. ”

      Crowley was correct in pointing out that Romney was saying something that was false. And contrary to your claim she is standing by her actions.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/17/2012 - 01:25 pm.

        Your bias might be showing

        Crowley’s quote: “So [Romney] was right in the main.”

        Regardless of right or wrong, when else in the two presidential debates has the moderator done fact checking on the fly? It isn’t in the job description. And, it is particularly egregious when the victim of the correction “was right in the main”.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/17/2012 - 09:32 am.

    Absolutely right

    I’m glad Obama showed up for this debate. I still think Obama could throw Romney on the permanent defensive if he simply adopted some basic narratives to describe the Republicans and frame his argument.

    All he has to do is talk about the economic magic plan that is the republican’s one and only plan (i.e. cut taxes and wait for the magic to happent), and just keep banging away that this is the same plan that create the deficits and the recession (regardless of who implemented it- talking about Clinton). The other thing he can bang away at is this Republican insistence that government doesn’t create jobs. If these candidates really think the government can’t create jobs, why do they promise to create jobs if you let them run the government? I know, the retort is: “we’ll get out of the way and the private sector do it”. Well that’s just another argument for magic, the magic of the markets, we’ve been there and discovered there’s no such thing as magic. Bush talked about the “thousand points of light” and Romney’s talking about the all the small businesses, but it’s the same product they’re selling, and we know it doesn’t work.

    Basically the Republican economic plan is always to pretend it’s someone elses problem and let someone else solve it, they’ll just get out of the way. In other words, they’ll outsource it. So how does a guy like Romney claim he knows how a president creates jobs when his plan is to let someone else create all the jobs?

    A third basic narrative can be the power of government. Romney keeps pointing to China as the worlds emerging economic power house. True enough, but are you telling me the governments not creating the jobs in China? It’s a communist government for Christ sake! Is this the proof that “small” and impotent government with no central control creates jobs and grows economies? You’re going to compete with China by taking the government out of the economic equation?

    These are simple narrative to establish, they’re easily absorbed and comprehended, and they put Republican candidates in an almost inextricable bind. If Obama framed his argument with these narratives I think he would blunt every attack Romney tries to make and create a simple and effective campaign narrative: Vote for Democrats because there’s no such thing as magic. Vote for Democrats because your government CAN work and we’ll make work for you. Vote for Democrats because we won’t outsource the government to someone you didn’t vote for.

    Tell me that’s not simple and effective.

    • Submitted by David Wolkowicz on 10/17/2012 - 10:28 am.

      The Economy

      CNN’s respondents said Romney was better on the economy in the second debate by an 18% margin (58-40). Yes, Obama was more aggressive trying to paint Romney’s plan as not right for America, as a vulture capitalist and as someone who will just help the 1% (“he has a one point plan”). For me, Obama needs to have a better, more specific plan to help those who are parts of the long term unemployed and for soon to be college graduates (like myself and Eric’s 2 kids). On this question, Obama did nothing to blunt Romney’s message or momentum.

      I absolutely agree with your assessment of China. This pandering for a few voters in Ohio’s manufacturing region is not good for America and the fact that these protectionist views are becoming more common are not healthy for our economy’s future.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/17/2012 - 11:57 am.


        I also think that Obama needs to find a way to share the economic outcomes of his presidency with the Republicans. Fact is they’ve blocked him on almost front. I think they deliberately kept the economy bad so they could hit him over the head with it during the election. It’s hard for Obama because if it’s not handled right he’s admitting he’s been too weak to get his agenda passed. But he’s a smart guy, there’s gotta be a way to point to the Republican role in this slow recovery.

        Frankly though this is exactly why Obama needs a narrative framework. See, Romney has one: “I know how to create jobs”. Obama doesn’t. You something simple because Americans are notoriously ignorant about these big basic issues and have a hell of a time voting in their own economic best interests. You gotta give them something simple to hand their hat on.

    • Submitted by Ginny Martin on 10/17/2012 - 12:52 pm.


      Obama did a good job, but I hope he continues to talk about jobs and Romney’s record, both as governor and as a big corporation executive who outsourced jobs and made money on a failing business that Bain took over.
      It seems to me there are facts about inequality and its consequences; Star Trib business page had one today about how inequality slows growth and why. There are facts about when this country has prospered and when it has not, that is consistent in showing government policies that were in effect. In 1944, the government passed the G.I. bill that gave veterans a real shot at moving up in the world by giving them a free education. Not only did their families prosper, so did the whole world. We’re looking at now the results of austerity in Europe and we see it here in our country. And we can compare the prosperity state by state about which states are impoverished and compare that with, for example, education standards.
      There are a lot of facts and Obama needs to use more of them.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/17/2012 - 09:54 am.

    Fact are facts even if they are technical

    Here’s exactly what Obama said the day after the attacks:

    “So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”

    He referred to the attack as an act of terror, and no one is backing away from that. (I hear the Fox news machine is trying to spin this but as usual they’re just mucking it up) Is it a technical? Sure, but if Romney can claim he isn’t “technically” calling for a $7 trillion tax cut Obama’s entitled to play that game as well. Romney went after this, he didn’t know the facts, regardless of how technical is was, and he got busted. I think moderators should bust these candidates more frequently because these have all been checked and we know what the truth is on a lot of this stuff. Here’s the problem the Republicans have, their entire argument that Obama’s foreign policy is disintegrating is based on a single botched security plan in one of the most unstable and dangerous places in the world. Given the entirety of Obama’s foreign policy record this is beyond weak, and Obama, however technically, just popped the bubble and Romney got caught flat footed. So now you guys are trying to un-ring the bell and it’s lame. The issue isn’t when or where or how long it took Obama to declare this a terrorist attack, the issue that this event simply isn’t big enough to hand an entire foreign policy argument on.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/17/2012 - 11:21 am.

    Imagine a debate in which

    the candidates actually answered the question, then sat down and shut up. You’ll have to, because we’ll never see one.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 10/17/2012 - 11:37 am.

    Pres. Obama

    could have hit Romney much harder than he did…esp. on Romney’s Bain associations. I’m thinking that he is saving this one for the final debate.
    Romney lost respect when he kept brow-beating the Moderator … interrupting her…badgering her…like the school yard bully. He did the same to Obama, but that is part of the debate…even though it tended to be uneasy for listeners.
    Romney just does not have it. He has changed his style to being more aggressive while in the debates, but he does not have the savvy that it takes to know when enough is enough…when to listen instead of talk…when to make a point and be quiet.
    Bill Clinton will have much more impact on this election in the final 20 days….keep listening.

    • Submitted by Richard Helle on 10/17/2012 - 05:00 pm.

      Reverse the players

      Imagine the outrage if candidate Obama treating President Rmoney like that. Also, Rmoney said early on that he was going to create 12 million jobs in 4 years then, not 30 minutes later said government does not create jobs. Was this a hint about Rmoney’s plans after he loses the election?

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/17/2012 - 11:57 am.

    If that was a “solid win”

    …who am I to burst your bubble, Eric? The resulting conclusions emerging among the electorate are to my liking so I’m free to wish you joy of your experience.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/17/2012 - 12:30 pm.

    I’ve watched all 3 debates on CNN

    because they’ve had running “talk time” meters and I wanted to see if the moderator was going to allocate time equally. The agreed-to two-minute segment format would certainly allow the moderator to do so if they wanted to.

    In all three debates, the democrat spoke for more time. In the first debate Obama spoke for 4 minutes longer than Romney, Biden spoke for about 2 minutes longer than Ryan, and then last night Obama again was given 4 more minutes (9%) than Romney.

    If you think this is trivial, ask yourself if the moderator had said at the end of the debate “Oh, excuse me governor, but you have another 4 minutes coming to use in your closing statement” we’d be hearing screaming from the democrats as “unfair” and the press would all be attacking the moderator as “biased.”

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/17/2012 - 01:50 pm.

      I personally favor the approach where the microphone is turned off five seconds after the time limit is reached and not turned on until it is the candidate’s turn again.

  8. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/17/2012 - 12:44 pm.

    I am still trying to figure out what is new about Obama’s vision for a 2nd term. What I do hear is more of the same – paying off the democratic special interest groups that give him the money.

  9. Submitted by Mike Downing on 10/17/2012 - 02:19 pm.

    Is MinnPost a media source that reports news or makes news?

    My answer is the latter since other news sources and even CNN, a bastion of liberals, scored the debate a slight Romney win.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/17/2012 - 03:42 pm.


    Someone should tell Mike that Black Ink is a commentary column. Erick isn’t obliged to report what CNN is saying.

  11. Submitted by Joe Musich on 10/17/2012 - 04:52 pm.

    One point program…

    The most interesting post debate read was that of the debate coach posted at CNN here :

    The dabate is examined on its merits or lack of thereof as debate. Should be no suprise what the debate coach as a win and why. I am in agreement with his choice for memorable lines. Over and over again shanted R’s economic plans are fact checked and found to be terribly wanting. Obama nicely summed it up right away last night with his “one point program” comment.

  12. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 10/17/2012 - 09:11 pm.


    Listening to both sides spin this is fruitless, just another part of the endless partisan drone.
    I would propose we look at some facts.
    The dow was 8852 the close of 10/13. Today it closed at 13557
    Gas was 3.54 a gallon in 2008, 3.74 today
    Median home price was 180.200, today 181,500

    So explain to me, my conservative troll friends, how bad a job Obama has done again? The market cratered in the high 6000’s, gas dropped to under 2.00 and housing median prices dipped to 160,000’s. All of these are numerical facts, not partisan opinion.

    The economy has recovered significantly, housing is on the upswing, the markets are increasing and gas has gone up because of supply/demand. So Obama has done a fine job. Unemployment would be one percentage point higher if the Republican governors had not fired so many state and county employees and hiring always lags recovery anyway.

    The only point the Republican have is we don’t like Obama, he is “different” (read colored) and is a socialist (read cares about people less wealthy than him).

    And his foreign policy has been light years better than W’s. Light years. No fake pretenses for wars, no fake reasons to extend them and we have extricated ourselves from one mess-Iraq and will be out of Afghanistan soon. If Pakistan pulls another stunt, they will feel our wrath.
    The only foreign trouble spot of any geopolitical concern is Iran, and we are resisting Netanyahu’s (emphasis on yahoo) attempts to entangle us needlessly for his needs.

    We are doing ok and if we stay the course we will be in better shape in 4 years. This recovery is quicker than the mythologized Reagan recovery, which took six years. And we started in a much worse place.

  13. Submitted by Richard Pecar on 10/18/2012 - 09:10 am.

    Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan, please put up or go away…

    I believe these wannabe critiques should pony-up or bite their tongue.

    Sure…I didn’t like it when the White House threw out General Stanley McChrystal; I thought it was naïve and nothing more than an exaggerated lesson to teach the balance of the military the White House had the spine to can generals. Personally, I wouldn’t have picked Gen. McChrystal, but that is just my opinion.

    However, not once, not for one second, have I viewed President Obama is as weak or disinterested in the safety and security of the United States or as an incompetent as COC. In my book for anyone to imply that is treading on the edges of sedition. In terms of national security the President has done what needed to be done since he took office and he has done it well.

    I think the high and mighty Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan and the press who are so anxious to make a big deal out of this story should tell the country how exactly many more Marines should deployed worldwide at US Embassies . Then Congressman Ryan can quit beating his gums and draft a piece of legislation to fund and deploy the proper contingents of Marines in order to protect our embassies.

    The way I see it is we got caught flat-footed…it happened before at Pearl Harbor – the 1993 bombing of Trade Center – the bombing of USS Cole – the aerial attack Twin Towers 9/11 – Benghazi…we pray never again. We must stay ever vigilant.

    While they are at it, Romney and Ryan can forward legislation on how to protect against the Oklahoma City bombing and the Aurora Colorado mass murders.

  14. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 10/18/2012 - 01:23 pm.

    Romney’s”Binder Women”

    Can’t get Romney’s “Binder Women” out of my mind with memory so enchanced;
    enthralled, appalled…by 47% at least?

    Did Mitt snap them in a binder cell…where he kept them very well; and better than a pumpkin shell?

    Until he needed one; maybe even choosing two or three, I presume?

    Did he raise them out of binder-bound existence like characters in a children’s pop-up book?

    Did he call them by name; Mary, Jane…or Binder A or Binder B etc.?

    Certainly could make those undecided, suburban wives so targeted,
    Throw a fit…but not for Mitt?

  15. Submitted by Patricia Gerleman on 10/18/2012 - 07:19 pm.

    I loved that part of the debate.

    When your opponent says, “continue, governor,” when talking about something he did wrong, should be a small thought in your head that something is wrong. But Romney went right ahead and continued his idea.

    I think President Obama does much better in debate if he is coming from behind. I think, too, that in the first debate, President Obama was trying to maintain civility and try to parry back and forth, which Romney does not do, he just continues on talking over everyone.

  16. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/18/2012 - 08:25 pm.

    I am struck by how much each of these guys is a centrist at heart, albeit with different philosophical leanings. Were no power at stake and no parties involved, I’m sure the two of them if asked could arrive at a consensus on deficit reduction and entitlement reform. There’s not much distance between them. The polarization is between the parties, not the candidates. Both parties’ ideologues insist that we stand on principle, no matter what the cost.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/19/2012 - 09:42 am.


      You’re comparing three people:
      primary Romney
      candidate Romney

      • Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/20/2012 - 08:51 pm.

        I suspect the winning candidate will be the one believed most likely to appeal to Independents and the elusive center. Conservatives have no where to go and Romney is smart enough to know he owes them nothing.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/19/2012 - 10:26 am.


      I agree with your assessment of both of them as being pretty centrist. Other folks who also agree might then go on to say that it doesn’t therefore matter all that much which one of them wins.

      However, it does matter. It matters quite a lot – especially if Republicans maintain their control of the House and stay at least status quo in the Senate.

      With Romney at the helm, they’d no longer feel the need to continue their obstructionist ways, and there’s no telling how many more ALEC-tinged pieces of legislation would suddenly get trotted out and suddenly have a lot easier time finding their way through to approval.

      And because they no longer had so much fear of making the sitting President “look good”, Romney would find easy support for his ideas. Who’s to say which way the Etch-A-Sketch would slide as long as it served to continue shoring up his political power? We’ve already seen that he says whatever he thinks his current audience wants to hear. If his new audience is his Tea-Party dominated Congress, I have no doubt that his recent “tack to the middle” would reverse course and head back towards the territory he so unabashedly inhabited during the primary battles.

      The President does not have unilateral power. But when he’s not being actively opposed every step of the way, he has a lot more power than he would otherwise.

      And a picture of Romney – “centrist” or not – with a Republican congress behind him would be a very scary picture indeed.

      • Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/20/2012 - 08:39 pm.

        To me, Mr. Romney is a potentially good candidate who’s wrong for 2012. What’s Romney’s strength? Pragmatism. Deal making. Cutting to the chase. It’s how Romney made money in business. It’s how pretty much any of us make money in business. That could be Romney’s brand.

        But not in 2012, not with the Tea Party and this current version of the Republican Party. Where pragmatism is seen as weakness. Deal making is compromise and cutting to the chase is selling out.

  17. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 10/18/2012 - 10:03 pm.

    Obama lost the first debate badly but won the second. Biden took his round on a split decision. The expected buts and whining have followed. None of the debates are the election, however, and the debate cycle is not done yet either. The first of the polls following the second debate will start coming in tomorrow. Then we will have a more complete idea of how accurate the unanimous initial responses were that Obama won the second handily, and we will also get some idea of how accurate are the indications that Romney’s surge has actually started to recede from just short of enough.

    The latest swing state polls off Stoddard’s Political Wire have Romney still coming up short and not gaining where he needs to. He still can’t put Florida away and he needs it for any chance at the Electoral College.


    Also be careful with Gallup. In political polls the Gallup ones are becoming erratic enough for Nate Silver to issue a warning about how dramatically they can swing in a matter of days. Right now Gallup is an outlier, and the only one showing an outright Romney lead nationwide.


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