Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Obama redeems himself

I think Jonathan Chait and others were quite right to warn that the "town hall" format of last night's presidential "debate" would make it especially difficult for Obama to accomplish the two tasks he needed to pull off simultaneously in order to repair the damage from the debacle of the first debate on October 3—i.e., to restore his own credibility and to counter-attack effectively against Governor Etch-a-Sketch.  But in the end Obama met that challenge successfully, with some help from Romney's own blunders and weaknesses.

Taegan Goddard's reaction cut to the heart of the matter:
If President Obama had done this well in the first debate, most would have already written off Mitt Romney. Obama won the debate decisively.

The president had a simple formula: Defend and explain his record while insisting that Romney wasn't being truthful. He kept Romney on the defensive and came prepared with counter-punches to nearly every topic. It was devastatingly effective. [....]
There's a lot of other post-debate commentary one could quote, but for the moment I will just stick to Andrew Sullivan. The first presidential debate left him deeply demoralized (and not entirely without cause).  After last night's debate, he was "elated".  Here's how he summed up his liveblogging of the second debate:
To my mind, Obama dominated Romney tonight in every single way: in substance, manner, style, and personal appeal. He came back like a lethal, but restrained predator. He was able to defend his own record, think swiftly on his feet, and his Benghazi answer was superb. He behaved like a president. He owned the presidency. And Romney? Well, he has no answers on the math question and was exposed. He was vulnerable on every social issue, especially immigration. And he had no real answer to the question of how he'd be different than George W Bush.

I'm excitable - but sometimes politics is about emotion as well as reason. And my view is that Obama halted Romney's momentum in its tracks and his performance will bring women voters in particular flooding back. He's just more persuasive. On watching with the sound off - apart from weird gaps in the CSPAN coverage - Obama did not grin like Biden; he smiled confidently, leaning forward. Within twenty minutes, Romney looked flush[ed] and a little schvitzy.

Game, set and match to Obama. He got it; he fought back; he gave us all more than ample reason to carry on the fight.
All that strikes me as correct. And Romney's discussion last night featured a number of prevarications, distortions, evasions, and outright lies that may come back to haunt him over the next few weeks. Of course, he was frequently dishonest in the first presidential debate, too.  But fact-checking usually has little effect on someone perceived to have "won" a debate decisively.  (If it worked, then who really cares whether the candidate's statements happened to be true or false?)  A candidate perceived as a loser may well be more vulnerable.  I guess we'll see.

Aside from reassuring and re-energizing Obama's supporters, will his victory in last night's debate have an important impact on the race?  Well, as Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. Again, we'll have to see.  But I do think it's safe to say that if Obama had blown this debate the way he blew the first one, his chances for re-election might well have been over.  Now things look very different. According to all available information, this remains a very close race. Stay tuned, and let's hope for the best.

Onward and upward!
Jeff Weintraub

P.S.  A transcript of the debate is here.