Barack Obama, who apparently skipped the first debate in order to celebrate his wedding anniversary, showed up for last night’s debate. There was little similarity between the sad, defeated, petulant shell of a man from the first contest and the aggressive, feisty President that slapped Romney all over the stage at Hofstra.
There was something unsettling about hearing Mitt Romney advocating for increased coal use, as though this were 1912 and not 2012. To make things even weirder, he referred to oil as one point as a “vast new resource” as if its wonders had just been discovered. President Obama had an excellent response here about using a combination of wind, solar, and natural gas to increase energy independence and job growth. The other interesting part of Romney’s rhetoric on energy is that he always talks about creating energy independence for North America. Every President going back to Nixon has set a goal of making the United States energy independent. For Romney to expand the area is a lowering of the goalposts, and would be significantly easier to accomplish given the vast reserves of oil in Canada and Mexico. Obama also got the better of him on gas prices: asked why gas prices had gone up so far in his time in office, Obama replied that they’d been low because of the financial collapse, and then suggested that Romney could make them low again if his deregulation triggered another one. BOOM! Policy slam!
If Romney’s ever had coaching on body language, he forgot about it during the bizarre exchange that the two had on whether oil production has increased or decreased during Obama’s first term in office. Romney turned away from the cameras and the audience to ask the President a question, assuming that it would help him gain the upper hand. When the incumbent strode confidently forward, past his opponent, to face the audience and explain, Romney was left in the awkward position of sidestepping his way back into the President’s view, attempting to lecture him. Obama continued to ignore him and walked back to his chair to take a comfortable seat. This made Romney look weak and desperate.
The two candidates couldn’t have looked more different. When Romney spoke, Obama would lounge in his chair. While Obama spoke, though, his opponent stood awkwardly on stage, arms at his sides, slightly slumped, as if he didn’t know what to do with his hands. Clearly, whoever programmed him forget to write a code for waiting attentively; he just seems to shut off when someone else is talking. Unless they’re breaking the rules, of course.
You can always tell when Mitt Romney thinks that he’s losing. His “tell” is that he starts to complain about the rules. I’d imagine it would make him an absolutely insufferable poker player, except that he doesn’t gamble. He did it during the Republican primaries, when the boozy Texan, Rick Perry, cut him off. “I’m speaking! I’m speaking!” he yelled, putting a hand on his rival’s shoulder. Seconds later, he launched another scold: “you know, you have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking,” and added, in his typical father-knows-best tone, “if you want to become President of the United States, then you need to let both people speak.” Good advice, but it played poorly, making him look like the kid in tag who always insists that nobody touched him.
He did the same thing in last night’s debate, striding forward as Obama finished an answer on gas prices. Trying to forestall another argument from Mittens, the moderator cut in:
CROWLEY: I got to — I got to move you on —
ROMNEY: He gets the first —
CROWLEY: — and the next question —
ROMNEY: He actually got —
CROWLEY: — for you —
ROMNEY: He actually got the first question. So I get the last question — last answer —
CROWLEY: (Inaudible) in the follow up, it doesn’t quite work like that. But I’m going to give you a chance here. I promise you, I’m going to.
And the next question is for you. So if you want to, you know, continue on — but I don’t want to leave all —
ROMNEY: Candy, Candy —
CROWLEY: — sitting here —
ROMNEY: Candy, I don’t have a policy of stopping wind jobs in Iowa and that — they’re not phantom jobs. They’re real jobs.
In politics, as in sports, or college, or the workplace, when you’re complaining about the moderator, or the poll numbers, or the media coverage instead of your opponent’s policies, it means that you’re losing.
To cap off the debate, Romney had another, well, “Romney moment” where he said something weird and out of touch that will undoubtedly bounce around the internet for days to come. Asked a question about fair pay through women – which the President answered reasonably well, although he was short on specifics – the Republican challenger stumbled through a response that was problematic on three levels:
- He implied that there were initially no qualified female applicants to work in his administration in Massachusetts, and that he had to lower his standards and actively look to find any.
- He then said that his aids brought him whole “binders full of women,” an image that conjures up a teenager with a covert stache of photos under his mattress and that reiterated his tendency to think of people as words and numbers in a spreadsheet.
- He ended by suggesting that it was, in fact, ok to let women in the workforce, so long as their bosses were understanding enough to let them get home in time to cook dinner for their children and higher-earning spouses.
Here it is in all its glory:
In another great example of where Romney should have just let a point go, he cut short his own response on immigration to respond to a jibe that Obama had made nearly ten minutes previously about Chinese investments:
ROMNEY: Just going to make a point. Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in — in Chinese companies.
Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?
OBAMA: I’ve got to say…
ROMNEY: Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?
OBAMA: You know, I — I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.
ROMNEY: Well, let me give you some advice.
OBAMA: I don’t check it that often.
ROMNEY: Let me give you some advice. Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States. You also have investments through a Cayman’s trust.
CROWLEY: We’re way off topic here, Governor Romney.
OBAMA: I thought we were talking about immigration.
I suppose Romney thought he had a clever smack down planned, but what the point was of finding another way to remind voters just how rich he is I can’t imagine.
All-in-all, Obama seems to have earned a hard-fought victory aided significantly by his opponent’s typical oddness. Romney just sounds like he’s stumbled out of the 1950s, and he made a fool of himself on the Libya issue. Time after time, Obama sounded strong and Romney sounded weird. He kept trying the attacks from his stump speech – oil leases, gas prices, Libya, Obama’s investments – only to seem shocked when they turned out to be specious. Hopefully, the President reversed some of the momentum that he threw away at his last outing. With one more debate to go, the race has tightened significantly, but Obama still holds a more significant edge in the electoral college than his national poll numbers might suggest.