Last week's veep debate seems to have jolted democrats out of the worry, even panic, that manifested in the aftermath of the first Romney-Obama clash. While widely panned among conservatives, Joe Biden's showing, full of feistiness and gesticulations, generally satisfied liberals. To them, it was the kind of performance they desired from the president in the first debate: Biden was assertive, lively, willing to defend the administration's record. For the liberal base, Biden set the bar for Obama to reach in subsequent debates.
Of course, Obama won't demonstrate anywhere near the combativeness that Biden showed in his debate. That said, coming into tonight, there was now a general expectation, among liberals and conservatives and those in between, that Obama would be far less passive and much more lucid than he was in the first presidential debate. Put simply, while Biden staunched the declining support and polling numbers, it was now up to Obama to re-energize the liberal base. The pressure was on Obama to do well tonight.
Fast forward to tonight. What happened?
Well, as many of you likely expect, it was a debate full of vagaries, light on specifics, full of exaggeration, and false depictions of the other side's record and policy positions. It heavily focused on domestic issues, especially the American economy. Other than short discussions on China and Libya, the debate hardly touched on foreign policy.
Mitt Romney delivered a solid performance. Understandably, he prioritized hammering Obama on unemployment, the lack of job growth, and the prolonged stagnation in the U.S. economy. Romney is a consistently good debater. It's difficult to imagine him getting whitewashed in any debate. But this time, in contrast to the last debate, on Twitter and the blogs, I've already seen many more negative reactions to Romney. Words like "arrogant," "diminished," "petty," and "not presidential" have been bandied about. I will be looking to see if these descriptions stick, if they are echoed more loudly in various media outlets in the coming days.
Clearly, unlike the last debate, tonight, Obama was forceful and aggressive and well prepared. He looked Romney in the eye, even directed barbs directly to Romney. I foresee liberals as pleased with tonight's debate, believing that Obama showed that he's willing to fight for his job, that he wants to win as much as they do. Obama was probably aided a bit by the debate format, the town hall-style debate. He's very comfortable in this setting, and usually does a good job of connecting with audiences, which is essential in these kinds of debates.
One critique of both presidential contenders, something I suspect that some readers noticed: it was more than a little irritating to see both Obama and Romney constantly butting in, begging for more time, trying to get in the last word.
Most interesting comment of the night: Obama's take on the differences between Romney and George W. Bush:
You know, there are some things where Governor Romney is different from George Bush. George Bush didn’t propose turning Medicare into a voucher. George Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform. He didn’t call for self-deportation.
George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, so there are differences between Governor Romney and George Bush, but they’re not on economic policy. In some ways, he’s gone to a more extreme place when it comes to social policy. And I think that’s a mistake.My scorecard: Obama on points. But because Obama performed so much better than he did in the last debate, it will interesting to see how this debate is spun. My colleague Yohanes Sulaiman speculated on Twitter that the mainstream media will call the debate "Obama's comeback." It's a very plausible, reasonable projection.
What do you think? Who won tonight? How do you think the debate will be spun?
(For the full transcript of tonight's debate, click here.)