I watched Tuesday night's presidential debate from La Fortuna, Costa Rica, near the active volcano Arenal. Speaking of good fortune, the absence of a volcanic eruption here was offset by plenty of fireworks during the town hall debate. My awards go to...
Biggest "Did he really just go there?" moment: Mitt Romney claims "Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust" before asking the President three times if he's looked at his pension. This is a striking exchange involving a candidate who only minutes earlier had tried to frame the election as being about who could better help the middle class. The only surprise is that Romney doesn't offer the president a $10,000 bet on the contents of his pension.
Nicest way of calling the other guy a liar: Unlike Obama's blunt claim that "very little of what Governor Romney just said is true," Romney defends his plan for reducing the national debt by saying, "We have a president talking about someone's plan in a way that's completely foreign to what my real plan is." Well, what presidential candidate born outside the U.S. wouldn't describe things in a foreign way?
Weakest plea for help: When Candy Crowley sets the record straight on Obama's statement that the attack in Libya was an "act of terror," the president chimes in, "Can you say that a little louder, Candy?" Does the President really need to seek cover from the moderator to support his argument?
Biggest whiner-in-chief: Romney squanders no opportunity to cry for a rebuttal. Every time he complains that, "He actually got the first question. So I get the last question" or "I think I was supposed to get that last answer," he sends a message the only way for him to win an argument is for him to get the last word.
Biggest cop-out: Candy Crowley claims that she will "get run out of town" if she does not move things along. Certainly stronger than Jim Lehrer's passive role, but why not just remind the candidates of the rules they had agreed to?
Best unintentional illustration of our education problems: While discussing the importance of college, Romney inspires little confidence when he says there is "more debt and less jobs." High school students are more likely to get to college if they pay attention long enough during English class to remember proper use of the word "fewer."
Biggest farce: China has long been an easy punching bag during campaign season, but there is a striking gap between each candidate's rhetoric on China and what they know to be true about the economic impact of possible trade restrictions. Romney claims he'll label China a currency manipulator and impose tariffs when necessary. A great article in Tuesday's New York Times suggests that a potential trade war with China might lead to increased prices for American consumers and lost sales for American exporters.
Most effective repeated delivery of the same message: Give Romney credit for finding creative ways to communicate the same argument - that Obama has not delivered the last four years. "Let's look at the president's policies...as opposed to the rhetoric, because we've had four years of policies being played out." Romney returns to the theme when Obama tries to lay out a vision for the next four years: "But that's not what you've done in the last four years." And later, "We just can't afford four more years like the last four years."
Strongest supporter of George W. Bush: Obama claims Bush was less extreme on social policy than Romney is, whereas the governor rips the ex-president for having not cracked down on China or balanced the budget. I can't be the only one wondering what is going through Bush's mind the same day he is quoted as saying Romney would make a "great president."
Best pre-meditated attack: Obama plays on Romney's successful business record by saying, "Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here; I want to spend 7 (trillion dollars) 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 have taken such a sketchy deal. And neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn't add up."
Biggest flashback to 2000: Speaking of Bush and math that doesn't add up, remember when the ex-president accused Al Gore of "fuzzy math"? And on the topic of one-liners, Bush also said of the former vice president during a 2000 debate that, "I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator as well."
Biggest flashback to 2004: Obama accuses Governor Romney of being "for an assault weapons ban before he was against it." Surely a smile crept across the face of John Kerry, who has played Romney in Obama's debate prep and famously said, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."
Biggest flashback to 2008: Romney reminisces about "licking my wounds after having been beaten by John McCain" during the Republican primaries. Of course, if McCain's behavior over the last four years is any indication, the wound-licking process would last much longer following the general election.