BOTH SIDES NOW : Obama Saves Presidency in Debate II -- Will He Take Mulligan on Economy in III?

US President Barack Obama  (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in  the second presidential
US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the second presidential debate, the only held in a townhall format, at the David Mack Center at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, October 16, 2012, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley. AFP PHOTO /Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

By Mark Green

President Obama undoubtedly woke up from sleepwalking through the first debate by slapping Romney around in manner and content in the second one... but he didn't find the time to challenge the governor's dubious economic assertions. Watch 44 pivot in Monday night's "foreign policy" debate to refute Mittomics.


On Debate II, Stylistically. There's consensus that while Romney cleaned up in the first debate (duh), Obama won the second, at least on "style/theatrics" in Mary's phrase. Of course, that's the way most people score these things... remember JFK-Nixon, Reagan-Carter, Obama-Romney in Denver.

There was doubt whether Obama could in fact pugnaciously punch/counter-punch in a way that he almost never has in his career, including all the debates of 2008. He did, though an underwhelmed Mary says that is largely in comparison to his passive, polite, professional fail in round one. Eliot adds with relief that Obama saved his presidency: "If he couldn't defend himself with Romney, how could he negotiate with others?"

On Debate II, Substantively.

^On Libya: Was there almost a Joseph Welch "have you no shame" moment when Obama glared and reprimanded Romney for implying "my team" lied about lost lives in Benghazi, plus when he was vindicated on "acts of terror" comment? "It was his best moment of the debate and the worst for Romney," concludes Eliot, adding that "every lawyer knows that if you overstate your case, you'll lose it. He should have stuck to what Susan Rice said and knew on the Sunday shows."

Mary counters that Romney wasn't much hurt by the exchange and that, in any event, "the press, of all things, is making the case and keeping it in the news... Whatever 65 million heard, 300 million will have other sources of information," including next Monday's debate. Eliot concedes that "Benghazi and Syria is now how people see the Arab Spring and that really hurts the president."

^On Women: Eliot thinks that Obama politically scored with women on contraception and choice since Romney does want Roe v. Wade reversed, associates "with a Todd Akin social agenda" and has said in the past that he's ok with banning all abortions. "He can't just say, take my last position as gospel since he's been all over the map here." He thinks that "binders full of women" was more silly than revealing.

Mary dismisses concerns about the availability of contraception, despite Romney's support of a Blunt Amendment that would allow any employer to refuse to cover contraception based on his/her moral or religious standards. And she similarly scoffs at pandering to 1970s feminism on abortion since "women care about more than abortion" and, even if Roe were overturned, it would revert to the states for each to decide.

^On Economy: Polls indicate that though Romney lost the Hofstra debate on points, the public preferred his answers on the economy by double digits. Eliot sharply faults the governor's arithmetic on cutting taxes and making believe that his loophole closing would come close to paying for that. Citing the Tax Policy Center report, "he'll either add to the deficit which is good Keynesian economics or hit the middle class."

Mary disparages that report and others since they don't account for the growth that will occur when Romney implements his plan (confidence up, compliance costs down). But aren't you talking about Paul Krugman's "confidence fairy"? Mary says unprintable things about the nobel laureate and cites historical examples to sustain her point.

Did Romney neutralize Obama's auto rescue talking point by alleging that both of them proposed bankruptcy? Eliot thinks the million jobs saved will be a great asset in swing midwestsern states like Ohio while Mary acknowledges that it may be a political asset but "was a terrible precedent" as a matter of policy, given the payoff to labor and costs to taxpayers. (Host: it worked in practice but not in theory.)

Last on economy: Did Obama score points and votes when he teased Romney as a out-of-touch plutocrat who has disdain for 47 percent of Americans benefitting from federal programs but not paying federal taxes? Eliot thinks that the elitest label has run its course and that the president in the last two weeks "needs to focus on substance to differentiate himself." Mary enthusiastically agrees!

Host: because neither the candidates nor voters think this election will turn on foreign policy, watch how Debate III will spend large chunks of time on the economy no matter what Bob Schieffer says. Within his first or second answer, President Obama will likely say a version of: "A strong America abroad requires a strong America economically at home... then over the 90 minutes he'll explain that a) the debt didn't double in his term and the growth was largely due to W's Great Recession and tax cuts for the rich, b) the four million jobs lost in 2009 should count on W's ledger, hence Obama brought down unemployment from 10 percent to 7.8 percent, c) Romney's projection of 12 million jobs created in his presidential term drew a four Pinocchios rebuke from the Washington Post fact-checker and d) the Dow has doubled. Over 50 years, growth under Democrats twice that of Republicans.

On Turnout. Since a third debate rarely changes the trajectory of a presidential contest and since each presidential campaign will spend close to one billion dollars (counting affiliated superpacs and 'social welfare' groups), is the final variable GOTV? That is, while the race seems tied in national polls, whoever gets his voters out will win? The two agree, with Eliot deferring to the get-out-the-vote operative Matalin.

We listen to Obama charm The Daily Show audience with a direct appeal to vote because of the stakes on "War and peace, women, jobs," Stewart asks "exactly how many texts have you sent me in these 12-14 minutes?" The joke works because of the reality that Obama has a real edge here -- he started his presidency with 13 million email addresses (larger than the three cable networks combined, as The Nation's Ari Berman has pointed out), has added four million donors, and has invested tens of millions in a ObamaforAmerica field operation. But since the challenger has one of his own, there's no way to know how many votes either one will net in the swing states of Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia, Colorado.

Quick Takes: Al Smith Dinner. Losing our Religion? Spitzer and Matalin trade stories about their participation in Al Smith dinners (Mary and husband James were the honorees two years ago) as they agree that both nominees did very well this week. And what of the PEW poll showing that religiously unaffiliated Americans had grown by 10 percent over 20 years? Mary thinks that while organized religion may have declined, spirituality has not -- and she hopes will not since religious values and freedom was among our founding principles. Eliot speculates whether such a trend will hurt the GOP since more religious voters have been more Republican, adding that after this election the older, whiter party will have to dramatically reorganize itself on social and religious issues.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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