It was the moment that Barack Obama won the second debate against Mitt Romney in Long Island.
The President had answered a question from a member of the audience about who denied enhanced security – and why — at the US embassy in Libya when the ambassador and three of his staff were killed in September. Obama said he would investigate and promised to hunt down the killers.
Not a great answer, and Romney attacked, saying it took a long time for Americans to be told this was a terrorist attack and not a demonstration. And he said, to make matters worse, the President flew off the day after for a political event in Las Vegas, and then the next day for one in Colorado.
Barack Obama glared at Mitt Romney when he said: “And this calls into question the president’s whole policy in the Middle East.” The president replied: “The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.” He added: “And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive.”
It was the exchange that followed which made me jump out of my chair.
ROMNEY: I think (it) interesting the president just said something which — which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.
OBAMA: That’s what I said.
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror.
It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you’re saying?
OBAMA: Please proceed governor. (Another glare.)
ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It — it — it — he did in fact, sir. So let me — let me call it an act of terror…
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
CANDY CROWLEY (Moderator): He — he did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.”
“Get the transcript” is the phrase that stopped the Republican candidate in his tracks, and to add insult to injury, the CNN moderator confirmed that the President had indeed said it “acts of terror” in the Rose Garden.
It took a while for Mitt Romney to recover from the argy-bargy, and he lost points he had scored in criticising the Obama administration’s economic record over the past four years.
The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, had plenty to say about this and other prevarications, or Pinocchios, as he calls them, of both candidates in his blog, The Fact Checker http://wapo.st/RE7ulZ, , and on ABC’s Radio National Breakfast this morning. When host Philip Clark asked Kessler who won, he replied: “I just check facts, I don’t do political analysis … I try to inform voters, I don’t tell them how to think.” It’s worth listening to the interview: http://bit.ly/RUEt68
THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP MADE A GREAT COMEBACK
But there was no doubt the President was back, no longer the listless participant of the first debate. Like a champion boxer, he stood toe to toe with the challenger, and countered with punches that helped him regain the heavyweight crown on points. My favourite was when Romney admitted his wealth in a blind trust, saying he had investments outside the United States, including China, and then suggested Obama should check his pension for such investments. Three times he asked the President: “Have you looked at your pension?” Obama smiled broadly and said: “You know, I — I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.”
The town hall debate audience had been fairly quiet, but there was pronounced laughter after the President’s reply. It was a “gotcha” moment, and spontaneous, as there was no way he could have rehearsed that retort in his training sessions with former presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry.
Senator Kerry told CNN after the debate that he thought Obama had won, as did the network’s senior political analyst, David Gergen, who said the President had made an important advance, and “had done well enough to blunt Romney’s momentum,” especially in the battleground state of Ohio.
The CNN-Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) post-debate poll had Obama at 46% and Romney 39%, and most polls had Obama on top, though by smaller margins. The latest Washington Post-ABC poll shows Obama on 49 points and Romney on 46. The Democrats are hoping for a bigger bounce in polls later this week. For a personal, less scientific poll see my footnote below.*
On the social media front, Romney’s answer to a question about inequality in the workplace and fair pay for women prompted a Twitter account entitled “binders full of women.” The Republican challenger was explaining how he went looking for women for his cabinet when he became governor of Massachusetts: “And – and so we – we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”
Of course, Romney was referring to notebook binders, or folders, which contained CVs of would-be women recruits, but for female followers on Twitter, it was reminiscent of the bad old days. Suzi Parker wrote in the Washington Post: “It reminded people of a time when women wore girdles or women in China bound their feet as a status symbol that allowed them to marry into money. For some, it sounded like a great idea for a Halloween costume.” http://wapo.st/V9rCmN
And, as it turns out, the new governor didn’t ask for the binders. It was prepared by a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts, who presented it to Romney after he was elected. David Bernstein tells the story in his blog in the Boston Phoenix today: (http://bit.ly/RBU7Tm ).
As self-described “recovering reporter and recovering political hack,” Robbie Sherwood, tweeted: “There are going to be #bindersfullofwomen voting for Obama on Nov. 6.”
To be fair to Romney, he did perform pretty well at the debate. But like most spoiled rich guys, he got angry when he felt the moderator treated him unfairly, at one point saying “Candy, Candy, Candy.” All she was doing was trying to keep the debate moving. This time Barack Obama concentrated his focus on Romney, and did not look down at his notes as he did at the first debate.
And the President had a terrific closing statement when he finally mentioned Romney’s dismissal of the 47 per cent of Americans the Republican doesn’t worry about — because they don’t pay taxes, are dependent on the government and won’t vote for him anyway.
Since Barack Obama won the debate, I’ll let him have the last word:
“I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.
Folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives. Veterans who’ve sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country’s dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don’t make enough income.
And I want to fight for them. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last four years. Because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds.”
*PS For the weeks preceding the AFL Grand Final, I wore my 2009 Sydney Swans member hat (it fits better than the 2012 version) on my morning walk. As all AFL fans know, the Swans beat the Hawks and are now the premiers. After the Swans’ magnificent victory, I started wearing my 2008 Barack Obama hat on my daily walk. It feels like a winning hat again. Just thought I should let you know.