Second Debate: Obama Didn't Let Romney Get Away With Lying
I was blushing the whole time I was watching. You, fair reader, know what a fine publication Neon Tommy is. But, to be honest, I doubted that President Obama had seen the light and now follows us regularly. I now know that this is not case - it became starkly apparent to me as I watched the debate tonight that President Obama had clearly read my article in response to the first presidential debate.
In that article, I criticized him for sitting back and allowing Governor Romney to blatantly lie about both his record and his plans going forward. After all, not having to be constrained by reality can be quite an advantage in a debate - and it was one that Romney utilized fully two weeks ago, with no objections from his opponent.
Tonight, at Hofstra University, the president took my advice (disclosure: I know the president didn’t actually read my article) and hit back when Romney lied. And he hit back HARD.
Last Wednesday, many people in both the media and the general public were impressed with Joe Biden's ability to nullify Paul Ryan’s half-truths by simply laughing or throwing up his hands in mock frustration, to correctly imply that his opponent was being laughably absurd (literally). Given Obama's abysmal performance during the candidates’ first debate, some wondered if Obama would attempt a similar strategy to that of his running mate. While this was certainly not the case, the president did something arguably more effective. He plainly stated what was apparent to fact checkers everywhere, and anyone with an Internet connection: Mitt Romney was lying, both about his own plans and his opponent’s record.
Look, it’s fairly obvious to anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of the theory of elections what Romney is doing. He’s running to the center, like all smart candidates do after a tough primary fight. This has never been more important and difficult than in this year’s election, which was preceded by four years of the rise of the Tea Party and their uncompromising disgust for any viewpoints other than their own ultra-conservative ones. But Obama cannot afford to let him get away with it; during the first presidential debate, he did. This time around, it was a different story.
Time and again, Obama repeated the phrase “that’s just not true” (or some iteration of it). Whether he was making it a central point of his allotted speaking time, as he did frequently, or just saying it in the background during Romney’s speaking time, the president constantly called out Romney for distorting or flat out lying about his record, and for refusing to acknowledge widely accepted facts.
One of Romney’s worst moments, surprisingly enough, came during the discussion of the terror attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. This is (or at least should be), as I see it, one of the easiest lines of attack for the Romney campaign. The Obama administration was explicitly asked for more security by the diplomatic staff in Libya in the days leading up to the attacks. That request was denied. And while it’s true that this almost certainly was due in large part to Republicans cutting the funding for worldwide embassy security, that point has thus far been easily swept under the rug.
So, an American embassy is attacked on the anniversary of the worst terror attack in American history, resulting in the deaths of four Americans, including our ambassador, after the Obama administration (specifically, Hilary Clinton’s State Department, by her own admission) denied their explicit requests for more security. And what does Romney choose to attack Obama on? His wording in a Rose Garden speech following the attacks; particularly, that he took 14 days to label the incident a terror attack and not a spontaneous riot. What?
That's passing up a softball for an Aroldis Chapman fastball if I’ve ever seen one. It would seem to be a poor angle to take on this issue if that were all there was to it, but there’s more, and I think you might be able to guess where I’m going with this. Romney was, drumroll please, lying again! This lie was so blatant that even the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, in one of the debate’s most controversial moments, felt obliged to clear up the record and point out to the governor that Obama did, in fact, label it a terror attack in his first comments in the Rose Garden about the incident, the very next day. Romney somehow managed to mangle what should have been one of his sharpest lines of attack so badly that he ended up looking utterly silly, being chastised by Crowley like he was a student who hadn’t done his homework for class.
Romney lost his momentum from the first debate tonight. The election is far from over, certainly, and Romney has more than a fighting chance. But Obama stopped the bleeding tonight, and reminded voters why they were losing enthusiasm for the governor in the first place. Romney's stated views, and those of his party as expressed in their platform, are to the far right of the average voter’s, and the only way to convince people otherwise is to lie and get away with it. In both debates, Romney accomplished the first part. The difference tonight was how Obama handled the second part.
Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the 2012 Presidential Debate here.
Reach Contributor Daniel Lewin here.