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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Second Debate: Obama's And Romney's Five Bests And Worsts

Cara Palmer, Miguel Arreola |
October 17, 2012 | 3:16 a.m. PDT


(Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
(Barack Obama, Creative Commons)
During Tuesday's debate, President Obama and Governor Romney demonstrated their ability to both impress and disappoint with their rhetoric. Here are what we think are the five best (and worst) statements made by the two candidates:

President Obama


1. “And Governor Romney's says he's got a five-point plan? Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.”

In just a few snappy sentences, President Obama was able to shut down the governor's repeatedly-referenced plan for the economy, and tie it back to Romney's wealth and connections to a wealthy elite - things that have contributed to Romney's image as out-of-touch with average Americans.

2. “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.”

This was an effective critique of Romney that did not involve a discussion of the deficit, as often occurs when Bush comes up in conversation. By avoiding blaming Bush for his policies, and instead pointing out an area in which he did not take as radical a stance as Romney has, Obama both avoided the possibility of conservative victimization, and also gave voters a new comparison to think about.

3. “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”

Romney persisted in stating that Obama disregarded the attacks in Benghazi by not immediately addressing them as “terrorist attacks.” Obama assertively assured Governor Romney that he had called the incident an “act of terrorism” the day after the attacks happened. When the moderator backed up Obama’s claim, Obama snarkily asked for her to speak up – just to make sure that Governor Romney heard her loud and clear, and would not make the same mistake twice.

4. “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.”

Finally! President Obama brought Romney's infamous "47 percent" comment into the arena, something he neglected to do during the first debate. Even though it didn't come up until the end of Tuesday's debate, it reinforced Obama's larger point, which he developed throughout the evening, that if elected, Romney would not be a president for everyone.

5. “I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long.”

This snarky comment from Obama was definitely a highlight of the debate - it was witty, and it once again brought Mitt Romney's abundant wealth into sharp relief.


1. “Barry, I think a lot of this campaign, maybe over the last four years, has been devoted to this notion that I think government creates jobs, that that somehow is the answer. That's not what I believe. I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world's ever known.”

Perhaps the President was simply following Romney's lead in phrasing when he said that he doesn't believe "government creates jobs," but the idea that government does not create jobs is ludicrous. Despite his qualification that the private sector of the capitalist system is responsible, at least in part, for job growth and economic prosperity, President Obama just negated the power of government to develop jobs in the public sector.

2. "We're not going to eliminate everybody who is mentally disturbed, and we've got to make sure they don't get weapons. But we can make a difference in terms ensuring that every young person in America, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, have a chance to succeed."

It may be surprising to you to know that this comment was in response to a question about gun control. What was Obama talking about here?

3. In response to the issue of creating jobs so college students will be employed after they graduate: "Number Three, we've got to control our own energy."

The debate opened with a question from a college student, asking the candidates if he would be able to sufficiently support himself financially upon graduation. President Obama enlightened the student on his four step process to ensure graduates' economic stability after graduation, except only one of Obama's four points was slightly relevant. Obama touched on Detroit and manufacturing, improving our educational system (slightly relevant), energy independence and reducing the deficit.

4. "The most important thing we can do is to make sure we control our own energy."

Not only did President Obama repeat a point he made earlier (see number three in this list), his response didn't even remotely answer the question - "Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it's not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?" Neither Obama nor Romney directly answered this question.

5. ROMNEY: "Now when the president ran for office, he said that he'd put in place, in his first year, a piece of legislation - he'd file a bill in his first year that would reform our - our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration. He didn't do it."

After this statement by Romney, Obama could (and should) have touted his push for the DREAM Act, a landmark piece of legislation dealing with illegal immigration. But the only time he mentioned it was in passing, remarking that Romney had said he would veto the act if it were on his desk.


Governor Romney


1. “And then we have his own record, which is we have four consecutive years where he said when he was running for office, he would cut the deficit in half. Instead he's doubled it. We've gone from $10 trillion of national debt, to $16 trillion of national debt.”

Bringing the numbers in really helps Mitt Romney here. He was able to criticize the President on his record using concrete examples to support his point, and potentially sway voters away from Obama.

2. “I think you know better. I think you know that these last four years haven't been so good as the president just described and that you don't feel like you're confident that the next four years are going to be much better either.”

Romney engaged directly in a conversation with the questioner, who asked why President Obama deserves his vote this year. Romney's response engaged with the voter on equal terms, giving him credit for his concerns and guiding him and other undecided voters to consider how they feel as a factor in their decision.

3. “He had a Democrat House, a Democrat Senate, super majority in both Houses. Why did he fail to even promote legislation that would have provided an answer for those that want to come legally and for those that are here illegally today?”

This was an effective way to frame the discussion on immigration - Romney avoided the question of the "right" immigration policy (although that did compose the majority of the candidates' responses), and instead focused on the lack of follow-through on Obama's campaign promise to pass immigration legislation within the first year of taking office. 

4. “This is the way we're going to create jobs in this country. It's not by trickle-down government, saying we're going to take more money from people and hire more government workers, raise more taxes, put in place more regulations. Trickle-down government has never worked here, has never worked anywhere. I want to make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, for small business, for big business, to invest and grow in America.”

"Trickle-down government" is a useful conservative co-option and alteration of the term "trickle-down economics," a theory that has traditionally been embraced by conservatives and attacked by liberals. Being able to counter that with a term that deals with the extension of government policies as a different and ineffective way to grow the economy puts conservatives on an equal playing field.

5. “My priority is making sure that we get more people hired. If we have more people hired, if we get back manufacturing jobs, if we get back all kinds of jobs into this country, then you're going to see rising incomes again. The reason incomes are down is because unemployment is so high. I know what it takes to get this to happen, and my plan will do that, and one part of it is to make sure that we keep China playing by the rules.”

"I know what it takes to get this to happen." Romney's greatest strength is arguably his experience in the business world, and during the debate he repeatedly emphasized just that. This is one example of Romney using his knowledge of business to persuade voters of his credibility in terms of the economy.



1. “Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs.”

Just as with President Obama's statement along these lines, Governor Romney is here denying that the government does not have any role in assisting in employment, job growth, and economic prosperity for American citizens, when in fact it does.

2. “But what we don't need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas. This has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal.”

The job of the president is not to ally himself with particular interests, whether oil, gas or coal. The president's job is to promote programs and policies that benefit the nation as a whole.

3. “The president's policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour.”

Romney continually seems to conflate a non-hard-line, negotiation-based approach to foreign policy with an apology-based approach. Obama has focused on healing many of the U.S.'s international relationships damaged by his predecessor. Romney once again demonstrates his ignorance of the nuanced relationships that comprise the international community.

4. "My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you."

Romney, as usual, appeared insensitive when it came to women's issues. Here, he implied that women, not men, are the ones responsible for taking care of the home. In a discussion about equal pay for women, this comment not only didn't fit, it was itself sexist.

5. "I just 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."

Romney's questioning of Obama's assertion that he had immediately condemned the "act of terror" on the U.S. Consulate in Libya came only a few moments after the President mentioned, for the second time, having to greet the caskets of those killed during the attack, and grieve with their families. Not only was Romney's renewed criticism of Obama's initial response to the Libya attacks therefore insensitive, but as the moderator and the President both pointed out, it was also incorrect.

Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the 2012 Presidential Debate here.

Reach Opinion Editor Cara Palmer here; follow her here.

Reach Contributor Miguel Arreola here; follow him here.



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