Last night I had the opportunity to watch the second presidential debate with a few other faculty members and around 100 students from our university. Afterwards I served on a panel that discussed relevant issues, including those of faith and politics. More on that another time.
For now, let me do what college professors do best…and assign some grades.
- Mitt Romney: Had benefited greatly from a good performance in the first debate, which when coupled with Obama’s poor showing really boosted him in the polls. He entered last night’s debate with huge potential for both risk and opportunity. Strange, I found it, that he came out of the gate so aggressive when I’m not sure he needed to. He was sharply focused on elbowing for room on the debate stage, arguing with the debate moderator, and asserting his priority over against the president’s. All of this was appropriate, at some level (especially considering that he was, in the end, given less time in the debate), but it came off as brusque and perhaps churlish. For all of those who thought that Biden lost on points, what do you do with Romney’s “You’ll get your chance in a moment. I’m still speaking?” Furthermore, it seemed as if Romney were thrown a few softball questions that he seems to have strangely ducked. Why for instance, not bring up gas prices and drive home the point during a discussion of energy policy? Why not press the Libya story stronger? Romney was rather strong at one point when he spoke directly about economics and what he would do to fix the country. Yet despite some good moments, Romney gets a C.
- Barack Obama: It seems universally agreed that the President did a better job than in the first presidential debate, but considering how widely his performance there was panned this is not the world’s greatest achievement. He was quick to respond this time, yet he too gave into the desire to argue openly and jockey for power with both Romney and the moderator. He was effectively emotive at certain points, and had some hard questions to ask, especially about Romney’s specifics (which still, I would note, are not entirely clear). Yet is still curious to me why he didn’t push further in the area of numbers. He did, however, have some real zingers such as when he told Romney that “You’re an investor….[your plan’s] math doesn’t add up” or when he pointed out that “my pension is not as big as yours.” He just seemed ready to creatively push back against Romney in a way his counterpart did not. The Libya question, somewhat bungled by Romney, was fairly deftly addressed by Obama in his response as Commander-in-Chief. In sum, Obama wins this one with a B-.
- Candy Crowley: Not given an easy job, especially because these men seem A) uncontrollable and B) as if they actively despise each other. Even so, I felt that Crowley had little control over this debate, leading her perhaps in response to press more than she was supposed to. As you may know, this was a controversy even before the evening began…so perhaps the pump was primed for me to read into a lot of what she did last night. Many of you know I liked Martha Raddatz, but this felt…different. Most notably when Crowley breached moderator protocol and actually fact-checked Mitt Romney on stage, noting that he was wrong on Libya–sort of. It seemed to be a real loss for Romney, until we found out later on that Crowley herself was somewhat mixed up with the way she interpreted the facts. This improper interference and questionable data damages her grade in my book…and in general her performance wasn’t great otherwise. Crowley gets a D.
- The Audience: All I will say here is that this debate failed them. The “conversation” between Obama and Romney seemed more like an episode of The Office than political discourse, and in the process became sadly humorous. Candidates took the opportunity to answer questions not as they were asked, but as they wanted to answer them. Obama would strangely switch tone from anger to calm pleasantness when moving from Romney to and audience member. Romney and Obama looked as if they were about to hit each other at one point. And no one, absolutely no one, could understand poor Lorraine‘s name.