Candidates falter on Libya in debate
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
One thing is clear following the second of the three debates: neither Barack Obama or Mitt Romney are particularly skilled at talking about the terrorist attack on our embassy in Libya.
Obama came out much stronger this debate than he did in the first one, but that was perhaps the easiest bar he’d ever had to clear. Romney however continued to be strong in this debate, but not quite as strong as he was in the first round.
Both candidates had their missteps, but Romney had a few big ones this time around. The first of which was simply some awkward phrasing, causing Twitter to go crazy about Romney’s “binder full of women,” in response to a question about equal gender opportunity in employment. The other blunder was far worse, in which moderator Candy Crowley corrected him on his assertion that
Obama didn’t call the attack in Libya a terrorist attack on the day following the attack. Romney stumbled big time on this question, and if he’d done well on it he’d have seen another big win tonight. He was forceful on his attacks on the president’s policy here, but was caught dumbstruck following Crowley’s correction.
However, Obama did no better on Libya. His messaging remained unclear, and he was unable to answer the question asked. Of course, this was the best he could do, because to answer the question would be to admit that his policy on this issue had been convoluted and misguided.
Obama also seemed to channel his inner Biden at times, especially early on in the debate. He was constantly interrupting Romney early on to declare Romney’s statements untrue, and his tone when talking to some of the audience members was off-putting. His answer to the very first question, the very first impression of Obama that people watching this debate would get, was somewhat professorial and it appeared that he was lecturing the student, which didn’t come off well.
One of the missteps from Obama was neglecting once again to bring up the 47 percent comment from Romney. He did bring it up in the very last few moments of the debate, but that could have been a much more successful night for Romney if he’d brought it up much earlier.
Perhaps the most important question for Romney to do well with was “How can you promise me that you are different than George W. Bush?” This was obviously a question in the minds of virtually every voter who is still undecided, and a good answer on this question could very well win Romney the election. He did pretty well on this question too. He was careful to differentiate himself from Bush on several key points, most notably that he would focus on small business rather than big business. This question also sparked a strange moment from Obama in which he praised Bush and painted Romney as further to the right that Bush on many policies, such as immigration or abortion.
All of this will come down to the last debate, which will focus exclusively on foreign policy next Monday, fifteen days before the election. Hopefully both candidates learn how to talk about Libya before then. They both need to in order to show themselves as presidential. By and large Obama probably halted the decline he’d seen in the polls, but the damage dealt by his first debate performance can never fully be undone.
Keene is a junior majoring in political science, economics and public policy. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.