Obama fights back in spirited debate

Compared to his previous showing, President Obama came to life Tuesday night during the second debate against Mitt Romney.
Compared to his previous showing, President Obama came to life Tuesday night during the second debate against Mitt Romney. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: October 18, 2012


In some of the most heated back-and-forth in the 52-year history of American presidential debates, President Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney, staged a spirited town hall on Long Island, clashing and exposing real differences on everything from coal and wind power to the American response to the recent attack in Libya.

One headline from the night should be this: Osama bin Laden is dead, General Motors is alive and President Obama is awake. After his soporific performance two weeks ago in Denver, which allowed Romney to catch up and maybe pull ahead of the incumbent in the polls, Obama was lively and frequently accused Romney of dishonesty - something he seemed unable or unwilling to do in the first debate.

Romney gave a sturdy repetition of his first performance and committed no major gaffes, but he clearly did not have as good as night as in his rout of the president in round one. The former Massachusetts governor seemed testy and frustrated at times in his exchanges with both Obama and moderator Candy Crowley, and he whiffed a chance to make hay on the administration's Achilles' heel, its handling of the Libyan embassy attack.

Best exchange of the night: Attacked for his investments in Chinese companies, Romney asked Obama, "Have you looked at your pension?" Obama responded, "Not often, it's not as big as yours. It doesn't take as long."

Best Obama moment: At the end of a heated and passionate back-and-forth on energy policy and gas prices, the president noted that gas prices are higher than in 2008 because the global economy had crashed at the end of the George W. Bush presidency. "It's conceivable that gas prices could come down under Gov. Romney because he could put us back in the same mess."

Best Romney moment: Telling an African-American voter, who said that it's been hard to make ends meet since 2008, that the president has provided little reason to believe that a second term will be any different. "We just can't afford four more years like the last four years," he said.

Don't go there, Romney edition: "I appreciate wind jobs."

Don't go there, Obama edition: "We haven't heard any specifics besides eliminating Big Bird and Planned Parenthood." Perhaps true, but Big Bird again? Really?

Internet meme of the next week: "Binders full of women," a new Romneyism.

Halloween Candy: Was CNN's Crowley as scary as both campaigns had feared before the debate? Her aggressive fact-checking of Romney - especially on his claims about Obama's Rose Garden statement on Libya - is likely to prompt a firestorm of criticism from the political right. She also injected too much of herself, which brings us to . . .

Loser of the night: The audience. The town-hall format was supposed to be a chance to let undecided voters get answers, but the Long Islanders were lost in the candidates' back-and-forth and Crowley's interjections.

Romney whopper of the night: For the umpteenth time, he accused Obama of taking a world "apology tour." For the umpteenth time, there was no such thing.

Obama whopper of the night: Romney has not embraced the more-controversial aspects of the Arizona immigrant-profiling law, as Obama alleged Tuesday night.

MIA: Climate change (again!), drones, America having a higher incarceration rate than the rest of the developed world.

Mock, mock, who's there? What does a person have to do to get arrested in that town of Hempstead, N.Y.? If you're a national candidate from the left-wing Green Party, trying to gain access to Tuesday's debate apparently did the trick.

Philadelphia homeless advocate Cheri Honkala, the Green Party's vice-presidential candidate, and its presidential hopeful, Dr. Jill Stein, were tossed in the Long Island hoosegow just over three hours before the debate when they tried to enter the hall and then sat in front of the entrance, draped in an American flag. No third-party candidates have taken part in the fall presidential debates since Ross Perot in 1992.

Stein told reporters that the debate is a "mockumentary," adding that "we are here to bring the courage of those excluded from our politics to this mock debate, this mockery of democracy." She didn't go the full Woody Allen and call it a "travesty of a mockery of a sham . . . "

How to give a journalist a heart attack: The chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf, shocked the debate hall by telling people to "try not to Twitter for 90 minutes." In what century?

Pizza out, beer in: Pizza Hut basically abandoned its horrible, much-panned (no pun intended) idea of offering free pizza for life to any citizen who wasted democracy's valuable time by asking the White House hopefuls, "Sausage or pepperoni?" However, some of the reporters on Long Island may have been too snockered to notice, thanks to unlimited free beer in the hospitality tent. It turns out that Anheuser-Busch is an official sponsor of the presidential debates. Is this a great country, or what?

The mushy "middle:" You know that debate drinking games have officially jumped the shark when CNN is promoting one. The rules include "one sip" when either candidates say "the middle class" - which may be the best thing to happen for the American working man or woman in the next four years.

Tweets of the night:

* DEBATE FACT: This is the first black person Romney has talked to since his speech at the NAACP. #debate


(comedian Andy Borowitz)

* Obama explains difference between #Romney and him on middle class tax issues. Wish Obama would share "HUMAN STORIES"

@SCClemons (foreign-policy

analyst Steve Clemons)

Contact Will Bunch at bunchw@phillynews.com or 215-854-2957. Follow him on Twitter @Will_Bunch. Read his blog at Attytood.com.

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