50 Shades of Debate: Who Ya Got?

Gov. Mitt Romney, R-MA and Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL complete the second Presidential Town Hall Debate at Hofstra University.

Gov. Mitt Romney, R-MA and Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL complete the second Presidential Town Hall Debate at Hofstra University.

Originally published in October of 2012

Two evenly matched heavyweight contenders are currently in their corners receiving pep talks from their trainers. In the left corner we have the defending champion, President Barack Obama, and in the right corner we have the challenger, former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.

Judges and pundits have labeled the bout too close to call, as each party has delivered calculated blows with right handed jabs and left handed attack ads. Any swing (state) could determine which party is down for the count and which departs the squared ring for the oval office, but for now we can try to gain an idea of who’s winning this prized fight we call a Presidential election.

Round 1: October 4th 2012

The “Mile high City” Denver, Colorado provided the first venue where President Obama and Governor Romney squared off. The first topic at hand was jobs, and the President stated how he had created five million jobs in 30 months in the private sector alone. He also said that in his time as President, he had helped keep the automobile industry afloat, and that the housing market was beginning to get better as well. He continued to give a brief preview of what he wanted for the future, “I think we've got to invest in education and training. I think it's important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America.”

Governor Romney promptly countered with personal stories about two different women struggling to find work and keep their homes, and denied the President’s accusation that he was going to use “top-down” taxes for the rich. He backed this statement up by mentioning his Five-Point plan, “My plan has five basic parts. One, get us energy independent…Open up more trade… Make sure our people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the world [and] get to us a balanced budget and champion small business.”

President Obama fought back by appealing to the youth vote and vowing to improve the country’s education system, “So now I want to hire another 100,000 new math and science teachers… And I want to make sure that we keep tuition low for our young people.” Still focusing on jobs and energy, Obama stated that the Romney is supportive of loopholes that are “giving incentives for companies that are shipping jobs overseas”, and that the Romney’s ideas for bettering the energy production is not modern enough, unlike the President, who wants to enable solar and wind power.

Governor Romney did not try to deny his traditional views on boosting energy for America, “And, by the way, I like coal. I'm going to make sure we can continue to burn clean coal” and when on to state that he felt the President did not have the middle class’s benefit in mind, because electric rates, food prices and health care costs have increased under his term. Romney specifically made it a point to add that he would not have any tax cuts that add to the deficit.

Moderator Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour failed to keep this a clean fight. Things quickly got out of hand as Obama and the Romney continued to interrupt and talk over each other. To add insult to Lehrer’s poor job as referee, Governor Romney told him his day job was in jeopardy as well, because he promised to do away with “Obama Care” and anything unnecessary, PBS subsidy and Big Bird included. By the end of the night more people were concerned with Big Bird’s job security than Lehrer’s. Governor Romney also vowed to lower the deficit and stop borrowing extra cash for China.

To defend himself President Obama remarked how he had inherited the greatest economic crisis in the country since the Great Depression, and how in spite of that he had still managed to keep the US from another depression, and lower the deficit, “And I worked with Democrats and Republicans to cut a trillion dollars out of our discretionary domestic budget. That's the largest cut in the discretionary domestic budget since Dwight Eisenhower” he assured.

Governor Romney didn’t seem too impressed, “You've been president four years. You said you'd cut the deficit in half. It’s now four years later. We still have trillion-dollar deficits.”

Moving on to Medicare both candidates said they would pretty much keep it the same, however each had minor differences for the young and old. Romney said the President wanted to reduce rates to hospitals get paid, “Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take anymore Medicare patients under that scenario” and that instead, he would improve the prescription program. Obama countered by saying that Romney’s plan would be at the impediment of people on their last breath, like his late grandmother, “And then what you've got is folks like my grandmother at the mercy of the private insurance system precisely at the time when they are most in need of decent health care.”

After arguing over the role of government, in their closing statements, President Obama talked about how he wasn’t a perfect President, but that he’s kept his promises, and vowed to keep fighting for an equal opportunity America. Governor Romney took the opportunity to tell the American people what he was going to do, “If I'm president I will help create 12 million new jobs in this country with rising incomes.”

Perhaps it was the high altitude, or maybe the President was too occupied with what he was going to give the First Lady, Michelle Obama for their 40th anniversary present, but whatever the matter Obama seemed to have forgotten his gloves. The President often appeared lethargic and uninterested, as there were many sequences where he literally sunk his head down as Romney threw punch after punch. Romney just came off as more aggressive and more persuasive.

Once the two shook hands, the President and the First Lady swiftly exited while Governor Romney and his family stayed to shake hands with the crowd. Democratic supporters argued the President was playing possum; although it was hard to dispute the consensus that two things were certain: Big Bird was a phenomenon again and the President was on the ropes.

Round 2: October 17th 2012

This time Candy Crowley of CNN’s State of the Union was the mediator for the town hall rematch at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, and she made it clear she was not going to put up with any “Malarkey” as Vice President Joe Biden would say. In stark contrast to his previous performance President Obama was in his comfort zone during the town hall scenario. He brought his gloves.

College student Jeremy Epstein had the first inquiry and asked a question that is on every student’s mind, to paraphrase, “Am I going to get a good job, or what?” Governor Romney said he would keep the Pell grant program and keep loans low, while President Obama provided evidence of how he already kept jobs, by saving the auto industry in Detroit, making sure community colleges train workers for jobs and investing in biofuel and energy efficient cars to control our own energy. When Crowley asked for further discussion on the creation of jobs Romney said he believed the auto industry needed to go bankrupt, in order to rebuild, while the President refuted his claims with concerns from auto industry officials “…Don't take my word for it, take the executives at GM and Chrysler, some of whom are Republicans, may even support Governor Romney. But they'll tell you his prescription wasn't going to work.”

The President didn’t let up there, calling Governor Romney’s Five-Point Plan a One point plan to ensure the people at the top stay at the top, leaving no room for fare competition. Crowley kept things moving but the two candidates once again talked over and interrupted each other, but this time the tension was thicker because they were roaming freely throughout the stage, often on the verge of engulfing each other’s personal space. This was a real fight.

On the topic of deductions Governor Romney said he wanted to bring rates down and relieve middle-income families from four years of being “crushed” promising to look out for the middle-class, “And I will not under any circumstances; reduce the share that's being paid by the highest income taxpayers [or] increase taxes on the middle-class.”

President Obama blocked that remark and hit the governor with an uppercut stating that he had cut taxes for small businesses eighteen times, reduced the taxes on middle-class families by $3,600.00 and that he would be the one looking out for the middle-classes best interest, unlike the Governor whom Obama recalled him saying on an episode of 60 Minutes that it was fair for him to make $20 million dollars and pay less taxes than a nurse or a bus driver.

Fairness among different types of workers arose again when Katherine Fenton asked for the candidate’s views on women’s equality in the workplace. President Obama relied on personal antidote, by talking about his two daughters and his belief that they and all women should have every opportunity a man has. He also talked about how he signed the Lily Ledbetter bill, preventing men from getting higher pay for doing the same job as women. Obama also said the governor replied, “I’ll get back to you” when asked if he supported the bill. Governor Romney subsequently put his glove in his mouth when he stated that he had advisors bring him “Binders full of women” in order to find qualified female employees when serving as governor of Massachusetts.

Romney gave an example of how he had tried to accommodate women in the workforce when he gave his chief of staff flexible hours to be home for her children “I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. So we said let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you” but some might say inadvertently alienated women who are primarily focused on their careers, whose issues may have no domestic associations.

Fearing a return to the policies of the Bush administration, Susan Katz asked Governor Romney what differentiated him from President Bush and Romney said that unlike President Bush he would crack down on China and balance the budget. President Obama stated that the governor was unlikely to crack down on China because of his disregard of China’s cheap transports into the country and implied that Romney might be more extreme then President Bush because he wants to do away with Planned Parenthood and turn Medicare into a voucher.

The moment of the night however, was when Kerry Ladka asked the President who was responsible for not enhancing security at the embassy in Libya before they were under attack. President Obama replied by saying the safety of the American people is his number one concern, and that he has beefed up the security, has people investigating the attack and promises to find them and bring them to justice. Governor Romney fired back by accusing the President of taking too long to call the incident a terrorist attack, and saying that he chose to campaign instead of address it.

This accusation got President Obama visibly upset, as he sternly looked at Romney and clarified how he grieved with the victims families after addressing the attack and how he would never exploit an attack for political spin, “His suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive…. That's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as Commander in Chief.” Governor Romney was just about down for the count after that blow.

Romney still insisted that the President had not called it a terrorist attack where Obama continued to tell him to read the transcript. Whether fair or foul is up to debate, but Crowley affirmed that the President had indeed called the attack an act of terror and with that the crowd was going wild. Okay, not really because this was a Presidential debate and the audience had pledged to keep silent, however supporters of President Obama watching at home were probably going wild. This was a no contest.

Perhaps Vice President Joe Biden’s onslaught on Republican Vice President nominee Ron Howard during their debate was the inspiration the President needed, because he came out swinging and evened the score.

Round 3: October 23rd 2012

Bob Schieffer of CBS News hosted the third and final round at Lynn University, Boca Raton, Florida. President Obama and Governor Romney were in a sit down debate this time, and it was clear there would be less animosity between the two. The main topic at hand was foreign policy and the safety of the country. The first question asked about the prevalent terrorist presence in the Middle East and the tragedy involving the three American civilians and ambassador dead in Libya. Governor Romney began by congratulating the President on taking out Osama Bin-Laden but stated that the problem was not going to be solved by taking out certain figure heads, because extremist groups are “certainly not hiding.”

President Obama said that he had did everything he could to ensure the safety of Americans still in Libya and that he would find out who killed the Americans and bring them to justice. He went on to thank Romney for his remark about handling Bin-Laden but discredited his plan for the country in the same breath, “I'm glad that you agree that we have been successful in going after al-Qaida, but I have to tell you that, you know, your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map.” Obama did make a point to say that the United States did not want to alienate Libya, but instead work with them to sustain an alliance. He also implied that Governor Romney was out of touch, because he was quoted saying Russia was the biggest geopolitical concern, not al-Qaida.

Governor Romney agreed that the United States should help Libya, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries become more economically developed but Romney gave a rebuttal to the Obama’s accusation by saying his policy is to simply “go after the bad guys.” Romney said he thought a nuclear Iran was the biggest threat, and that if problems with Russia did arise he wouldn’t be compliant with Russian President Vladimir Putin, “…And I'm certainly not going to say to him, I'll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election he'll get more backbone.”

Schieffer quickly transitioned to the conflicts in Syria and how the tyrant Bashar Hafez al-Assad was still in power despite Obama saying it was time for him to go. President Obama stated that it was ultimately up to Syria to “determine their own future” and Romney and Obama both agreed that they wanted to help Syria, but ensure that arms would not get into the wrong hands and pose threats to Israel.

The harmonizing continued when Romney backed the President’s approval of Egypt’s dismissal of dictator Hosni Mubarak, “I believe, as the president indicated and said at the time, that I supported his action there” and added that everyone wants peace, but it is the United States that has the responsibility to uphold it, “That's our purpose. And the mantle of leadership for promoting the principles of peace has fallen to America.”

The two did differ on military spending however, where Governor Romney was focused on describing how he’d like to improve the Navy and the aging Air Force, “I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars… That, in my view, is making our future less certain and less secure.” President Obama argued that Romney’s plan was outdated, and that there are more things to worry about than just making sure the Navy is massive in size, but again the two agreed upon making sure that Iran retracts from their nuclear ambitions and abide by U.N. regulations, and that it was time for the troops in Pakistan to come home.

For their closing statements President Obama warned us that Governor Romney’s policies would lead us back to what almost got the country into a great depression. Obama said he wanted to keep the job market growing and do “nation building here at home.” Romney called the United States the “hope of the earth” and promised to work “across the aisle” to lower the deficit and uplift the country. In anti climactic fashion this last and final debate was somewhat of an agreement fest. By this round both fighters had taken their best shots already, so there wasn’t much offense to create separation. No tension in the air, no fact-check interruptions and no Sesame Street references.

Governor Romney took round one and President Obama evened things up in round two but by the time the bell rung at the end of round three it felt like an even draw. So who won? Well the decision is ultimately up to we, the people. On November 6th only one candidate will have their hand raised, so make sure you have your say and vote.