The Second US Presidential Debate

Ahead of the third Presidential debate and the nearing of election day, Ben Moxey is back to review the action of the second Presidential debate.

In the two weeks since the last debate and much has moved on in US Politics. We have had Obama paying people to follow Romney around in a Big Bird outfit (after Romney revealed that he would cut the PBS budget); the VP’s have had their debate and Paul Ryan, Romney’s backed horse, has continued his gaffs by claiming he did the marathon in less than three hours and has only 6% body fat; and then, when politics couldn’t get weirder we had Chris Decarlo from the 11th Congressional District of Virginia rapping – badly. It is a moment to revel in and I strongly suggest you watch any of the videos here (and then come straight back).

So it was a relief to get back to the head honchos to have a debate. This format was slightly different to the last, being a ‘town-hall’ debate where Obama and Romney could walk around the stage podium-less, sizing each other up like gladiators or lions (or both) squaring for a fight. Obama prowled like the old law professor he was – though with a slightly condescending, lecturing tone that would be fine in the halls of Harvard but when you talk to a room of 80 undecided voters it may not be the manner you wish for. Romney on the other hand walked about like a man with no issues, he spoke to people with a lightness of tone that surprised many and maybe his ‘win’ in the previous debate had helped put a spring in his step. He continued his affable and approachable manner brilliantly.

Either way, this debate was to be focussed around foreign and domestic policy….broad canvas I know. They talked on jobs, fought on energy, briefly touched on the attacks in Benghazi last month and played “ I’m not George Bush, he’s George Bush”. The candidates were questioned directly from the floor (like Question Time) and were able to respond to faces of the audience.

With the first question on jobs, Romney was straight out of the gate on his ‘5 point plan’ – named as that’s how many fingers he has while free holding a microphone. He pointed out that unemployment has stayed level at 7% but as people drop out of the workforce that number under Obama could read 11%, stretching the truth further than you would put a 12 year old Chinese gymnast through. Romney was clear that his plan to let the public sector fix the mess would create jobs. Obama butted in to say that Romney was keen on letting GM and Chrysler go bankrupt and would have if he hadn’t stepped in to save it. No argument from the Governor there – he countered it would strengthen the company to go bust and come back. What that meant for local jobs he didn’t say. Obama then carried on saying that he will bring manufacturing back to the US and that defence is still a great employer and purchaser as the government always needs an equipped military. He failed to mention that 40 cents of every dollar spent in the US Treasury is borrowed and that both Iraq and Afghanistan wars were on a credit card.

Next came Energy and, fittingly, this is where the sparks began to fly. First Obama had to answer questions on why his Secretary of Energy has said gas prices weren’t his problem. A smooth dodge came from the President as he deflected to talking about how to get the country energy independent and that cars should become more efficient. Romney then took up the charge by agreeing on energy independence but accusing Obama of denying a pipeline to Canada and cutting permits for drilling last year. This single exchange proved more heated than the entire of last week’s debate. At one point you had both candidates out of their seats and pointing furiously at each other accusing the other of lying (or bending the truth at least). Obama claimed that he impose a restriction on drilling after the BP disaster of 2010; Romney said he used it as an excuse to cripple the oil companies. Romney said that oil should be brought in from Canada and America should fight on for energy independence; Obama accused Romney of telling coal factories they will go bankrupt; Romney said this was due to EPA restrictions that were too tight. In the end the moderator had to step in and return them to their seats.

A quick word on the moderator, Candy Crowley, she was so much better than Milton from Office Space of two weeks ago – letting them run on a bit but demanding answers to questions, controlling their moods and playing for the entertainment value. She was forceful and great but I feel the next issue was one that she may take umbrage with Romney for. After the last debate many commentators have said that Romney is winning at the moment. And yes, if you look at his economic background and plans he is a sound, sensible choice. But his social policies are truly terrifying. Many believe that he will dismantle a lot of laws that have taken years to come to fruition and which will force the US back to the dark ages.

“I’ve got Binders of Women!”

Romney was asked about fair pay for women and if he would honour the ‘Lilly Ledbetter Act’ that Obama signed in his first year in office which states that fair-pay lawsuits must be dealt with within 180 days to prevent them dragging on and forcing companies to be responsible with equal pay between genders. Romney shied away from answering this and said that we he became state governor he asked for ‘binders full of women’ to make sure he had some women in his cabinet – this quote has now, beautifully, gone viral. He had no answer for Obama’s criticism that he would cut Planned Parenthood, which not only supplies birth control but helps screen for cervical and breast cancer. Obama also said that Romney would eliminate birth control as a legal requirement on company healthcare schemes, allowing the companies to judge if their female employees who want birth control should get it. Romney sat in silence during this, no comment.

Really this debate underlined a very serious issue in American politics at the moment. While the economy is in a great bin full of bums and there is no real answer on whom to fix it, the feeling in the States is that if Obama could have, he would have. Now it is time to try plan B – let someone else have a go. The trouble is with that someone else comes a new social policy. A Republican social policy, increasingly high jacked by the Tea Party to bring an end to abortion, overturning Roe v Wade; to limit contraception and make it harder for young women to get the protection they need, not only to insulate the country from unwanted babies and poverty families but to protect the themselves from diseases. In a speech made two days later Obama caused Romney of wanting to turn the equality back to the 1950s and 60s – strong words come from a black man born in the crux of that decade and its separationist methods.

When I began this run of articles in the build-up to the live blogging of the big night itself I did so with the intent of remaining impartial – and I believe that I am on issues like the economy and foreign policy. But I cannot sit on the fence with regards to social politics. Same sex marriage, abortion, equal pay for women, Medicaid, the repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ all things that will disappear or be reduced under Romney. Yes he talks sense 98% of the time – support of the Brady bill on waiting times for gun ownership, pro-immigration for students, anti-intelligent design. But it is that remaining 2% that worries me and many other Americans I speak to.

Anyway, soap box moment over – next week: Foreign Policy and I promise to be a good boy!

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