President Barack Obama came out of the box breathing fire last night, offering the strongest debate performance of his political career. While Mitt Romney fought hard to parry Obama’s attacks, he made a series of key mistakes. While the media will focus on the moderator correcting Romney on his false claim that Obama did not identify the Libyan embassy bombing as “terror,” Romney’s biggest mistakes were 1. answering a question about assault weapons with a tribute to the importance of two-parent households, potentially alienating single-women headed households, and 2. announcing that opponents had wrongly accused him of not caring about “the 100%,” opening the door for Obama to remind voters about Romney’s statement that 47% of the voters were “takers.” We will soon learn whether his debate victory returns Obama to his former commanding position in the race.
I confess that I began watching the debate feeling as I did when Madison Bumgarner took the mound for the San Francisco Giants in Game One of the Cardinal series----expecting the worst but hoping I would be wrong. Fortunately, it was clear from the very outset that Obama’s “winning time” side had prevailed over his desire to “get along” with adversaries.
Romney’s Extremism Exposed
Unlike the first debate, Obama succeeded in exposing Romney’s extremism on a range of issues, particularly equal pay for equal work and immigration reform. He told voters that when asked if he supported the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act, Romney’s aide said he would “get back” to the person rather than committing to support it.
If Romney hoped to increase his Latino support, this debate should reduce what little support he has. His most “liberal” position was when he claimed that those eligible under the DREAM Act could stay in the country if they performed military service---in other words, if they are willing to die for our country in Afghanistan or elsewhere he will not deport them upon their return.
But he will not allow them a drivers’ license or path to citizenship. And while claiming he would not deport twelve million undocumented immigrants, he did say that he would make life sufficiently miserable for these immigrants that they would “voluntarily” leave.
Obama exposed Romney as a hypocrite on assault weapons, and as having no policies to reduce gun violence. Romney actually claimed that he saw two-parent households as reducing gun violence, but did not explain why he then does not support gay marriage (that issue has yet to be mentioned in any of the debates).
To the extent that Romney’s poll numbers rose because he convinced voters on October 3 that he was a moderate, Obama pulled the curtain back to reveal Romney’s truly extremist views. He even contrasted Romney with George W. Bush, describing how he was even more reactionary than the last GOP President.
Obama Presented a Clear Choice
Obama’s biggest mistake on October 3 was identifying with Romney rather than portraying the race as a stark contrast. On October 16, he presented the clear choice that voters have in this election.
The biggest impression I took from the debate was that the choice is so clear that if voters continue to move toward Romney it means that myself and many others misunderstood the core dynamics of this race. Romney bobbed, weaved, and lied, but even the most obtuse of “undecided” voters should now be clear where the candidates really stand.
I think Obama has regained the momentum and sent a message to supporters that, as he put it recently, he “intends to win.” We’ll see how the polls shift in the days ahead.
Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook
and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.