It’s alive! Obama regains some momentum in debate

The President set the bar low, but seemed to outperform his rival

Latitude News staff By Latitude News staff

There was plenty of finger-pointing and heated disagreement as President Barack Obama took on Mitt Romney at the presidential debate in Hempstead, New York last night. (Reuters)

In the “town hall” debate, President Obama sounded more decisive and confident than he did in an abject performance two weeks ago, pressing Mitt Romney on taxes and repeatedly calling his challenger’s statements misleading or untrue.

Governor Romney, meanwhile, was unable to dominate as he did at the last debate, sometimes sounding like the over-eager kid at the front of the class — hand raised, squirming in his seat — as he attempted to ensure that moderator Candy Crowley gave him time to rebut all of the president’s attacks.

But Romney still managed to land some stinging counter-jabs about America’s struggling economy and the administration’s handling of the Libya crisis.

Ultimately, neither man likely performed well or badly enough for the debate to have a significant impact on the election, as tens of millions of Americans tuned in to watch. The foreign press was up late too, filing reports well past their bedtimes, and in general seemed to count the evening as a victory for the president “on points.” Latitude News brings you the best of the analysis from overseas.

  • In his blog, the U.S. correspondent for the leading Israeli daily Haaretz is bullish about what he called President Obama’s “metamorphosis . . . looking for a fight and ready to rumble.” Shalev points out the irony of so many in the audience at Hofstra University being Jewish and there not being a single question about Israel. On the other hand, he argues, there was plenty for Israelis to like about the form of the debate last night, if not the substance:

“Israelis, I assume, will love the second presidential debate . . . Even by the rough and tumble standards of Israeli politics, the matchup between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney seemed at times to be more of a street brawl than the kind of dispassionate debate that one usually expects in a US presidential campaign . . . This kind of raw, naked hostility, which seemed to have taken American viewers by surprise, is par for the course between political rivals in Israel. As Obama and Romney rudely interrupted and contradicted and accused each other of sidelining the truth, one couldn’t help but think that while Israelis usually hold America up as a paragon of politics done right, it is the Americans who seem to be moving in our direction, rather than vice versa.”

  • Writing in Spiegel Online, Gregor Peter Schmitz says, “From the first minute onwards, Obama reproached his rival for being untruthful and deceptive. He blasted the Republican candidate for promising a tax model that can’t possibly work . . . In short, the president meticulously laid out why he believes that Willard Mitt Romney is an untrustworthy, perhaps even a brazen, politician.” But Schmitz argues that the president needed a total knockout of his opponent to secure re-election. Romney, he writes, has given the president ample material to paint him as “Mr. Monster”: 47 percent, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” you name it. And yet, Schmitz writes, the former governor managed to duck and weave his way out of Obama’s most potent attacks. The result leaves the gap between the two candidates “razor thin,” with Romney in a good position to win as long he can “refrain from frightening the electorate.”
  • In South Africa’s Daily Maverick, J. Brooks Spector, as sharp a critic of American politics as any U.S.-based pundit, gave the advantage to the president. “It seemed Romney,” Spector says, “is still wrestling with an inability to explain in a clear, crisp, cogent way how the gossamer-thin detail in his tax proposals will actually work.” Spector points out that the most divisive moments came during discussions of domestic energy and immigration reform, “but without a clear winner over what policies will work best.” But, ultimately, Spector rightly points out that predicting the outcome of the debate on the election is purley a guessing game.
  •  And for those of you who are completely fed up with the political analysis and could just use a laugh, check out this piece from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Romney’s “binders full of women” comment wins the award for meme of the debate. It was a poorly stated comment about how, when governor of Massachusetts, he pushed his staff to hire more women. The staff, he said, then came forward with “binders full of women.” Well, that was it for the Twitterati. “I heard @staples has specials on#bindersfullofwomen,” quipped one, and another tweeted: “BREAKING: Navy SEALS parachuting into Romney’s homes, searching for the victims still trapped in his #bindersfullofwomen.” It’s good to know we can always count on social media for a reasoned analysis of the most important issues.

Romney and Obama meet again next Monday in Boca Raton, Florida for the campaign’s final debate. The topic will be foreign policy, where so far the sparring between the candidates has resulted in lots of bluster, but little substance.