Town Hall Debate: Ten Thoughts

Why I bothered to watch I don’t know. I filled out my absentee ballot and mailed it in yesterday. But I resolved to offer ten points for discussion, and here they are.

    1. Obama needed to come out swinging and demonstrate assertiveness. He did, but while he threw many punches, they were rabbit punches and jabs, not uppercuts or body blows. He also benefitted from Romney’s obvious discomfort with the format. Romney shone better when he stood still and looked a questioner in the eye, poorer when walking and sitting on the high chairs.
    2. Of course China manipulates its currency, Governor Romney. So does the United States. We use this thing called the Federal Reserve to manipulate our money supply so as to guide the economy as a whole towards a desired result (e.g., low inflation). So does every other nation in the world with a centralized bank. Starting a tariff war with China will not be good for the American economy.
    3. Obama on pay equity for women: let’s talk about student loans instead, and let me use my lovely daughters as political props. Romney on pay equity for women: I invented flex-time!
    4. Both candidates gave souffle answers to the Libya question: both started out great and built up a lot of promise for a scrumptious answer. Then they deflated suddenly.
    5. Did I hear Romney say he would give out more HB-1 visas? And that he would deliver comprehensive immigration reform in his first year? If so, I approve. But I also disbelieve.
    6. The President cannot affect gas prices. Last time I checked, most oil companies were pumping oil and refining product as fast as their physical capabilities would allow them to. And another thing: why do I care whether the oil that gets turned into the gas in my car was pumped from public or private land?

      You know what? I’m spending way too much brainpower on trying to actually discern policies and establish some reason why one candidate or the other earned a win, suggested something worthwhile the government might do under his leadership, or otherwise made any substantive points. That’s not this was about. I know that. Really, I do. I’ll finish out this list with the stuff you came here for.

    7. Candy Crowley started off strongly, but faded after about forty-five minutes.
    8. My fellow Ordinary Gentleman Dr. Saunders heard a swipe at same-sex couples raising families in Romney’s answers about guns. I heard a swipe at single moms. I also heard Obama badly fumble the guns question.
    9. Each candidate made an out of context sound bite to be relentlessly pummelled for cheap yuks. Obama: “Mine isn’t as big as yours, so it… it doesn’t take as long.” Romney: “I got binders full of women.” Romney’s description of how he came to get those binders sounded suspiciously like affirmative action, didn’t it?
    10. Overall, I’d give it to Obama on points. Somewhere in the range of 55-45, maybe 60-40 if I was feeling generous.


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. When all is said and done this minor debate is going to be remembered for one moment, and one moment only:

    If you’re going to stop the debate from proceeding to call out your opponent as a liar about what he said, and repeat that accusation over and over, you damn well better make sure you know what the fish you’re talking about, because you never know when the moderator has the actual transcript in hand.

    That one moment was about as painful to watch as Obama’s entire first-debate stinkeroo performance.

    • It was particularly problematic because he had and was making a point. He got a fact wrong, was fixating on that error, and talked over the moderator as she was trying to give him credit for the point he was making.

      • The real problem is this bizarre fixation on what the Admin called it (terror/protest) when the whole thing was legitimately unclear (which is not a denial that the picture was possibly clearer inside the intelligence bureaucracy than in the media, but it’s just the case that there was, and is, still an incomplete picture of the event). That’s just a weaksauce charge, politically speaking, and the fact that it’s what they’ve chosen to focus on is why this story is not a bigger part of the campaign (though I’d argue that that’s also b/c, while it’s important, it’s also simply of a very limited magnitude just in terms of outright size – 4 dead is very sad, but it’s still just four, though the loss of an Ambassador is a very big deal.)

        Figure out what your policy critique is, whether relating to the incident, or overall policy there, or whatever, or else move on. Foreign policy, even with a hot war ongoing, is simply not Americans’ number one concern this cycle. You need to earn their attention if you’re not talking about the economy. Even just the testimony on the Hill last week on the denial of resource requests contrasted with Biden’s disavowal of responsibility (which I though Obama effectively corrected tonight) is stronger than this uninteresting discussion about why they called it the maybe-wrong thing in contemporaneous press appearances. That’s just a politically not-juicy line of attack while much better, more substantive ones are available. I don’t understand what they (the Romney campaign) are doing on this issue.

        • You might be right about it being a weak argument. I might be biased by my frustration with the administration’s continued insistence that this was what it was not.

          • Well, 2 things:

            1. Obviously, just because it doesn’t pack much of a political punch doesn’t mean you’re not right to be bothered by it (though I differ – I don’t really see what the major problem is with this week so (or two) of uncertainty or even mistakenness about an an incident in a contested part of a country in political transition where we little in the way of investigatory resources on site to help determine what occurred. It’s not great, but I just don’t see the big problem here that you do.)

            2. The point is more that there are certainly much tougher, more substantive, and more politically potent lines of attack on the incident and the larger policy that Romney could employ. Not coincidentally, those would also be more productive from the perspective of helping the country evaluate the performance of the administration on this part of its management of foreign affairs (again, in my view).

  2. Re: your point 8, I definitely heard a dog whistle blowing about same-sex marriage. Maybe it’s because it’s an issue of signal importance to me, maybe it’s because I live in a state where there’s a marriage equality referendum on the ballot, I dunno. But the rhetoric of kids needing “a mom and a dad” is used a lot by the opposition, and so that’s how it sounded to me.

    And I submitted my absentee ballot two days ago, but obviously couldn’t stop myself from watching, either.

    • I think you’re both right. More importantly, I think it was just another glimpse of a kind of basic animosity that animates the whole Romney campaign. Self-deportation, gun crime caused by single moms and/or gays, the 47%. I realize there isn’t really any political upside for Obama to point out that Romney (or at least the GOP that he’s representing) is basically just mean, but that doesn’t make it false.

      Whatever my disagreements with Obama – and they are legion – I don’t get the feeling that the worst policies he supports (drug war, actual war/drones/etc, regular deportation) are motivated by this kind of base distaste for other people. Call it indifference, and I do, but I still find that much less of a turn-off than what Romney is selling.

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