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Common Dreams

Progressives Score Presidential Debate

Common Dreams staff

Obama won the best lines of the night as Romney came off overly aggressive in an attempt to maintain his lead. (Timothy A Clary/AFP/)

Citing "all of the scientific polls," The Nation magazine's Greg Mitchell reports that President Obama came out the clear winner in his debate with Republican Mitt Romney Tuesday night.

The New York Times headline reads, "Rivals Bring Bare Fists to Rematch," but their editorial, entitled "Mr. Obama Comes Back," gave the night also to Obama, saying he made a "strong case for his policies."

An unscientific survey of other mainstream outlets gives broad evidence to the consensus that Obama "won" the debate at Hofstra University.  However, a look at how more progressive commentators and journalists interpreted the back-and-forth—though peppered with notions of victory and defeat—takes a more critical look at what was said and, perhaps, what was revealed by what both candidates chose to ignore.

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Randall Amster, Common Dreams, Blinded by the Light of an Electoral ‘Reality Show’:

‘Obama vs. Romney’ plays more like a wrestling grudge match, complete with sensational graphics and confrontational cutaways. The whole experience is intended to be visceral rather than cerebral, all planned to obfuscate rather than educate. Shall the candidates honestly discuss the perpetual resource wars that will dominate the globe for generations to come? Should they openly engage the realities of climate change and the manner in which we need to immediately change our way of life in order for life to continue at all? Would it be expedient to point out that the economy is a sham and we are but fodder for the 1%?

Perhaps the greatest tragedy lies in the persistent belief that our plutocracy is actually a democracy, that political power resides with ‘we the people’, and that the right electoral decisions will result in a better world. The salient point isn’t that the outcomes of elections don’t matter at all, but more so that they don’t matter enough. While the Obama presidency has lacked the full-on ‘dark clouds’ motif of the Bush years, and a smiling Biden might seem preferable to Darth Cheney, it remains the case that we continue our inexorable slide toward collective immolation regardless of who sits at the helm. Which presidential contestant will fix the economy? End war and halt ecological degradation? Side with workers vis-à-vis corporations, and distribute wealth downward rather than upward? (Maybe the Green Party candidate, but they aren’t booked on the show.) Not President Obomney.

Ann Marie Cox, The Guardian, Obama's Full-Throated Defense of Reproductive Rights:

There were flashier moments in the debate – the Libya fact-check, the oil permits body-space infringement – but, for me, the highlight of the debate was President Obama's full-throated defense of the idea that reproductive rights "are not just women's issues, these are family issues, they are economic issues." Up until now, even the Obama campaign has been leaning on the "war on women" meme as something that is somehow separate from the economy, that "social issues" are a kind of marginal voter-persuasion issue – on par with "who you would rather have a beer with?"

I've argued before that almost every so-called social issue is wrapped up in economics (marriage equality and social stability help communities thrive, for instance), but contraception has been essential to women's economic equality for, well, probably ever. But studies of recent history are more concrete:

"About one-third of women's wage gains throughout the 1990s can be attributed to changing laws in the 1960s and 70s that lowered the age at which women could legally access the pill."

I'm not sure if this means that voters will make the connection the president did – that Romney's policies would potentially undo that progress – but I'm grateful that at least one of the men on that stage understands what I think most women intuitively do: that when we talk about having control over our bodies, we're also talking about having control over our lives.

Also, I've never been in a binder, but I am pretty sure I'd rather be able to sue for equal pay.

David Corn, Mother Jones, Obama Strikes Back:

On Tuesday night, at the town hall-style debate at Hofstra University, a fierce and passionate Obama [...] challenged Romney repeatedly: On Romney's tax plan (whatever it may be). On Romney's crass effort to politicize the attack on US diplomats in Libya. On Romney's past investments in firms outsourcing in China. In one early exchange, Obama rolled Romney's opposition to the auto-bailout, his record at Bain Capital, and his proposed tax cuts for the wealthy into one answer—merging Romney's various liabilities into a single, integrated assault. Four times Obama said to Romney, "That's not true." In one critical exchange, moderator Candy Crowley felt compelled to back up the president, when Obama challenged Romney's assertion that it took him a fortnight to declare the Benghazi attack an act of terrorism. The president had labeled it as such the day afterward.

Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, Obama Wins Hands Down:

On energy policy, Romney was Sarah Palin without the wink, all but saying, “Drill, baby, drill.” He said we needed “Mr. Oil, Mr. Gas, and Mr. Coal” in the White House, and those are the three stooges who are burning the planet up.

Romney also gave a terrible answer to the Latina who asked a question about undocumented workers, whom Romney proceeded to call “illegals”—a term of great offense to many.

Obama hit Romney hard on China, pointing out that one of his companies had helped the Chinese government with tools of repression. But Obama didn’t bring up Bain and the exporting of jobs to China, which was just sitting out there.

At one point, Romney foolishly asked Obama if he’d looked at his investments lately, and Obama quickly joked that his weren’t nearly as big as Romney’s.

Gary Younge, The Guardian, Romney Can't Overcome President's Sharp Delivery:

The other loser [besides Mitt Romney]... was US politics. Two men circling, talking over each other, drawing on different facts and calling each other liars looked like a metaphor for much that has gone wrong in American political culture over the last generation. Town hall meetings are supposed to be less confrontational. But more caustic than consensual, this was a bad-tempered affair.

Obama's performance will energize his base and shore up the doubts of those shaken by his earlier drubbing. It will staunch the bleeding of support towards Romney but it is unlikely to reverse the flow.

They called it a town-hall meeting. But in truth there are very few towns like it. It was a room full of undecided voters: the nation is not.

Karen Dolan, Institute for Policy Studies: Rope-a-Dope Revives the Hope:

Obama, for all his aggressiveness and better policy positions from Romney on jobs, taxes, women's health and economic issues and immigration, failed on the question of energy and the kind of revenue raising we need to get the country on track and to be the kind of country we want to be.

The President almost channeled Sarah Palin with a near-refrain of Drill Baby Drill. He agreed with Romney that the corporate tax rate is too high and he again missed the opportunity to tell the truth that Social Security, Medicare and social programs don't need overhauling and slashing in order to continue the programs and reduce our deficit.

I still want to see the president lead on the direct creation of jobs, taxing speculation, dividends and interest in the same way we tax earned income. I want to see him stand up and tell the truth that with the right priorities, we can spend far less on military, close corporate tax loopholes, fund a transformative shift to an economically and environmentally more sound energy policy. I want to see him lead on real cost-control in a universal type Medicare-for-All health plan.

I want more than just a rope-a-dope and a knock-out punch. I want to hear the words: America is not broke, we just have our priorities wrong. Then, I will be able to cheer a victory as something that is a victory for all of us, not just for a candidate's campaign.

John Nichols, The Nation, Ghost of George W. Bush Haunts Romney in Second Debate:

Referencing his challenger’s ever-changing positions on central issues of the campaign—such as tax cuts for the rich—Obama recalled the right-wing stances on economic and social issues that Romney so ardently embraced during the Republican primary campaign. “When Governor Romney stands here, after a year of campaigning, when during a Republican primary he stood on stage and said ‘I’m going to give tax cuts’—he didn’t say tax-rate cuts, he said ‘tax cuts’—to everybody, including the top 1 percent, you should believe him because that’s been his history,” Obama said.

“And,” he continued, “that’s exactly the kind of top-down economics that is not going to work if we want a strong middle class and an economy that’s striving for everybody.”

Obama was not always the debater that some of his supporters would have preferred. He did not, for instance, mount the sort of muscular defenses of Social Security and Medicare that Democrats such as Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and Wisconsin Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin have made centerpieces of their campaigns this fall. That was politically tone-deaf, and practically worrying for progressives who fear that this president might be inclined to compromise on issues where he needs to fight.

The medium-cool president—who will never be confused with a full-on economic populist—did not begin to rip Romney as aggressively as he could have on the matter of the Republican nominee’s overseas investments and on Romney’s continued ties to the outsourcing machine that is Bain Capital.

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