Binders Full of Libya

I have been quiet about the second 2012 Presidential debate for several reasons. First, I agree with Lawrence O’Donnell that picking a winner is difficult. That being said, I do have some thoughts on the debate and what it means.

I thought it was a good debate. I certainly enjoyed watching it. The questions could have been better, but you can only work with what you get in a forum like this.

Romney let his inner asshole out to play, and was a bit too aggressive with the moderator, but sometimes that plays well at home with voters. It comes across as asshollery to most of us, but to a substantial minority it looks like strength. “He made the President sit down and wait his turn.” “He didn’t take any guff from the moderator.” “He caught the President in a lie about calling the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi a terrorist attack.” (Even though everyone agrees he lost that point when he got bogged down in the word used.)

Professor Obama showed up. If you believe in 11-Dimensional Chess, which I don’t, then you can see the first debate as the ultimate rope-a-dope approach. The same Romney showed up for the second debate. Against a real opponent – Professor Obama instead of Uncle Fluffy – his approach was much less effective.

This was a make-or-break moment for the President. He needed to reassure his base that he still wanted the job. I think he did that. He also needed to reframe Romney as an out-of-touch Plutocrat. The jury is still out on whether he managed this or not.

On the topic of Libya and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, I thought Romney had a good point. The Administration dropped the ball on this, and the President is rightly criticized for his handling. The argument that Congress cut funding for embassy security holds no water for me. If it is a priority, you have to fight for it. the Administration did not. In the aftermath, it was several days before it was clear that the reports of demonstrations at the Consulate preceding the attack were incorrect. The Administration is rightly criticized for either not knowing this or for not being clear about it.

Romney screwed this one up, however, by focusing on whether the President said the magic words “terrorist” or “terrorism” in his Rose Garden speech. The real criticism is the handling of the following weeks. Romney missed his chance to raise this issue when he thought he’d caught the President in a lie. Incidentally, I think Paul Ryan in the Vice Presidential debate did a much better job of pinning the issue on the Administration than Romney’s Gotcha! tactic did.

I’m looking forward to the third and final debate. Perhaps the topic of climate change will finally put in an appearance. It is a national security issue, after all.

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