I didn't hear much of an argument from Obama about why a second four years would be better. As Jeffrey H. Anderson writes, Obama summarized his presidency when he said, "Well, we've gone through a tough four years."
n other words, I haven’t done or accomplished anything to earn your vote in 2012, and you’re right not to be as optimistic as in 2008, because it’s been a rough four years with me at the helm.So much of what Obama talked about that he would do in the future is more of the same stuff he's done for the past four years. As the WSJ writes,
At least two questioners put the point directly, yet Mr. Obama never provided much of an answer. Sure, he wants to hire 100,000 more teachers, as if there is the money to hire them or it would make much difference to student outcomes.Of course, Romney could have brought up what a disaster Obama's green energy policies have been. I'm surprised that he wasn't ready with that, but maybe Romney didn't want to seem welcoming to environment-friendly policies, but that was a missed opportunity.
He wants to invest in "solar and wind and biofuels, energy-efficient cars," which probably means more Solyndras and A123s (see nearby). He wants to raise taxes on the rich—that's one thing he's really passionate about. Oh, and he does want to pass the immigration reform he said he'd propose four years ago but never did propose in his first two years when his party controlled Congress and he might have passed it.
But otherwise, what's his case for four more years? Judging by Tuesday's debate, the President's argument for re-election is basically this: He's not as awful as Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama spent most of his time attacking either Mr. Romney himself (he invests in Chinese companies), his tax plan as a favor for the rich ("that's been his history") or this or that statement he has made over the last year ("the 47%," which Mr. Obama saved for the closing word of the entire debate).
Mitt Romney's task is to present himself as a viable alternative to a president who has disappointed so many. I think Romney did that. He had an opportunity to talk about his tax and energy policies. His best answers were when he was running down what Obama has done for the past four years. He muffed the answer on Libya by getting lost in a fruitless back and forth on what Obama said the day after the attack instead of talking about the two weeks that were spent with the administration telling us that it was not a pre-planned attack responding to a video. Perhaps the back and forth as the media fact-check this exchange from the debate will help drive that point home, but if people are truly undecided, they're probably not paying that much attention to such questions in the first place.
In my mind, the debate was about a draw. My guess is that it won't do much to change the polls we're seeing now. Perhaps Obama will gain a bit as people who were dismayed at his lackluster performance in the first debate are now reassured. We're stuck in this really close election and the only real game-changer we've seen was the first debate which was a self-inflicted wound by the Obama team that wasn't reversed by Biden's aggressive, yet clownish behavior from the vice-presidential debate. And I don't think we saw a game-changer last night. We'll just have to keep slugging it out.
Of all the commentary I've read, Rich Lowry comes the closest to what I was thinking during the debate on both weaknesses and strengths for Romney.
President Obama was much better than last time, not surprisingly. He got in all the expected hits on Romney, and at times threw out more things at once than Romney could plausibly respond to, unless he wanted to spend the entirety of his time in rebuttal mode. Romney, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as good two weeks ago. I think he’s at his weakest as a performer when he gets a little too worked up and shows too much concern with the rules. He did both tonight. He also said “I know what it takes to grow the economy” much too much for my taste — a line I don’t find very convincing since it’s based on biographical assertion. Finally, I understand his instinct to try to nail the president with killer questions, but it sometimes came off as badgering and contributed to his tripping up on Libya. All that said, it was a solid performance overall and occasionally excellent. He was strong on energy at the beginning and superb in an answer toward the end encapsulating Obama’s false promises. The question about how he’s different from Bush was a gift, and he mostly took advantage of it. The big take-away from the debates so far — and the problem President Obama has — is that Mitt Romney has established himself as a plausible alternative with a plausible plan. Absent some terrible gaffe in the next debate, it’s hard to see how that bell is going be un-rung.And President Obama will just have to keep searching for a reason to give him another four years. We certainly haven't heard one yet. All he has is attacking Romney and hoping people will be scared of the caricature his campaign has made of Mitt Romney. Just by performing at a high level, Mitt Romney is refuting that caricature. What else does Obama have?