President Obama did what he had to do in his second debate with
The president finally hammered at Romney's "sketchy" breakdown of his five-point plan to reduce the deficit through an end to unspecified tax loopholes for the wealthy. But he failed to offer any new details of his own on how the country would fare better economically over the next four years.
Instead, he ticked off his first-term accomplishments more effectively than before: cutting middle-class and small-business taxes, ending the U.S. combat role in
Only at the very end of the debate did Obama jab at Romney's chief Achilles Heel--his revealing closed-door rap on "the 47 percent of Americans" who don't pay federal taxes. He paraphrased Romney in identifying them as "victims who refuse personal responsibility."
Obama asked the audience to "think about who he (Romney) was talking about." He proceeded to list "folks on
The president's closing statement was a major improvement on his weak pitch in the first debate, in which he wailed that he wasn't a perfect person or a perfect president but was doing the best he could. That contention only fed into Romney's recitation of Obama's first-term inability to cut the unemployment rate back to pre-
As for Romney, he continued his first-debate tenacity in painting the first Obama term as an abysmal failure, and a bit more abrasively, on the second time around. He cited 2008 candidate Obama's promises to cut the deficit and instead adding to it, and again sold himself as Mr. Fix-it with the business record to match. But Obama threw the Romney success formula back at him: "You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away the pensions and you still make money."
In all, their second debate returned the campaign to the basic difference between the two nominees--Romney's insistence that unfettered free-enterprise can cure the economic stall if only government will get out of the way vs. Obama's argument that only true government-business cooperation can do the trick.
In the verbal tug-of-war between them over who can save the struggling American middle class, for all of Romney's expressed concern he must yet overcome his image as an urgent but empathy-impaired man of great wealth, and his damaging sermon to the fellow-rich, writing off that 47 percent of public moochers.
Obama and his strategists seem still convinced that this perception of Romney will carry the day for them. But the president may need a more persuasive case for what he aims to accomplish in a second term, not yet adequately offered beyond continuing to push that heavy boulder of economic recovery up the hill.
With the final debate Monday scheduled to focus on foreign policy, Obama's handling of the terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi no doubt will be challenged again. He was helped in the second debate by Romney's factual error in saying Obama was tardy in identifying it as such. But the debaters will almost certainly find a way to return to the argument over the economy in this last chance each will have at persuading millions of undecided viewers.
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