Obama bounces back with strong offense
President Barack Obama bounced back in Tuesday's presidential debate with a focused and forceful presentation. That's obviously a relief for Obama partisans, but the president's articulate defense of his own policies and his dissection of his opponent's also served the electorate in general by bringing sharply into focus the differences between the candidates.
Obama was most effective in a task that he fumbled badly in the first debate: challenging the Republican candidate's insistence that he can achieve across-the-board cuts in tax rates without aggravating the deficit or depriving middle-income Americans of tax breaks they have come to rely on. (Obama was less forthcoming about how he would reduce deficits.)
Obama disputed Mitt Romney's recent move to the center on immigration and defended his own commitment to the development of alternative energy (without, however, even mentioning climate change). He offered a muscular defense of government intervention in the economy, even as he rhapsodized about the virtues of the free market. And, yes, he finally reminded the audience of Romney's closed-door dismissal of the supposedly un-self-reliant 47 percent.
A question about the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, prompted Romney to recycle the accusation that the administration deliberately misled the nation about the nature of the attack. An indignant Obama shamed Romney for suggesting that he would play politics or prevaricate about such a tragic event.
Romney ably reiterated his strongest argument: that Obama's promises of deficit reduction, entitlement reform, robust job growth and immigration legislation have not come to pass. That still poses a threat to Obama's reelection. But the president is back in the game.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Romney better choice, but must offer details
Far more engaged, President Barack Obama delivered sharper critiques of Mitt Romney's ideas, addressing him bluntly and repeatedly insisting that the GOP challenger wasn't leveling with voters. The president also offered a stronger defense of his term and ticked off accomplishments with vigor.
But on a second-term vision, Obama again appeared to pull up short. Instead, much of the debate stalled on what went right (Obama's view) and what went wrong (Romney's view) the past four years.
Romney's goal was to build on the way he framed a big-choice election in the first debate. His strength then was fiscal responsibility, detailing how he would right America's economic ship after Obama's high-deficit, high-unemployment tenure.
Romney reiterated his criticisms of the Obama years and tried to focus his answers around his five-point plan to help private business create 12 million jobs in four years. Pressed by a more aggressive Obama, Romney filled in some blanks on tax policy and hammered away at the trillions in new debt. Sadly, entitlement reform was mostly an afterthought.
We recommended Romney largely on his economic strengths, and he has made progress laying out his plans. Now, he needs to explain them in better detail. Both candidates took steps forward Tuesday, although neither by as much as we might have hoped.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Spirited debate but no hard truths
President Barack Obama offered stronger defenses of his policies and performance this time and four times accused Mitt Romney of saying things that are not true.
For all the jousting, we wish Obama had acknowledged that his plan to raise taxes on high-income Americans would eliminate only about one-tenth of the annual federal deficit.
That said, we also wish Romney had offered more specifics on the deductions and loopholes he'd limit to pay for his most ambitious goal, broad cuts in tax rates.
Neither man told Americans about the sacrifices on the horizon: Obama didn't admit that federal spending, and specifically spending on Medicare and Social Security, is unsustainable without major reforms.
Romney didn't admit that his tax plan includes anticipated revenue increases from a growing economy — a pleasant hope but still a hope — to avoid creating more debt.
Which Romney would take the stage — optimistic and commanding, or flummoxed and remote from his audience?
The presence of a stronger Obama didn't create a weaker Romney. He was at his best when repeatedly steering attention to promises that Obama had made but hasn't fulfilled.
Do voters have a choice of two agendas, or merely of two men? This format proved an inclement place for new proposals. The discussion was spirited, the talking points familiar. Viewers did, though, see both men at their best, taking questions from Main Street Americans worried about issues close to their lives: jobs, gasoline prices, taxes and — the unifying theme — fears for the United States of tomorrow.
We'll know soon whether Obama stopped the bleeding that began Oct. 3: Romney holds a small but persistent lead in the RealClearPolitics polling averages — thanks in part to a swing toward him among women in battleground states.
This month's debates have animated what had been a dispiriting slog to Nov. 6. The final round comes next Monday in hard-fought Florida.
Romney sales pitch, bullying did not work
Mitt Romney, ramping up his domineering, interruption-prone style, may have taken the "leadership" trait a step too far Tuesday night, edging into bullying territory.
More troubling is the Republican challenger's continued reluctance to specify how he will produce the job growth and economic boost he promises. The five-point plan he pushes is full of good cheer and little detail. President Barack Obama hit hard on this point, urging Americans to not buy Romney's "sales pitch. It doesn't add up."
We share his concern. Romney's strongest jabs were the recitation of what's hurting in the economy, the lack of jobs, the rise in poverty and the growing deficit. Obama, to his credit, offered detailed rebuttals to criticism on energy, jobs and social issues.
While Romney repeated his professed concern for 100 percent of Americans, it was Obama's closing comments that resurrected the private disparaging comment Romney made to wealthy donors about the 47 percent of the nation who don't take personal responsibility.
It's an alienating reference, and a powerful point for Obama to use as his walkoff.
Obama was more presidential and more in control in this debate. Romney turned his "management" of the debate into unattractive, unfair play.
THE KANSAS CITY STAR