Right before the conclusion of the much-anticipated second presidential debate in Hempstead, N.Y., President Barack Obama took a question from an audience member about misconceptions about his political ideology.
He said he believed in “free enterprise,” and “free market economy,” and does not believe that government creates jobs. However, he added that government has a duty to assure that its citizens have equal opportunities to succeed and that “both Wall Street and Main Street play by the same rules.”
Whether one was a supporter or fierce critic of President Obama’s first term in office, one thing was for certain: He had definitely chosen to engage in this debate and the results spoke for themselves.
Several of the post-debate polls, including CNN’s post-debate tracking poll, declared President Obama the winner, and many liberals and Democrats responded very favorably to his “feisty” tone as he challenged Gov. Romney at every turn.
Perhaps Obama’s best line of the night came when he voiced criticism of Mitt Romney’s much maligned “47 percent” comment. At a fundraiser in May, Romney had suggested that “47 percent of Americans were dependent on the government.”
“When my grandfather fought in World War II and he came back and got a GI Bill that allowed him to go to college, that wasn’t a handout – that was something that advanced the entire country, and I want to make sure the next generation has those same opportunities.”
From the standpoint of sheer effortlessly conveyed rhetoric, it was Obama’s best moment of the night.
To be sure, Mitt Romney had his share of strong spots as well.
When Obama said he took responsibility for the unrest in Libya, which led to the killing of four American diplomats, Romney cornered Obama on the point and said it was an example of his failed policies in the Middle East.
Obama still hasn’t found a way to talk about the problem in Libya, and it could be his undoing this election cycle.
Nevertheless, on this night Obama bested his challenger with a more spirited performance, even if neither candidate could put meat on the bones of what they were selling.
Obama still can’t really explain how a second term would be different from his first term when more Americans fell into poverty than anytime since the Great Depression, and Romney can’t explain how he can cut tax rates by 20 percent without closing “important loopholes” or increasing the deficit.
However, after a draw in the first two debates, and the polls basically declaring the race a dead heat, Obama needed a strong debate performance to inspire his base to vote since this figures to be a base-turnout election.
Prior to the second debate, the general perception by the media and swing voters alike was that President Obama needed a strong showing in order to halt challenger Mitt Romney’s surge in the polls over the past few weeks. During the first debate, Obama appeared bored and professorial, using repetitive figures about Romney’s “$5 trillion tax plan” and the harm it could pose to the deficit. Despite making some valid points, Obama forgot that style is arguably more important than substance in politics.
The electorate prefers to see their candidates passionately “performing” their positions with style and fervor.
It may not be right, but it is true: Zingers, quips, passion and bumper-sticker tag-lines are what does it in these debates. This is even more true in the town hall format of the second debate.
Following the first debate debacle, Obama’s once comfortable leads in important swing states Florida, Ohio and Virginia evaporated. The New Yorker published a biting cover featuring Mitt Romney debating an empty chair. Republicans were suddenly rejuvenated and emboldened after all but conceding the White House mere days earlier.
Understanding the stakes involved, Obama delivered a strong effort at Hofstra University, but the race is still very much up for grabs.
The question now is: Obama has proven he can win a debate, but can he prove that he can once again inspire hope in a nation that has lost faith in the political process?