The president needed to do four things in this debate: 1) Show some passion, 2) play fact-checker/truth-squader to halt Mitt Romney’s attempted slide to the center, 3) remind Americans of the dire situation he inherited, and 4) give voters a better idea of his path forward.
He did well on the first three, adequately on the fourth.
One of Obama’s best moments came when he tallied up the tax cuts and military spending Romney favors and noted that the Republican nominee hasn’t given any realistic idea of how to pay for it. If someone seeking his investment dollars came to Romney with that kind of plan, he’d never take such a “sketchy deal,” Obama declared.
Romney’s continued refusal to offer those details only underscored the president’s point. Instead, the Republican nominee simply insisted that he could accomplish all that because of his background as a businessman, Winter Olympics chief, and governor.
It was, in other words, a trust-me approach. Which is the same basic answer Romney offered on the economy. Time and again, he simply asserted “I know how to get the economy going.” Or how to create good jobs. Or how to bring jobs back. But asserting something is different than demonstrating it, and there, Romney fell short.
Another strong Obama moment came when Romney tried to differentiate himself from George W. Bush. In fact, Obama rejoined, the center of Romney’s economic plan was the same as Bush’s had been: deficit-swelling tax cuts.
He also effectively painted Romney as a man who had abandoned his previous stances to take “me too” positions to placate conservatives on issues like immigration, health care, and the no-new-taxes pledge.
Once again, Romney was aggressive in critiquing Obama’s shortcomings, sometimes appropriately so, sometimes not. The exchange on Libya will be played over and over — and Romney likely won’t benefit from what he hoped would be a “gotcha” moment.
Scot Lehigh is a columnist for The Boston Globe.
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