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Obama, Romney square off

By Ariel Glickman
On October 23, 2012

The second presidential debate, held last Tuesday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., covered both foreign and domestic policy issues, though only one foreign policy question was asked. The Gallup Organization chose 82 undecided voters-all from the New York area-to attend the town hall-style debate, which challenged both President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to relate to the voters asking the questions as well as the ones watching at home.

This debate was more entertaining than the first and generally more stylistic than substantive. Each candidatetried to get the last word and outdo his opponent in a game of verbal one-upmanship, even compelling moderator Candy Crowley of CNN to ask Romney to sit down at one point and interrupt Obama when he spoke over his allotted two minutes.

After Obama's uninspiring performance at the first debate, all eyes were on him on Tuesday. He was patient but also deflected attacks, on the offensive at times and defensive at others: "Governor, you're the last person who's going to get tough on China," Obama said, stressing that the governor had invested in companies that outsourced jobs to China. Obama also questioned Romney's plan to reduce the deficit: "When [Romney's] asked, how are you going to do it, which deductions, which loopholes are you going to close, he can't tell you."

With two weeks until Election Day, Obama couldn't afford to be overconfident, said Prof. Marty Levin (POL). "He doesn't want the negative disgrace, the shame of losing. ... He's very competitive," said Levin in an interview with the Justice.

Eleven people asked questions, facilitated by Crowley. Because Romney won the coin toss, he answered the first question on employment after college graduation. But, while Romney told 20-year-old Jeremy Epstein, a junior at Adelphi University, that he knows what it takes to create jobs-even guaranteeing that Epstein would get a job-he failed to answer how he would generate them-an essential part of the question.

Both candidates ducked questions, often hiding behind statistics to boost their arguments. Romney attacked the President on 7.8 percent unemployment-the same rate as when Obama took office in January 2009, he said. Obama asserted that his administration created 5.2 million jobs over the last 31 months.

With the use of facts and figures to defend their records and attack their opponent's, there was heated interaction between the candidates. In critiquing Obama's policies, the governor sometimes appeared aggressive, telling Obama, "You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking." Romney also tested Crowley's role as moderator: "He actually got the first question. So I get the last ... answer," he told Crowley. But, the governor was not alone in challenging Crowley: "I want to make sure our timekeepers are working here," Obama said, believing that the governor had spoken out of turn.

Crowley outlined her role at the beginning of the debate, saying, "My goal is to give the conversation direction and to ensure questions get answered." Yet, she did more than ask for specifics; she reworded voters' questions and served as fact-checker after Romney and the President contested over when the Libyan attack was labeled an "act of terror."

"He did, in fact, call it an act of terror," she said, referring to Obama's Sept. 12 speech.

So, who won? "It's rare to see a presidential debate where both candidates are at the top of their game, and yet there is still a clear winner. ... [T]he President, Obama, who was absent at the first debate, showed up" figuratively, said Russell Leibowitz '14, Campaigns Coordinator for Brandeis College Democrats, in an email to the Justice.

"I would say Obama won in the end or possibly a tie depending [on] which candidate you favor. Obviously, you'd think that candidate did better, but Obama did terrific, and Romney came out unscathed, which is good," said Morris Didia '14, president of the Brandeis Libertarian Conservative Union, in an interview with the Justice.

On the topic of the moderator's role, Didia commented, "It wasn't her place to referee ... and say who is right and who is wrong." But, Leibowitz countered, "Crowley was just trying to force the candidates to accurately answer the questions, a trademark of most good debate moderators."

In any case, remarked Nahum Gilliat '14, vice president of Young Americans for Liberty, in an interview with the Justice, "Debates don't tend to persuade people. ... People who watch debates are usually partisan voters."

The candidates reunited yesterday for the final debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., where they discussed foreign policy. Looking ahead, early voting has already commenced in six of the nine swing states-Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin-and will begin in Florida this weekend. Early voting has yet to commence in Virginia and New Hampshire. 

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