Second Presidential Debate Recap and Analysis: Obama Wins Hofstra Debate


On Tuesday, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney did rhetorical battle in their second debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. The debate was moderated by CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, and featured a town hall-style format with the audience consisting of some 80 undecided voters from Nassau County. Audience members peppered the candidates questions throughout the debate on both domestic and foreign policy issues. You read that correctly: this debate hinged on a group of people who didn't know whom they're voting for yet, and, as a hilarious added bonus, they're were all from Long Island. In light of this situation, there was only one way to watch this debate, and that's while playing PolicyMic's brand new Presidential Debate Drinking Game (Second Edition). We live-streamed the debate right here on PolicyMic

Romney was once again solid, at least rhetorically. He avoided substance and specifics at all costs, lest he actually let the vast majority of the American public in on the trickle down joke he plans to pull on them once in office. When asked by an audience member how he would create jobs, Romney simply reiterated his line that he has a five-point plan to create 12 million jobs. How? I’ll be damned if I heard anything close to an overview of just how that will be accomplished. In response, Obama said that Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan, but a one-point plan whereby the highest income earners play by a special set of rules and have their taxes cut. The president also hit Romney and House Republicans on their refusal to pass an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the bottom 98% of income earners but did not include the top 2% of earners, whose taxes Obama and the Democrats want to see back at the 38% level they were at during the Clinton administration.

Sadly, this debate expectedly involved a fair amount of bullshit, and as much as the first debate did, which is quite an achievement. Although it may not have seemed that way given that the candidates were interacting in a town hall-style setting, which gave their responses a certain whiff of sincere empathy with their inquisitors. But anyone who listened to what the candidates actually said, noticed an astounding lack of actual content in the debate responses. Romney especially was staggeringly full of shit throughout the entire debate.

One of the nuggets from this debate that might fly under the radar was Romney’s apparent 180 on the availability of contraceptives on employer health insurance plans. When defending his record on women’s issues against Obama’s attacks, Romney said,

“I’d just note that I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And -- and the -- and the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.

That is in stark contrast to what Romney's support of the ill-fated Blunt amendment earlier this year that would have allowed employers to refuse to furnish health insurance plans that provided contraception. The Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” requires that all employers provide health insurance packages that include contraception coverage (with some exceptions). Romney’s comments in this debate amount to yet another flip-flop for Romney, who has justifiably gained a reputation for being as sturdy as a weathervane. 


10:39pm: Debate over. 

10:39pm: Obama currently giving an impassioned case for his vision for America. 

10:37pm: Obama says the free enterprise system is the greatest engine for growth the world has ever known. Says he also believes everyone should have a fair shot, everyone should pay their fair share, and that everyone should play by the same set of rules. 

10:36pm: Questioner asks the candidates what's the biggest misperception the public has about each of them. Romney says Obama is trying to paint him as someone he isn't. Romney says he cares about 100% of Americans. 

10:35pm: The ubiquitousness of the Long Island accent in this debate is irritating. 

10:34pm: Romney says government does not create jobs, government does not create jobs. 

10:31pm: Looks like this debate is going over the allotted time, as Obama and Romney discuss China as a currency manipulator. I'm sure Americans know exactly what's going on in this discussion. But hey, I'll take it!

10:29pm: Romney says we should be more like Canada when it comes to our corporate tax rate. I wonder if he feels the same way about the Canadian health care system. 

10:27pm: Romney says the U.S. has made it less attractive for businesses to remain in the states. Says the answer is not "trickle-down government." That terms reeks of Frank Luntz. 

10:22pm: Romney uses question about gun control to pivot and hit Romney on Operation Fast and Furious. Smooth!

10:21pm: Obama wants to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Well that's good. Meanwhile, Romney says he's not in favor of new legislation to control guns. Here's Romney on guns in 2002 when he was running for Massachusetts governor:

10:17pm: A gun control question? What is this, 1992? Actually, it's about time, given the slew of mass shootings in the country recently. 

10:16pm: Obama supporters in the audience are breaking protocol by applauding. Disagreement over when Obama called the attack in Benghazi a terrorist attack. 

10:13pm: Romney slams Obama for flying to Vegas for a political fundraiser right after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. He's also hitting Obama on his Israel policy. Says Obama went on an "apology tour" early in his administration. 

10:11pm: Obama is lecturing the questioner like a boss. By the way, Obama and Romney have switched tie colors for this debate. 

10:08pm: Oh, just listen to this questioner on Libya. Is that a Republican plant?

10:06pm: Tensions flair at Hofstra University!

10:02pm: Obama also he says he wants to "streamline" the immigration process. He also says they should deport illegal immigrants smartly by going after the criminals such as, "gang-bangers." I'm willing to bet a pretty penny that's the first time "gang-bangers" has ever been said in a presidential debate. 

10:00pm: Romney wants to "streamline" the immigration process, but would not grant amnesty. Says he's open to giving illegal immigrant children a "pathway" to citizenship.

9:57pm: Romney is currently espousing the supposed virtues of Reagan's economic policies:

9:53pm: Obama says "a lot of us" are struggling. Us? Ewhaaat?

9:50pm: Obama calls out Romney's tough on China talk. Says Romney pioneered outsourcing of American jobs to countries such as China. Ouch. 

9:46pm: Romney just did a complete 180 on his position on contraceptives. Says he doesn't think employers should be able to deny women access to contraceptives. BUT, Romney has said that employers shouldn't be obligated to provide health care plans that include coverage for contraceptives. 

9:42pm: Romney says he favors a "flexible work schedule" for the womens. Obama slams Romney for his reluctance to take a position on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. We're now onto talk of contraceptives. Those of you who are nostalgic for the days of Griswold v. Connecticut, relish this moment. 

9:39pm: Romney is going to try his hand at appealing to the ladies....

"Binders full of women!" Meme it, baby!

9:36pm: Romney boasts about balancing the budget during all four years as governor of Massachusetts. Well, I'd certainly hope so, since the Massachusetts constitution requires a balanced budget. Romney is doing himself no favors by arguing with Crowley over responses and rebuttals. He looks like a teacher's pet eager to talk. 

9:33pm: Obama is hitting Romney on his tax plan, which is so lacking in specifics as to be downright laughable. Obama just mentioned "Big Bird." MOTHER OF GOD!

9:32pm: Romney notes the high unemployment, especially among women, as he tries to continue closing the gender gap

9:29pm: Obama talking about the unwillingness of House Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for the bottom 98% without extending them for the top 2% of income earners. 

9:25pm: If anyone can ascertain a single shred of detail in any of Romney's responses, I'd be happy to hear what they are in the comments section. Romney wants to eliminate interest on interest, dividends, and capital gains. Why? Because he wants to lower taxes on the middle class? Right, all those working class folks with shares in Apple sure could use a break!

9:23pm: Romney is throwing a hissy fit because he thinks he's not getting enough of a chance to respond. Somebody call the Wahmbulance! So far the debate is a draw on style, but goes to Obama on substance. 

9:22pm: Romney cites the price of gas when Obama took office, which has obviously low because it was in the middle of a freakin' financial crisis. 

9:18pm: Are these guys going to fight? This is getting kind of intense as they have a back and forth. It's made all the more tense by the fact that they're both standing up and walking toward each other. 

9:15pm: Romney slamming Obama for not opening up the Bakken oil field in North Dakota to every Tom, Dick, and David Koch who wants to drill baby, drill. 

9:13pm: A nearly inaudible question on energy from a very nervous young man. Obama points to record high oil and gas production under his administration. Says Romney emphasizes only oil and gas, but not clean energy. 

9:10pm: Obama: Romney doesn't have a five point plan; he has a one point plan that makes sure the people at the top play by a different set of rules. 

9:08pm: Crowley fires off a follow-up question and asks Romney what he'd do about the older Americans who need jobs now. Romney says he has a plan to add 12 million jobs, but doesn't say what it is. Romney's answer is 100% content free and a complete dodge. 

9:06pm: Is it me, or does Obama's hair appear much grayer than it did in the debate two weeks ago? That aside, Obama already says much more passionate than he did in the first debate. Good use of hand gestures! 

9:03pm: Romney says he wants to keep the Pell grant program "growing" in response to a question from a college student asking the candidates what they'd do to help younger Americans. Romney says, "The middle class has been crushed the last four years."

9:02pm: Debate is underway. Moderator Candy Crowley is giving instructions, many of which will go unheeded by the candidates.

8:58pm: What to watch for tonight

8:53pm: Seven more minutes, and we'll have 90 full minutes of pandering political bullshit. Hooray!

8:43pm: Flashback from 2008 Republican presidential debate. When it comes to waging wars, Romney said he would neet to consult lawyers. An incredulous Ron Paul responds by saying all he needs to do is open the Constitution!

8:40pm: If Obama outperforms Romney tonight:

8:39pm: If Romney outperforms Obama again tonight:

8:33pm: Did you know Mitt Romney will create 12 million new jobs? How? His crack team of trickle down hacks explains:

“History Shows That A Recovery Rooted In Policies Contained In The Romney Plan Will Create About 12 Million Jobs In The First Term Of A Romney Presidency.” “If we had a recovery that was just the average of past recoveries from deep recessions, like those of 1974-1975 or 1981-1982, the economy would be creating about 200,000 to 300,000 jobs per month. By changing course away from the policies of the current administration and ending economic uncertainty, as proposed by the Romney plan, we expect that the current recovery will align with the average gains of similar past recoveries. History shows that a recovery rooted in policies contained in the Romney plan will create about 12 million jobs in the first term of a Romney presidency.” (R. Glenn Hubbard, N. Gregory Mankiw, John B. Taylor, and Kevin A. Hassett, “The Romney Program for Economic Recovery, Growth, and Jobs,” White Paper, 8/7/12)

That would be this Glenn Hubbard (not the former Atlanta Braves second baseman):

8:31pm: Here are the Romney's just hanging out backstage before the debate. Just your typical All-American working class family.

8:26pm: So it looks like Paul Ryan snuck his way into a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio, grabbed a pot, got his picture taken, and promptly left. The head of the charity that runs it said that the vice presidential nominee and his wife "showed up there and they did not have permission." She said the two "did nothing" while they were there. I wonder what Ayn Rand would think of Ryan even pretending to care about the less fortunate.

8:21pm: The Romney campaign is holding a raffle of some kind for a guitar signed by Kid Rock and Paul Ryan. I wouldn't take this signed guitar if it were offered to me personally for free. 

8:16pm: Flashback: Uncle Joe Biden at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, courtesy of The Onion:

8:11pm: Will Obama take some longshots down the field tonight? Or will he play it safe by running a dink-and-dunk offense? Are these football metaphors doing anything for you, America? I hope not, because I just asked two stupid-ass questions that actually pass for intelligent discussion on cable news.   

8:08pm: How do the candidates preparing for this debate? Romney finds it relxaing to hand-wash his magic Mormon underwear, while Obama finds it soothing to read his favorite suras from the Quran. 

8:00pm: T-Minus one hour to bullshit. Matt Taibbi from a 2008 Democratic presidential debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Great stuff:

7:51pm: Ross Perot has endorsed Mitt Romney. Presidency is assured!

7:45pm: Someone just made a beer run, which confirms that I will be playing my Presidential Debate Drinking Game!

7:42pm: Even if you think Romney’s plans for Social Security, Medicare, foreign policy, and so on are The Greatest Things Ever, there is no denying that many of his ideas are widely unpopular. This is fact, not opinion. 

On Medicare, six in ten Americans say Medicare should continue to exist as is, while 34% said it should be transitioned to the voucher-based system proposed by Paul Ryan’s budget that Romney supports. The news is even worse for the GOP ticket in three key swing states. In Ohio, 64% of voters want Medicare to remain untouched. In Florida, the figure is 62%, and in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, it’s 59%.

On Social Security, an AP-GfK poll shows that 53% of Americans favor raising taxes in order to preserve the program—something that Romney and the Republican Party have pledged not to do, even if it means cutting benefits or raising the retirement age. (It should be noted that Romney says he now opposes private Social Security accounts even though he favored them during his failed 2008 run. But really, who knows what he believes at this point?)

7:27pm: If there is any mention of "Big Bird" in any way, shape, or form in tonight's debate, it might just send me into a psychotic rage:

7:12pm: I wonder how many questioners from the audience will be overcome with stage fright tonight and the class deer-in-headlights looks. I'll show some uncharacteristic faith in these undecided voters and put the over/under on this at 1.5.

7:04pm: Interesting piece on ZeroHedge today about presidential debates being conducive to stock market surges for some reason. Presidential bullshit competitions are bullish!

6:51pm: Here's a snapshot of the major independent national polls taken this month, courtesy of Real Clear Politics:

6:38pm: Earlier today ahead of tonight's debate, Obama told reporters, "I feel fabulous." 

6:33pm: How Mitt Romney's tax plan would affect revenues, via Christian Science Monitor:

6:23pm: From The Onion's coverage of the vice presidential debate: "Biden Unleashes Torrent Of Vomit On Debate Stage."

6:05pm: Earlier this month, the Obama and Romney campaigns showed how cowardly the candidates are by signing a memorandum of understanding that hopes to prevent anything unexpected from happening at tonight's debate. 

5:50pm: I bet you $10,000 that Mitt Romney doesn't do this at tonight's debate:

5:47pm: Republicans are up to no good, as they target Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson for political shenanigans. The GOP's hired goons stand accused of intimidating canvassers for Johnson in Pennsylvania. 

5:45pm: For those of you who just can't wait to play PolicyMic's Presidential Debate Drinking Game, far be it from be to judge if you decide to engage in some debate pre-gaming at 5:45 on a Tuesday afternoon.

5:33pm: Here's Romney on abortion during a 1994 U.S. Senate debate against Ted Kennedy. My how things have changed!

5:20pm: For those of you wondering how Romney is going to cut $5 trillion in taxes over ten years without blowing a hole in the budget, check out the super awesome details of his plan here!

5:09pm: Apologies in advanced for the particularly aggressive drinking game I concocted for tonight's debate. You'd be forgiven if you went with a light beer for this one. 

4:55pm: I cannot recommend this piece by PolicyMic's Chris Miller enough. Chris is a U.S. Army veteran who takes issue with Romney's pro-war agenda. Romney received multiple draft deferments during the Vietnam war, and is one of those infamous neoconservatives who likes wars they don't have to serve in. 

4:50pm: Who built that? You didn't build that! Latest single from MC 'Bama:

4:41pm: By the way, Mitt Romney still isn't sure about these cookies:

4:21pm: Mitt Romney is the first ever Mormon presidential candidate to be nominated for a major party ticket. Fun fact: Before 1890, Mormonism was the belief that it's better for a man to have six wives than one beer. 

3:59pm: Tonight's debate could prove to be a potential minefield for Romney, who will be forced to interact with the public — in this case, an audience that will ask him questions that are prefaced with tales of working class struggle. That is something that Romney has no clue about, as he has spent his entirely life in the company of other privileged people. I say this not because it should be held against him, but to highlight the plain fact that as a wealthy scion of a well-established political and business family who doesn't drink alcohol, Romney finds it difficult to connect with "Joe Sixpack." Contrast that will Bill Clinton in the 1992 town hall debate:

3:29pm: If Romney outperforms Obama in tonight's debate:

3:19pm: If Obama outperforms Romney in tonight's debate:


This debate will involve as much bullshit as the first presidential debate did, which is saying something. But the close-quarters setting with an audience of "regular people" will likely give both candidates an air of sincerity that seems almost plausible. Obama should benefit more from this format, since he's not nearly as awkward as Romney when interacting with the unwashed masses. In the first debate, Obama turned in a lackluster performance, while Romney ran circles around the president, who seemed content to look down at his podium when he wasn't nonchalantly and dispassionately answering Jim Lehrer's questions. Tonight, Obama needs to project a little — just a little — Joe Biden. And he likely will, as it's not really possible to be any flatter than he was the first time around. 

Naturally, if you're looking for substance, don't expect to find it here. All actual policy issues will be hopelessly buried under jargon as the candidates try to appeal to the broadest possible swath of voters. This is especially true of Romney, whose actual positions are so unpopular that he hasn't even attempted to explain how he's going to cut $5 trillion in taxes over the next ten years without blowing the budget deficit and national debt into deep space. Here's Paul Ryan on Fox News Sunday last month explaining why he can't be bothered to elaborate on the details of Romney's tax plan:

That's because there is no way Romney can cut $5 trillion in taxes in a decade without ballooning deficits unless he targets federal programs for some serious reductions or outright elimination. It's the old "starve the beast" approach: significantly reduce tax revenues, create an impending deficit disaster, and then out of sheer necessity, get Congress to implement serious cuts that harm anyone without a three-car garage. That way, $4 trillion of Romney's $5 trillion in tax cuts can go to families making more than $200,000 per year, while Ryan explains to all of us how we need to have "an adult conversation" about the tough choices we, as in all of us, need to make if we're going to balance the budget.