My Take on the 2nd Presidential Debate Between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Presidential debates are somewhat of a waste of time. Hardened partisans on either side will never be swayed to vote for the other guy by a presidential debate. That cuts out about 45% on either side. At the most these things are geared to entice between 6-10% of the people whose votes are still up for grabs. That sounds like a big prize. The problem is what you have to go through to win it.

Candidates can’t attack their opponent too aggressively or they’ll look like a bully. But if an opponent lands too many barbs on them, they come off looking weak or appear as though they don’t care. They can’t sound too smart or people think they’re out of touch. They can’t sound too confident or people will think they are arrogant. They have to sound prepared but not canned. They have to connect with the moderator, the people in the audience, and the millions watching on television. It’s really an impossible task. That being said, here’s my take on the 2nd presidential debate.

Obama won last night’s debate by the same margin of victory that Romney won the first. He won on substance and ideas, and he won on style and manner. What really surprised me was that he also won on personal appeal. No way to spin it, the president did his campaign a lot of good last night.

What I was looking for from Romney last night was the details to follow up his strong first debate. He painted in large brush strokes the first time, this time I thought he would fill in some of the facts on the plan but he never did. I came away thinking  Romney will literally do and say anything to get elected. In fairness the president would too, the only difference is the president can’t. He has a record that he cannot run away from. It’s the fundamental nature of incumbency. The president cannot run from his record. So the president ran on his record last night, and made a really strong case.

The hardest thing of all during a debate is to know who is telling the truth. I think the only real way is to read this stuff constantly for years, stay up on all of the issues, and then you can spot the fakes. But, it’s much harder than one might think.

For instance, Ex: Romney’s answer on drilling on federal land. Romney said,

“Well, let’s look at the president’s policies, all right, as opposed to the rhetoric, because we’ve had four years of policies being played out. And the president’s right in terms of the additional oil production, but none of it came on federal land. As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands, and in federal waters.”

To which everyone listening said, “Geez Obama, what’s your problem.” Then the president explained what really happened. He said,

“Here’s what happened. You had a whole bunch of oil companies who had leases on public lands that they weren’t using. So what we said was you can’t just sit on this for 10, 20, 30 years, decide when you want to drill, when you want to produce, when it’s most profitable for you. These are public lands. So if you want to drill on public lands, you use it or you lose it.”

To which everyone then says, “Oh, well that was a pretty smart move.”

Romney lost on this tactic over and over last night. When he distorted reality the president was prepared to rebut. At one point even the moderator called Romney out on a distortion concerning the word terror and Benghazi. The transcript tells the true tale making it clear he saw it as part of many “acts of terror.”

In the end Romney lost the debate because the glass half-empty, sky is falling narrative is losing its appeal, if it ever had any, with independent voters. From the falling unemployment rate to new housing starts, consumer confidence to the stock market – all of the arrows are pointing up right now. You can’t win on bashing an approach that at least seems to be working.

As a Christian, I think in terms of hope. I think in terms of possibilities if we work together. Working together is a punch line to the Republicans in congress and it seems to be for Governor Romney who spent the whole night talking about how terrible America is right now. For the past 4 years everything the Republicans have done was meant to stall, thwart, embarrass, obfuscate, and oppose. Romney did very little in this debate, or the previous one, to convince me that he’d be anything more than Bush III.

Here’s where both sides lost me: Nobody talked about defense spending. Nobody talked about an undersized, underfunded state department. Nobody talked about drones & civilian deaths in Pakistan. Nobody talked about the environment. Nobody talked about poverty. Only Obama talked about education and he had to squeeze it in on a question that was not about education. I was disappointed with the lack of attention these issues got, because they really matter to me.

About Tim Suttle

Find out more about Tim at TimSuttle.com

Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of RedemptionChurchkc.com. He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://bobcornwall.com Bob Cornwall

    Thanks Tim — I think you’re assessment is essentially the same as mine. Good night for the President. Not so good for the challenger. You’re also correct about the lack of conversation about education.

  • Frank

    Both sides did what they needed to do. All in all the last four years have been terrible and we can only look forward to the same if Obama gets reelected. I’ll stick with Romeny.

    • John R Huff Jr

      Do you honestly believe four years of Romney/Ryan will be better, Frank ? You are delusional.

      • Frank

        I don’t believe it, I know it.

        Speaking of delusion: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Obama failed miserably so if you want more failure, vote Obama.

        • Tim Suttle

          Frank, I’m interested in why you think the president failed miserably. I have a friend who always reminds me that there really only one way to fix a deep recession: 6 years. All economic indicators show improvement. People are spending more, exports are up, housing sector is growing again, the job market continues to grow, and we are slowly moving toward a better economy again. The two ticking time-bombs are the cost of health care and national debt. The Cost of health care is being addressed through the ACA. For all of the bluster about it, ACA is projected to lower the deficit over the next decade (per the CBO). The fact is that the economy bottomed out in 2008, the stimulus quelled the storm, and the path back to a healthy economy has been consistent and appropriate given the severity of the crisis. Defense spending is the elephant in the room and the president’s plan is to spend less than Romney. Not sure where the narrative that the president has failed so miserably comes from.

          • Frank

            It comes from reality.

            “..an $825 billion stimulus package; the Public-Private Investment Partnership to buy toxic assets from the banks; “cash for clunkers”; the home-buyers credit; record spending and budget deficits and exploding debt; the auto bailouts; five versions of foreclosure relief; numerous lifelines to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; financial regulation and health-care reform; energy subsidies, mandates and moratoria; and constant demands for higher tax rates on “the rich” and businesses.

            Consider the direct results of the Obama programs. A few have performed better than expected—e.g., the auto bailouts, although a rapid private bankruptcy was preferable and GM and Chrysler are not yet denationalized successes. But the failed stimulus bill cost an astounding $280,000 per job—over five times median pay—by the administration’s inflated estimates of jobs “created or saved,” and much more using more realistic estimates.

            Cash for clunkers cost $3 billion, just to shift car sales forward a few months. The Public-Private Investment Partnership, despite cheap federal loans, generated 3% of the $1 trillion claimed, and toxic assets still hobble some financial institutions. The Dodd-Frank financial reform law institutionalized “too big to fail” amid greater concentration of banking assets and mortgages in Fannie and Freddie. The foreclosure relief program permanently modified only a small percentage of the four million mortgages the president promised. And even Mr. Obama now admits that the shovels weren’t ready in all those “shovel-ready” stimulus projects.

            Perpetually overpromising and underdelivering is not remotely good enough, not even for government work. No corporate CEO could survive such a clear history of failure. The economic records set on Mr. Obama’s watch really are historic (see nearby table). These include the first downgrade of sovereign U.S. debt in American history, and, relative to GDP, the highest federal spending in U.S. history save the peak years of World War II, plus the highest federal debt since just after World War II.

            The employment picture doesn’t look any better. The fraction of the population working is the lowest since 1983. Long-term unemployment is by far the highest since the Great Depression. Job growth during the first two years of recovery after a severe recession is the slowest in postwar history.

            Moreover, the home-ownership rate is the lowest since 1965 and foreclosures are at a post-Depression high. And perhaps most ominously, the share of Americans paying income taxes is the lowest in the modern era, while dependency on government is the highest in U.S. history.

            http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904583204576544712358583844.html

  • Tom Williams

    One of the missing “things” in American politics is any discussion of our role in the world except as this grandiose dominator of anything we want to dominate. AND we have built our economy on a budget whose central tenet is “we must be able to kill anyone anywhere whenever we choose”. Consider the irony of two candidates who often wear their faith on their sleeves – faith we’re told in Jesus as Christ – but who never question the idea that power emanates from the barrel of a gun and not from relationships built on trust and mutual respect. In FY2013 this country plans to spend 6 to 10 times on “defense” what it spends on food stamps and we still see hungry and homeless people in our streets. Somehow we as faith filled people need to begin to challenge that idea and ask how can we begin to transition this economy from one built on planning for destruction and death to one which truly seeks justice and peace. As a disabled combat veteran of the Vietnam war, I unfortunately have seen up close and personal that war doesn’t work except to kill people. The challenge of faith is a challenge to question our leaders and seek answers from them on how to find a way out of the quagmire in which the Pentagon has become a jobs program and any other government spending is evil.

    • Tim Suttle

      Thanks for your comment, Tom. That is certainly a challenge.

    • John R Huff Jr

      Thanks Tom. You said just what I wanted to say. Instead of having Strength through Peace, the war mongers want peace through strenth. It doesn’t work and it never will.

      • John R Huff Jr

        Strength.

  • John R Huff Jr

    Splendid analysis. I hope to read many more just like this. You have a good head on you Tim. If there is anyone here who disgrees with you, then they are just a waste of time on this forum. Romney was disrespectful of the President, the moderator, and the American women who have a right to control their own bodies. He is no presidential type. He is nothing more than a boss. I don’t recall any person in politics and government who has changed his views to the extent he has. He will say what is beneficial to him at the moment. Our country deserves much better than this. Obama’s two high points were on the Libyan terrorism issue when he looked that good for nothing Morman in the face and told him how offensive he was. And, best of all was his closing statement about the 47%. I cannot remember a worse candidate outside of W Bush.

    • Frank

      Ah yes the inclusivity of a democrat… “If there is anyone here who disgrees with you, then they are just a waste of time on this forum. ”

      Sadly John does not realize that you only say something like that when your position is weak and you are unable to put up an intelligent response. Thanks for confirming what we know already!

  • Toryshane

    You have one point I strongly agree with. The lack of talk on Drone Strikes. I am politically conservative and a strong supporter of the military. I believe that we must be strong enough to defend our way of life and sometimes that means going on the offensive. But in one area I part company with my fellow conservatives is the use of Drones. First of all Let me explain why I am against the use of Drone. War is hell. No truer words have ever been spoken but war is supposed to be hell. It should not be easy and the people who go to war should face it head on. Unless you can see the suffering of your enemy you can never really understand the value of your own cause. War then becomes a game. Drones remove the human element by transforming people, even enemies into target acquisitions and reference points on a grid. It also allows politicians to play both sides. Obama has used Drones exponentially higher than Bush ever did. He has assassinated, and I consider drone killings to be assassination just as I do a snipers bullet more people than any other sitting President, save for perhaps Lincoln and FDR. And yet he lauds his ending our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The reality is that he can end these wars only because as he removes troops, as he removes human beings he fills those vacancies with drones to continue to kill without him having to call himself a war president. When lives are at stake, our lives, enemy lives and the lives of people who get in the middle a President MUST take a stand one way or the other.

    This alone makes Obama far to untrustworthy to be my President. And I would have liked to hear Romney’s thoughts on what he would do.

    • Frank

      It’s hard to accept the alternative to drone strikes; putting our young men and woman at risk to accomplish the same thing.


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