Presidential Debate: Obama's Best Zingers

on October 17 2012 12:34 PM

Disengaged, indifferent, soporific -- you can choose your adjective to describe President Barack Obama's performance in the first presidential debate, but the undisputed consensus was that he did not show up.

Things were different in round two. A far more aggressive Obama came to New York's Hofstra University -- prepared to take the fight to Mitt Romney, and he did not back down. 

At times, that meant the president offered a more robust defense of his record. At times, it meant pointedly noting Romney's factual innacuracies. (“What Gov. Romney said just wasn’t true." "Governor, what you're saying isn’t true.") But it also involved some deft barbs that were likely a source of glee to Obama backers who lamented his flailing performance in the initial face-off. Here are some of the choice moments.

The Romney Recession. Energy policy, particularly as it relates to ballooning gas prices, played a big role in the proceedings. Contending that Obama's policies have led to the spike in prices, Romney charged that "the proof for whether a strategy is working or not is the price of what you’re paying at the pump" and noted that gas was less than two dollars a gallon when Obama took office.

The president pounced, noting that gas prices had plummeted because of a deep recession that came about "as a consequence of some of the same policies that Gov. Romney's now promoting."

"So, it's conceivable that Gov. Romney could bring down gas prices," Obama said. "Because with his policies, we might be back in that same mess."

Big Bird Returns. Romney's tax plan calls for an across-the-board rate cut of 20 percent, something the Republican nominee insists will be deficit-neutral. He says he would offset the decreased revenue by eliminating deductions and exemptions in a way that will not reduce the share of taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans.

But when pressed for details, Romney was unable to offer any. That seemed to bolster Obama's contention that Romney did not have specific plans for where he would find the promised savings, aside from his call in the first presidential debate to end a government subsidy to PBS.

“We haven’t heard any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood," Obama said.

Pension Tension. Obama made a risky move by invoking Romney's investment in a Chinese firm that produces surveillance equipment. While it's true that Romney has a stake in the company, it's part of a blind trust over which he has no control. But when Romney tried to confront the president on this fact, asking, "Have you looked at your pension?"

“I don't look at my pension," Obama retorted. "It’s not as big as yours, so it doesn’t take as long." 

Check the Transcript. There has been a lot of back-and-forth between the two campaigns about the Obama administration's response to the assault on American personnel in Benghazi, Libya. Romney has said that Obama misled the public by falsely characterizing the attack as a response to a video insulting the Prophet Muhammad; Obama has defended his changing description of the event as a reflection of more intelligence coming in.

Romney tried to nail the president on his incorrect response to the attack and his fundraising directly thereafter. Obama said that, the day after the attack, he referred to "an act of terror" in remarks at the White House Rose Garden. So Obama went to the official record.

"Get the transcript," Obama said.

"He did, in fact, sir," call it that, moderator Candy Crowley said.

"Can you say that a little louder, Candy?" Obama responded.

The 47 Percent. Romney gave the Obama campaign some artillery-level ammunition when he told donors, in private remarks that later leaked to the public, that 47 percent of Americans "are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

Obama did not mention that blunder in the first presidential debate, to the consternation of supporters. But he was ready this time around, and he saved his dig for his final statement, depriving Romney of a chance to respond. (It's useful to note here that Romney used a question about the greatest misperception about him to say that "I care about 100 percent of the American people.")

After calling Romney, a "good man," Obama went on to say, "I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.

Folks on Social Security who've worked all their lives. Veterans who've sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country's dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don't make enough income."

It was a long, thoroughly rehearsed response, and Obama deployed it effectively.

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