My reactions to the second Romney-Obama presidential debate

Here are a smattering of my quick reactions, in no particular order:

  • Obama clearly did better than he did in the first debate (although the bar was not very high…). He had his talking points down and delivered more or less solid answers to the various questions. He fixed what was broken from the first debate. At one point I actually thought he was showing some backbone (during the Libya exchange)! And he did a better job of making the case for the accomplishments from the first term.
  • That being said, Romney didn’t have a bad night. He was generally strong, I thought. The only misstep was the Libya question… that got fact-checked in front of millions of Americans by the moderator. But on the whole I thought it was also a strong performance on his part.
  • The tax exchanges drive me crazy. Obama’s right that Romney’s numbers don’t add up,  but Romney is right if you take the assumptions of classical liberal economic theory. In theory, tax cuts stimulate the economy and thus it’s possible that a 20% tax cut across for the wealthy will result in them paying the same quantity of taxes, even if they’re paying at a lower rate. But that’s a very, very, very, VERY strong assumption that very likely may not actually happen. Both candidates understand that, but neither of them make it clear.
  • As a person who is very personally interested and invested in the immigration issue, I was glad to see the question brought up. I agree with Romney that Obama has been weak on the immigration issue. For immigrant rights advocates, Obama has been a major disappointment. (He’s even deported more immigrants in 3.5 years than Bush did in eight!) However, the criticism for Obama is that he has not done enough on the issue. Romney’s preferred policies would make the outlook much, much bleaker for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. 
  • During an interview last week I said that I thought that Romney wouldn’t bring up the religion issue unless asked specifically by a moderator. Shows what I know! He voluntarily brought it up himself. 
  • If either candidate says that they’ll “bring Democrats and Republicans” together or that they’ll be able to “bridge the partisan divide” or “cross the aisle” – do not believe them. Political science research shows fairly convincingly that polarization is caused by the public ideological and partisan self-sorting over the last fifty years. Until the public realigns, they’ll continue to elect polarized representatives to Congress who don’t feel like working together.
  • I’ll be very curious to see what the polling looks like 4-5 days from now. My educated guess is that perhaps Obama will get a 1-2% increase over the next few days because the Democratic leaners might jump back on board. But I could be totally wrong. We shall see.
  • My final verdict: Obama pulls out a small win. Very good show by both candidates, but Romney’s Libya answer and Obama having his head in the game this time give a slight Obama win. 

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