The heavyweight bout was already won Tuesday night when the president turned to his rival, looked at only him, and delivered a knockout blow:
“The suggestion that anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive . . . That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander-in-chief.”
Believe what you will about that, but when President Obama was done chastizing Mitt Romney about politicizing recent horrifying events in Libya, it was only Obama in the ring. Romney was left sprawling, dazed and drenched in bystanders’ beer in the second row.
The second presidential debate was about what it means to be a president, and for the loser, what it means to be a spectator.
It was odd that Romney would prosecute the line that Obama misread events early on in Benghazi and mispoke the next day — odd because it was Romney who embarrassed himself rushing to score political points to pronounce the president a sop to America’s enemies.
It continues to be bizarre that Romney follows the Limbaughesque “apologist” line against someone who oversaw the end of the war in Iraq, the killing of Osama bin Laden and cohorts galore, and who also helped facilitate the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi. The next debate is on foreign policy. Romney had better take another tack.
For now, score it a rhetorical comeback for Obama, paced by Vice President Biden's fiery performance Oct. 11. Unlike the first debate, the president showed up as a fighter, his opponent as a dancer.
In the vice presidential debate, Biden’s most devastating punch came after Paul Ryan talked about the crippling debt Washington has accumulated, you know, because of President Obama.
Biden shot back deftly and powerfully. As a senator, he had watched Ryan and fellow Republicans unblinkingly “put two wars on a credit card.”
Folks, if Romney-Ryan really thought the deficit was crippling, they would admit, as does the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, that new revenue has to be part of the solution. The budget approach Romney embraces is to cut taxes, cut domestic spending, increase defense spending, and hope for brighter days.
Meanwhile, how many opportunities do Romney-Ryan to be evasive and disingenous about the tax loopholes they say would close to make up for lost revenue from their tax cuts?
What is certain to happen with the tax cuts they advocate is that either the deficit would rise dramatically or Washington would be forced to slash such programs as student aid, Medicaid, housing and environmental protection.
But, of course, defense spending would go up.
We’ve heard all this before, from Reagan through Bush. The only time Washington actually balanced the budget was under Bill Clinton.
Clinton, by the way, raised taxes on America’s wealthiest. We were warned by Republicans at the time that doing so would lead to economic Armageddon. Um, not quite. Make it instead the first time in decades the United States actually bought back some of its debt. And the economy hummed.
George W. Bush became president with “surpluses as far as the eyes can see,” and left with a economy on life support, two wars and a debt accumulated with reckless disregard. Deficits, quoth Dick Cheney, didn’t matter.
What was Paul Ryan saying then? Where were those mavens of fiscal outrage, today’s tea partiers? Most likely they were holding devotions in Fox News’ amen corner.
Whether the issue is protecting America’s interests abroad or truly caring about its fiscal fate, the last two debates have revealed the GOP ticket to be less like fighters for what’s right and more like impostors in shiny shorts.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.