Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Second Debate: Town Hall

The Second Debate:
Town Hall

          Like all Catholics, I have my opinions on issues such as taxes, spending, jobs, etc.  But those are prudential issues that I don’t usually write about in my coverage of the election.  I focus primarily on issues of morality, or things that directly relate to Catholic teaching.  As a Catholic, watching the second Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, I found Obama disgusting, Romney disappointing; and the moderator was the worst I’ve ever seen.
First, the President.  Pundits had claimed before the debate that its main purpose was going to be courting women, whom the President had lost in droves since his first debate against Mr. Romney.  Apparently Mr. Obama thinks America’s women are idiots.  He brought up funding for Planned Parenthood a half-dozen times.  This is an issue the President should lose on, yet Romney let it go unchallenged every time.  (Perhaps he doesn’t think so highly of America’s women either.)  The President accused Mr. Romney of being “extreme on social policy” (though polls say the governor’s positions are actually mainstream in America), and went as far as to tout his evil HHS mandate, which robs religious freedom from Catholics and others, by forcing the Church to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs to employees through its health insurance plans.
The most disappointing part of Mr. Romney’s disappointing performance was that he let that issue go.  He could have buried Obama on the HHS mandate, but again he let the President off the hook. 
In the entire hour and a half, there was only brief mention of Libya, and Mr. Obama did surprisingly well on an issue for which he has no legitimate answer.  He, of course, gave no substantive answer, but appeared empathetic and even violently offended at the suggestion that anyone in his administration would “play politics or mislead” over the incident, even though Congressional hearings seem to suggest that may be exactly what happened.
Both men were confrontational, but like his vice president, only Obama actually interrupted his opponent.  Romney would have done better, perhaps, with more interruptions, considering how poorly the debate was moderated.
The moderator, Candy Crowley, is from the liberal network CNN, and has made statements that would probably lead people to believe she is an Obama partisan.  She certainly removed any doubt tonight.  I will not accuse her of any willful lack of integrity, but her bias (intended or not) was plain to see.  It really leads to serious questions about how these debates are moderated, and how better moderators can be guaranteed in the future.
She chose the questions and allowed such softballs for the President as one that essentially asked him to list his accomplishments.  Worse than that, she consistently let the President get the last word, and when Romney tried to get equal time, she told him, “That’s not the way it works.”  She promised Mr. Romney he could return to a topic if he wanted, but when he tried to, she interrupted him and told him to stay on another topic.  The President did not suffer the same mistreatment.  At one point she actually argued with a point Mr. Romney was making, drawing cheers from the crowd, calling into question whether it was really non-partisan.
One might argue that if I’m complaining about the moderator, it must mean “my guy” lost.  Well, in the first place, her terrible job needs to be critiqued to get a fair assessment of what happened tonight, and secondly, a strong argument can be made that my guy did lose.
What were the objectives of each side?  Romney had the chance to put the President away, which he clearly did not do.  Obama, by contrast, had to stop the bleeding, and maybe gain some momentum himself.  Obama’s energy and preparedness probably earned a draw on substance (though I disagree with the President’s policies – I’m trying to think like an undecided).  And, of course, the fawning media will hype his performance and downplay Romney’s so that the resulting narrative will separate itself a bit from what really happened.  This may provide the momentum. 
Most likely this debate will settle things where they are in the race at large – a dead heat.  There remains one more debate, and of course, events at home and abroad will continue to unfold over the next few weeks.  We can only hope that the final debate will allow the American people an unbiased presentation and that Mr. Romney will not miss the opportunities he missed tonight.