Down at the Town Hall

Political debates are scored subjectively, of course, and those predisposed to thinking that Barack Obama won Tuesday’s contest will likely go right ahead and think so. He didn’t convince us that his presidency hasn’t been disastrous, however, and we doubt that he won over many other skeptics.

Despite the significant advantages of a “town hall” format and a moderator clearly eager to help his cause, Obama probably also failed to convince many voters that Republican rival Mitt Romney is a lying, woman-hating, tax-cheating, Big Bird-killing plutocrat eager to wage war on the poor and downtrodden. Although Romney missed a few opportunities along the way, he came across as knowledgeable, competent, and very much a human being.

Romney also seemed classy yet down-to-earth as he endured the quadrennial inanities of the “town hall” “debate.” The questioners at these events almost invariably want to know about something of personal importance rather than national significance, which gives an edge to Democrats ever willing to oblige an individual at the taxpayers’ expense, and these purportedly undecided voters often turn out to be partisans hoping to embarrass the Republican. This time around a woman asked about women, which seemed intended to help Obama regain an apparently lost advantage with female voters, but it only gave Romney an opportunity to point out that a lousy economy is harmful to both sexes while Obama was reduced to touting a little-known Lilly Ledbetter bill that will affect a relative handful of women while discouraging many employers from hiring anyone of either sex. Another woman seemed to be demanding proof that Romney is not George W. Bush, and although we were disappointed he passed up the chance to produce his birth certificate he otherwise handled the question well without blasting his fellow Republican, while Obama was unable to offer a compelling theory that Romney is in fact Bush.

The best efforts of the moderator also failed to do Obama much good, although one of her frequent interjections was widely blamed by many conservative pundits blamed for one of the most disappointing moments of the night. During the inevitable discussion of the murders of four Americans at the embassy in Libya on Sept. 11, an issue that has been severely damaging to the president’s campaign, Obama insisted that he had described the event as terrorism from the outset, and when Romney disagreed the moderator flatly insisted that the president was right. A glance at the transcript of the president’s Rose Garden address in the immediate aftermath does include one oblique reference to terror toward the end of his brief remarks, but the coming days of news coverage should force even the most biased reporters to concede that the president did nonetheless spend weeks telling a now-discredited story that the murders were the result of a spontaneous demonstration provoked by a little-known film. Indeed, within minutes of the debate even the moderator was admitting she had been essentially incorrect.

There’s no telling how the rest of the world viewed the debate, but we were heartened to note that a couple of focus groups gathered by news outlets shared our impression. One of the focus had been chosen by the left-wing loonies at MSNBC, so that’s a good indicator that Romney did well enough.

— Bud Norman