A Gloves Off, Feisty Dust-Up. Presidential Candidates Go Head to Head Over Policy and Facts

By Alice Dubenetsky

Unlike the first presidential debate on October 3rd, both candidates showed up on Tuesday night fully engaged and ready to argue their case. The debate was hosted by Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York and moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley. The Town Hall style format allowed audience members to ask pre-selected and approved questions, and each candidate had up to two minutes to respond, with a two -minute follow-up.

President Obama was prepared, and had obviously taken his debate prep seriously this time, so as not to repeat his weirdly disturbing performance during the first debate. The candidates were willing and eager to confront one another and at times the exchanges became quite spirited as each candidate stopped just short of calling the other a liar.

The first serious skirmish came early, over the issue of “saving” the auto industry. While answering a question about unemployment, Obama talked about his intentions to create manufacturing jobs, and couldn’t resist adding “When Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said we’re going to bet on American workers and the American auto industry, and it’s come surging back.”

When Romney had his chance to respond, he admitted that he did indeed say that he would have let Chrysler and GM go into bankruptcy. As a businessman Romney understands that bankruptcy often makes a company stronger when used as a vehicle to restructure contracts and debts. He then pointed out that Obama actually did take General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy. However, Romney lost a huge opportunity to point out how the Obama bankruptcy plan used billions of taxpayer dollars, illegally gave unsecured union creditors first position, leaving a paltry 29 cents on the dollar payout for secured private investors (who legally should have been paid first) and completely wiping out common–share stockholders in the process. Obama not only took the companies to bankruptcy, he also handsomely repaid his supporters, the United Auto Workers, in the process.

The two candidates had another serious dust-up over Obama’s energy policies, with Romney contending that the president’s policies have driven up the cost of energy. He pointed out that the price of gasoline has more than doubled since the president took office, and promised to fight to create more energy through oil, coal, offshore drilling and the pipeline from Canada. He has said in the past that his energy policy would include all sources, including renewable energy. Obama’s response, which has become almost knee-jerk in his administration, was to blame his predecessors for a poor economy. He went on to proclaim, “what I want to do is create an economy that is strong and at the same time produce energy.” The question is, when does he want to do this? Since he’s been in office, energy prices have risen steadily. In fact, it can be argued that this was his plan all along. As a candidate Obama famously stated that under his energy plan, prices would “necessarily skyrocket.” That’s one promise to the American people that he has kept.

In a question that is sure to come up at the next debate which will focus on foreign policy, the candidates were asked who denied requests for extra security for the embassy staff at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and why. Obama responded that “as soon as we found out that the Benghazi consulate was being overrun, I was on the phone with my national security team, and I gave them three instructions.” Romney failed to pounce on this inane statement, and missed an opportunity that the president handed to him. In a dangerously unstable country, why was security so lax at a consulate that had previously come under attack not once, but twice? Why were repeated pleas for beefed up security denied? Why did the president and his team wait until the consulate was “overrun” to react? Most importantly, Romney could have pointed out that if Obama had bothered to attend his daily Security Council meetings, he might have been aware of the situation.

It was, all in all, a very good debate, with candidates answering questions and challenging each other’s veracity from start to finish. Questions ranged from energy policy to taxes, women’s issues and immigration and gun rights.

In the aftermath, the winners and losers are, predictably, being declared along party lines, but it can be argued that the real winner is the American people, who had another chance to see these two men side by side, unscripted, without telepromters, and with the gloves off, as they vie for the most important job in the world.