October 17 2012

Mud Wrestling at Hofstra

Charlotte Hays

Here’s my takeaway from last night’s debate: Isn’t it really time to do away with that hopelessly obsolete, quasi-official body known as the Commission on Presidential Debates?

Surely, there is a better way to put on these debates. In fact, we already know a better way: the raucous debates during the GOP primary were more enlightening. Since they were put on by different organizations, they didn’t all feature MSM moderators.

Mitt Romney had some fine moments last night—did you see the president’s face when Romney was describing his abysmal record?—and came across as a man who could plausibly be president. But did he ever flub some openings!

Romney supporters should hope that their candidate gets a Libya tutorial before the final debate. No, Mitt, the issue is not what the president said the day after but the false story his administration peddled for weeks on end, including at the United Nations. Romney's mention of the president’s Las Vegas fundraising trip the day after four Americans, including our ambassador, were killed in Libya, was a score.

President Obama was awful on Libya. How could he not be? It's a no win situation for him. When the president blathered on about how our diplomats around the world personally represent him, Barack Obama, I thought he was getting in touch with his inner Louis XIV (“L’etat c’est moi”). Hey, I thought our diplomats represented our country--you know, like all of us? The GOP should be able to make use of the president’s overweening vanity last night.

Let’s face it—pandering to women is second nature to Democrats. Carrie and Emily have already written good posts about how this played last night. It’s hard to explain why the Lilly Ledbetter Act doesn’t really help women in a debate format. Ditto the so-called wage gap, a debunked but enduringly popular talking point for Democrats.

Romney’s pitch for a thriving economy as the best thing for women was good, but he nevertheless missed several golden opportunities. Why on earth didn’t he mention that, for all the rhetoric, women in the Obama White House are paid 15 per cent less than men? Sure, it’s a cheap shot, but it does show that the president’s shop isn’t adhering to the same standards he wants to impose on the Safeway.

On the “issue” of contraception, Romney refuted the notion that Republicans care one way or other about contraception. I thought he should have mentioned that the issue arises because the Obama administration is trying to force religious organizations to violate their consciences. I would have liked Romney taken the fight to Obama by calling contraception a phony issue concocted by the Obama campaign. But maybe Romney did what he needed to do.

If Democrats are good at pandering to women, Republicans aren’t. Romney was right to stress that he tried hire women for top jobs when he was governor of Massachusetts (but did he have to make it look so hard to find qualified women?). But he went on too much about this and ended up employing the "binders of women" locution. It is funny and maybe the Obama campaign can get some mileage out of it, but I can’t imagine Mr. Nasty (formerly Mr. Likeability) stemmed the desertion of women voters. Most women realize that our problem is a lousy economy, not discrimination.

Speaking of women, how about that Candy Crowley?  It was so obvious that she was throwing President Obama a lifeline that there is no need to belabor the point. But she didn’t do her guy a favor: Libya will be talked about more, not less, because of Crowley’s intervention. (On top of which, she now admits that she got it wrong.)

John Podhoretz says that Crowley’s journalistic malpractice will live on in the annals of journalism. But why was Crowley—a woman who said that putting Paul Ryan on the GOP ticket was a death wish!—moderating the debate in the first place?

Crowley and the members of the Commission on Presidential debates live in a Washington world that has largely passed into history. In this world, which lingers on in the mainstream media and organizations such as the Commission on Presidential Debates,people like Candy Crowley and veep moderator Martha Raddatz (and Jim Lehrer, before he blew it by allowing a fair debate) are regarded revered. But a variety of debates during the GOP primary, put on by a variety of entities (including MSM organizations), served the public better that last night’s. As long as the commission is in charge, the debates will be moderated by people such as Ms. Crowley.

One other thing: the most recent member appointed to the Commission on Presidential Debates is Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame.  Mike McCurry, one of the co-chairs of the commission, and a former Clinton White House spokesman, told me in an interview for a story that Jenkins was tapped because of what he has said on the subject of civility. Love to ask Father Jenkins how he thinks the candidates—especially Vice President Biden—are shaping up so far on that score.

For all the drama, last night’s debate will probably turn out to have been a draw. Michael Barone writes today that last night’s debate was “like one of those Civil War battles—I’m not enough of a Civil War buff to say which one—in which both armies battered each other but neither came out a clear victor and the war went on.”

 

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