The stage in Tuesday’s debate, a town hall moderated by Candy Crowley (CNN, State of the Union) in Hempstead, NY, could have been set up like a boxing ring, because both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney came out swinging…verbally. Roused from his near somnambulant state in the previous debate, President Obama sparred with spirit — and at one point, during a foreign policy question, he went from professorial to parental, complete with pointing finger. Governor Romney’s legs scissored stiffly about the stage, making him appear like a robotic comedian in dire need of his joints lubricated (deja vu: Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 town hall).
At one point, during an exchange regarding energy issues, Romney walked up to Obama, planted himself directly before the president, and repeatedly demanded that the president admit that he had “cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.” After a back and forth exchange, Obama finally said, “Here’s what happened. You had a whole bunch of oil companies who had leases on public lands that they weren’t using. So what we said was, you can’t just sit on this for 10, 20, 30 years, decide when you want to drill, when you want to produce, when it’s most profitable for you. These are public lands. So if you want to drill on public lands, you use it or you lose it.” Of course, this didn’t completely shut Romney up. Ah, if only we could have fact-checkers sitting next to the moderator, all busy fingers over their iPads. Some of what Romney charged is sorta-kinda correct, but most of it is skewed:
There has been more oil and natural production on private lands than in federally controlled areas. So Romney is correct in pointing out an imbalance.
But it is an overstatement to say that “all of the increase” has been on private lands — since, by definition, new permits and licenses have been granted for federal lands (bringing in more gas and oil).
Romney’s claim that Obama’s administration has “cut the number of permits and licenses in half” for federal lands is also not on the mark.
True, there has been a significant drop — one tied, in part, to the unprecedented Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Yet the actual numbers of permits and licenses haven’t been “cut … in half.” As mentioned above (and including data from part of the Bush administration), there has been a 42% decrease in leases and 37% decrease in drilling permits — not 50%, as Romney implied.
Even the Institute for Energy Research acknowledged that “this decrease isn’t a result of President Obama’s policies exclusively, but it is the result of decades and policies that have systematically reduced energy production on federal lands.”
Ah, the entertaining gaffes did not disappoint. Romney, attempting to score points with female voters, explained how he’d wanted more women in his cabinet when he served as governor of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, this statement caused “binders of women” to trend hilariously on Twitter:
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.
It also didn’t help when Romney implied that single mothers were largely responsible for the proliferation of gun violence. That may not have been what he meant exactly, but that is how his statement was perceived.
The highlight of the evening came towards the end with Mitt Romney, all sturm und drang, accusing President Obama of not taking the killings in Benghazi, Libya seriously. Luckily, Candy Crowley was ready with a little fact-checking of her own. Needless to say, this information put a bit of a damper on Mitt Romney’s momentum.
ROMNEY: But I find more troubling than this that on — on the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador — the first time that’s happened since 1979 — when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn’t know what happened, that the president the day after that happened flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, another political event, I think these — these actions taken by a president and a leader have symbolic significance, and perhaps even material significance, in that you’d hoped that during that time we could call in the people who were actually eyewitnesses. We’ve read their accounts now about what happened. It was very clear this was not a demonstration. This was an attack by terrorists.
Which in turn ended with Candy Crowley, fact-checking in real time, what actually happened the day after the attacks, and President Obama giving Governor Romney a cup of comeuppance and a side order of scolding:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But she works for me. I’m the president. And I’m always responsible. And that’s why nobody is more interested in finding out exactly what happened than I did (sic). The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror. And I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime. And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.
And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.
MS. CROWLEY: Governor, if you want to reply just quickly to this, please.
MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I — I certainly do. I certainly do. I — I think it’s interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.
MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
MR. ROMNEY: I — I — I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.
MS. CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir.
So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism — (inaudible) —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)
MS. CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
No doubt this exchange will continue next Monday in Boca Raton when the two candidates will discuss foreign policy, Bob Schieffer of CBS moderating. Oy.
It was a relief to see President Obama back to his usual parry and thrust debate style. Lee Papa, The Rude Pundit tweeted it best last night, “Apparently, the pod person who took Obama’s place last debate has been sent back to the freezer.” Still, on the economy, I’d hoped the president would have mentioned how Congressional GOPers blocked passage of the American Jobs Act (a plan that many economiists strongly approved of) and massively watered down the stimulus (which most economists said didn’t go far enough), all to ensure that Barack Obama would be a one-term president. But I guess Obama didn’t want to sound like a whiner. One bright spot, though: Romney didn’t invoke Solyndra…probably because he was afraid President Obama would reply with Sensata.