"Okay, player."—The Expression on President Obama's Face.
Well, a certain president decided to show up to the debate last night. (Nice to see you again, sir!) And it was pretty awesome. The full debate transcript is available here.
With the usual caveats about there being no perfect candidate, and any candidate for the US presidency being more militaristic than with which I'll ever be remotely comfortable, I thought President Obama hit a lot of fine notes last night.
And Mitt Romney was an even bigger garbage disaster than usual.
Interestingly, the President's best two moments and Romney's worst two moments were around the same two issues: Libya and women.
After an audience member asked a question about the Sept. 11 attack in Libya, Obama stole Romney's promised thunder by holding himself accountable (a bit of integrity a Republican could never see coming): "When I say that we are going to find out exactly what happened, everybody will be held accountable, and I am ultimately responsible for what's taking place there, because these are my folks, and I'm the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home, you know that I mean what I say."
Romney was left with petulantly accusing the President and his administration of deliberately obfuscating what happened and went on a long rant about how the response to the Libya attack "calls into question the President's whole policy in the Middle East."
Moderator Candy Crowley then asked the President: "Does the buck stop with your Secretary of State as far as what went on here?" What happened next was an extraordinary moment.
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 do. 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.Mitt Romney: Offensive and Wrong. FOR AMERICA.
Candy Crowly: Governor, if you want to reply quickly to this please.
Mitt Romney: Yeah, I think it's interesting the President just said something which is that on the day after the attack he went to the Rose Garden and said this was an act of terror.
Obama: That's what I said.
Romney: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an attack of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration?
Obama: Please proceed.
Romney: Is that what you're saying?
Obama: Please proceed, Governor.
Romney: 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 attack of terror.
Obama: Get the transcript.
Crowley: He did, in fact, sir. Let me—he did call it an act of terror.
Obama: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? [applause]
Crowley: He did use the word. did call it an act of terror.
The other amazing (for Obama) and terrible (for Romney) moment came after an audience member asked about pay equality for women: "In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?"
President Obama was first to answer, and naturally, he spoke about passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act:
I was raised by a single mom who had to put herself through school while looking after two kids, and she worked hard every day and made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we got everything we needed.Then came Romney's unbelievable, and already meme-tastic, response:
My grandmother—she started off as a secretary in a bank. She never got a college education, even though she was smart as a whip, and she worked her way up to become a vice president of a local bank, but she hit the glass ceiling. She trained people who would end up becoming her bosses during the course of her career. She didn't complain. That's not what you did in that generation.
And this is one of the reasons why one of the first, the first bill I signed was something called the Lilly Ledbetter bill. It was named after an amazing woman who had been doing the same job as a man for years, found out she was getting paid less, and the Supreme Court said she couldn't bring suit because she should have found out about it earlier, where she had no way of finding out about it.
So we fixed that. And that's an example of the kind of advocacy we need because women are increasingly the bread winners in the family. This is not just a women's issue. This is a family issue; this is a middle class issue. And that's why we've got to fight for it.
It also means we have to make sure that young people like yourself are able to afford a college education. Earlier Governor Romney said he wants to make Pell Grants and other education accessible for young people. Well, the truth of the matter is, that's exactly what we've done. We've expanded Pell Grants for millions of people, including millions of young women across the country. We did it by taking $60 billion that was going to banks and lenders as middlemen for the student loan program and we said: Let's just cut out the middleman; let's give the money directly to students.
As a consequence, we have seen millions of young people be able to afford college, and that's going to make sure young women are going to be able to compete in the marketplace, but we have to enforce the laws, which is what we're doing, and we have to make sure that in every walk of life we do not tolerate discrimination. That's been one of the hallmarks of my administration. I'm going to continue to push on this issue for the next four years.
Crowley: Governor Romney, pay equity for women.Yiiiiiiiiiiikes.
Romney: Thank you, an important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet, and all of the applicants seemed to be men, and I went to my staff and I said how come all of the people for these jobs are all men? And they said these are the people who have the qualifications. And I said, gosh, can't we find some women that are also qualified? And so 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? They brought us whole binders full of women!
Now, as soon as I heard that, I knew it was bullshit.
Mitt Romney went to "women's groups" to recruit members of his cabinet? I smell bullshit.— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) October 17, 2012
And, sure enough, it is! David Bernstein:
What actually happened was that in 2002 — prior to the election, not even knowing yet whether it would be a Republican or Democratic administration — a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts formed MassGAP to address the problem of few women in senior leadership positions in state government. There were more than 40 organizations involved with the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus (also bipartisan) as the lead sponsor.What a shocker!
They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.
I have written about this before, in various contexts; tonight I've checked with several people directly involved in the MassGAP effort who confirm that this history as I've just presented it is correct — and that Romney's claim tonight, that he asked for such a study, is false.
After Romney had finished his truly absurd response, which included an observation about how women need flexible work schedules so they can better provide childcare and get themselves home to cook dinner on time (!), President Obama rebutted—and it's indicative of how profoundly any discussion of women's issues has been missing from this campaign that this answer, which was solid and necessary and great but hardly should be radical or unusual for a Democratic president, had me on the verge of tears with gratitude. That said, President Obama owned it.
Katherine, I want to point out that when Governor Romney's campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it, he said, "I'll get back to you." Now, that's not the kind of advocacy that women need, in any economy.BOOM.
There are some other issues that have a bearing on how women succeed in the workplace. For example: Their health care. A major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making. I think that's a mistake.
In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured, because this is not just a health issue—it's an economic issue for women. It makes a difference. This is money out of that family's pocket. Governor Romney not only opposed it; he suggested that, in fact, employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage. That's not the kind of advocacy that women need.
When Governor Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care—they rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That's a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country, and it makes a difference in terms of how well and effectively women are able to work.
When we talk about childcare, and the credits that we're providing, that makes a difference in terms of whether they can go out there and earn a living for their family. These are not just women's issues. These are family issues; these are economic issues.
And one of the things that makes us grow as an economy is when everybody participates and women are getting the same fair deal as men are—and I've got two daughters, and I want to make sure that they have the same opportunities that anybody's sons have. That's a part of what I'm fighting for as President of the United States.
More of this please, Mr. President!
In general, these were the best questions I've ever heard asked at a town-hall style debate. However, the diversity of the queriers left something to be desired, to put it politely.
Not a single Black woman asked a question tonight. Yet Black women had the highest turnout of any group in 08 election. That stings #debates— Charreah Jackson (@Charreah) October 17, 2012
As Iain observed, that isn't necessarily reflective of CNN being racist (although CNN is definitely racist), as much as reflective of how the fetishization of "undecided voters," of whom last night's debate audience was ostensibly comprised, disproportionately favors white people, especially white men. Given the cavernous difference on social justice issues between Democrats and Republicans, the more privileged one is, the less one is obliged to be personally invested in the most glaring disparities between the candidates. How many black women remain undecided at this point in the election?
People who don't have the luxury of not caring about, say, the defunding of Planned Parenthood aren't undecided voters.
Which is why the Presidential Debate Commission should jettison this garbage idea about the super-duper specialness of undecided voters to the exclusion of people who are personally invested.
And on that note, I'mma wrap this shit up. Discuss.