Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Obama needed decisive win, didn't get it

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
updated 6:09 AM EDT, Thu October 18, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands following the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on Tuesday, October 16, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/03/politics/gallery/first-presidential-debate/index.html'>See the best photos of the first presidential debate.</a> Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands following the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on Tuesday, October 16, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley. See the best photos of the first presidential debate.
HIDE CAPTION
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
14 debate 1016
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: Denver debate was a game changer; Long Island one wasn't
  • He says the president needed to score a convincing win but fell short of that
  • Bennett: Obama was more energetic, but Romney showed he's a credible alternative

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- If the first presidential debate in Denver was a game changer,Tuesday night's was not. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a spirited, heavyweight bout with several consequential moments.

President Obama entered the second presidential debate needing to make up serious ground after his first debate performance. He turned around the narrative from the first debate -- that he was listless and lethargic and on the defensive -- but showing up is one thing, winning is another. Obama needed a convincing win Tuesday night, and he did not get it.

Gov. Romney came into Tuesday night's debate needing to prove that his first performance wasn't a fluke -- in other words, that he wasn't Jimmy Carter in the Reagan-Carter debates, when Carter won early on but went on to get dominated by a Reagan comeback. Tuesday night Romney delivered again and proved his performance was consistent and legitimate. He has established himself as a legitimate alternative to the president.

William Bennett
William Bennett

Romney was relaxed and not intimidated by Obama's newfound aggressiveness. He was responsive and flexible. He went toe to toe early on, challenging the president directly over the production of oil on government land and winning on the facts.

Reality check: Oil production

One of the highlights of Romney's night was when he spoke directly to the African-American man who voted for Obama in 2008, but wondered whether the next four years would be any different if Obama were re-elected. In an encyclopedic fashion, Romney gave a litany of Obama's failed promises and failed record. Romney was at his best when he told the voters in the room to look at the president's record and policies, rather than listening to his rhetoric, and then proceeded to explain the impact of the Obama policies and what he would do differently.

'Binders of women' buzzing on Facebook
The debate: Taxes, jobs, misperceptions
Crowley: I wanted to 'move this along'
Reaction from the middle class

In what may be one of the more important political moments of the debate, Romney was asked how he would be different from George W. Bush. Romney effectively distanced himself from Bush on policy specifics, noting he would control deficit spending and champion small business, not just big business. It was an important moment to convince many undecided voters that he is not Bush 2.0.

From the first whistle, Obama was stronger, more forceful, and more aggressive, no doubt to the delight of his supporters. If Obama landed punches it was because he threw a lot of them -- mainly on Romney's private equity career and tax returns. But too often his attacks seemed rehearsed and scripted.

Romney's empty 'binders full of women'

Furthermore, Obama spent more time attacking Romney than focusing on his own vision for the future. Obama didn't lay out a new, bold, or different plan for a second term dealing with the debt or entitlements. Romney was looking to the future; Obama was trying to remind the country of the Bush years and tie Romney to Bush.

If there was a key takeaway from the debate indicative of the race going forward, it may be the heated exchange over Libya and the president's handling of the attack on our ambassador. The president was directly asked about the security in Benghazi and who declined the requests for more security in Libya. Obama didn't answer the question. Romney could have called him on it and missed a big opportunity.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Then there was the most controversial moment of the night, when moderator Candy Crowley intervened to insert that Obama did in fact call the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens "terror" attacks in his Rose Garden speech the next day.

Obama actually said, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for." There will be much parsing and spinning of these words, but Romney shouldn't have let Crowley interrupt him and assert her own interpretation.

Fact check: Obama's statement on "acts of terror"

For two weeks after the president's Rose Garden speech, Obama and his administration peddled the explanation of a spontaneous protest sparked by a YouTube video, before they finally called the Benghazi attack what it really was -- a terrorist attack. Romney should have emphasized this mishandling. He may have missed this moment, but he will have another chance during next week's foreign policy debate.

Until now, the momentum of this race has been about impressions and appearance -- Romney's aggressiveness and forcefulness in the first debate versus Obama's listlessness and lethargy. In Tuesday night's debate, Obama gets points for showing up, but that's hardly something for the Democrats to be proud of. The impression Romney made in the first debate he reaffirmed Tuesday night, meaning that Obama has still has ground to make up going into the final debate next week.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William Bennett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:12 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
updated 5:24 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
updated 7:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
updated 7:50 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
updated 4:31 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT