Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Obama needed decisive win, didn't get it

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
October 18, 2012 -- Updated 1009 GMT (1809 HKT)
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
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT