Some Ethics-related conclusions on Wednesday’s second Presidential debate:
Were the candidates uncivil?
I didn’t think so. There were a lot of Twitter comments about Gov. Romney being disrespectful to the President. The deference due to the President of the United States isn’t an issue when debates hew to the formal, detached format of the past. In those debates, the tone of the exchanges are so muted that the two candidates could be in different time zones. Once a different tone is set, with either candidate directly challenging statements while the other candidate is speaking, that tradition has fled, as it did last night. The challenger to a sitting President can hardly be told that he needs to be deferential in a debate; that is the equivalent of asking him to fight with one hand tied behind his back. I thought that both candidates were within the bounds of civility under the circumstances. It was certainly not the civility that I complimented in the second debate—it was a heated, sometimes rancorous argument, but it was the argument of two passionate, forceful, serious public servants, and it served the public well. Neither candidate displayed the contemptuous, rude attitude that Joe Biden adopted in the Vice-Presidential debate. Biden crossed the civility line, but the President and his challenger did not.
Was the moderator biased?
I have a bias toward Candy Crowley, and maybe that’s why I prefer not to think so. I think the format happened to work against Romney at least twice, when he was prevented from answering a direct accusation because the President had spoken last; that’s not Crowley’s fault, not should she be faulted for trying to enforce the rules. A lot has been made of the fact that Obama got more time from Crowley, three minutes, apparently, over the course of an hour and a half.. I didn’t notice. It wasn’t intentional, I’m sure, and it didn’t make any difference that I could see. Many conservative commentators said that her attitude and tone toward the candidates showed a pro-Obama bias: I didn’t see it. I think that’s confirmation bias: conservatives were convinced Crowley would be biased when she was chosen. I did think Crowley’s choice of questions was less than optimal. The Bush question was inappropriate and slanted against the Republican, and the “72%” question, as I noted, made my head explode.
Crowley is a rarity: a female journalist who has risen high in her profession without ever looking good in a bathing suit. The penchant of news networks for choosing sex appeal over ability for their on-air talent is an industry disgrace of long-standing, and Crowley is to be admired: a survivor, a professional, and one of the very few of her gender who can honestly say that good genes and Pilates played no part in her success. This was an opportunity that she earned by superior work, and I believe she was trying to be fair.
What about Crowley’s “lifeline” to Obama during the Benghazi exchange?
If you missed it, this occurred during the argument about the Obama Administration’s failure to add security at the Libyan embassy, and the nearly two weeks in which the President, Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice insisted that the deaths of our ambassador and other embassy personnel resulted from a spontaneous uprising over the YouTube trailer for an anti-Islam film. “There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist attack,” Romney said, suggesting a deliberate cover-up (which it may well have been; otherwise it was incompetence). Obama countered that he had said it was an “act of terror” in his speech in the White House Rose Garden. This was a deceitful response by the President that Romney allowed by picking up the President’s wording: Romney meant “an act of terrorism,” which spontaneous violence over a video would not be, but a planned Al Qida attack was. Obama and his staff spent two weeks deliberately saying it was not a planned terrorist attack, and continued to blame the video. Still, in his speech in the wake of the attack, Obama had 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. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”
As Romney and Obama were arguing about this, Crowley interrupted and this exchange occurred:
CROWLEY: He – 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 there
being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct
ROMNEY: This – the administration – the administration
indicated this was a reaction to a video and was a spontaneous
CROWLEY: It did.
Many commentators are furious with Crowley for this, and regarded it, as one pundit wrote, Crowley “jumping out of the stands and tackling Romney as he was about to score a touchdown.” They also regard it as proof positive of Crowley’s bias, and that the desperate media is willing to do anything to save their anointed leader, Obama.
Again, maybe I’m giving Crowley too much credit, but I think it was her Jim Joyce moment, a bad mistake, but an honest mistake. Later, she tried to clarify her reasoning and said that Romney was essentially correct but used the wrong words. Crowley’s intervention looked bad; it did trip up Romney and gave Obama assistance he didn’t deserve, and was perceived as vindicating the President, which it did not. If Obama knew it was an act of terrorism, why did he tell the United Nation days later that the attack was a spontaneous riot over a video? Romney, of course, could have regained some of the momentum Crowley took away by saying that: he didn’t.
I think Crowley was genuinely trying to end what she saw as bickering over words. Ann Althouse has pointed out that in doing this, Crowley explicitly violated the pledge that was part of her contract as moderator:
“The moderator will not… intervene in the debate except to acknowledge the questioners from the audience or enforce the time limits, and invite candidate comments during the 2 minute response period.”
Yes, but let’s be fair: this was a donnybrook like no other Presidential debate, and certainly no previous “town meeting” format. Crowley had to do something to keep order. She just chose a bad time to do it in this case. She had a very difficult job, and had to make instant decisions in an environment that she couldn’t have prepared for and that no other moderator faced. She didn’t tackle Romney. She just blew it. I feel badly for her: Crowley finally got her big shot, and what will be remembered is her mistake.
And the audience?
“Undecided”? I doubt it. The applause that greeted the Benghazi exchange was telling as well as inappropriate. CNN admitted that most of those in the audience had voted for Obama in 2008.
UPDATE: It appears that when the audience broke the rules of the debate by applauding, the applause was started by…Michelle Obama. Not cool, not fair, and not right. But it’s her husband. I’m willing to forgive her.
The Most Irritating Misrepresentation Award
I have to give this to the President for making my head explode a second time (I had just screwed on a new one after the 72% blast) when he once again falsely described the Arizona Immigration law as he has before:
“Part of the Arizona law said that law enforcement officers could stop folks because they suspected maybe they looked like they might be undocumented workers and check their papers. You know what? If my daughter or yours looks to somebody like they’re not a citizen, I don’t want – I don’t want to empower somebody like that.”
The law doesn’t and never has justified stopping individuals based on looks. The President knows this, and I have to presume, since he has used this description of the Arizona law more than once and for more than two years, that he is intentionally misrepresenting it to alarm Hispanic American citizens.
But nobody can say that President Obama is divisive…