Americans disheartened by President Obama's sluggish performance in the first presidential debate had good reason Tuesday to cheer his rousing defense of his record, and his targeted critiques of Mitt Romney's implausible prescriptions for a different path.
Their debate already is being touted as the most intensive and pugilistic presidential debate in decades. While that may be accurate, Obama clearly seemed the more informed, rational and calm adult on the stage. Romney's latest round of hectoring attempts to talk over the debate moderator and the president seemed, by contrast, offensive in the extreme. Polls show Romney already suffers a substantial empathy gap with voters: his performance Tuesday surely will reinforce that.
Obama assertively delivered cogent facts about his record, the significant progress his administration has made in leading the nation out of the depths of the deepest recession in 80 years, and the work that remains to be done. Since he took office amid a fiscal catastrophe in which 700,000 to 800,000 jobs were being shed every month in the trough -- 8.8 million in all -- Obama's administration has effectively chartered a course that has produced 31 months of consecutive job gains, and more than 5 million private sector jobs overall.
His rescue of the auto industry -- which he reminded viewers that Romney opposed -- has helped lead the recovery. Obama also led the passage of a vital health care reform law that, when fully implemented in 14 months, will be a godsend to American families in need of affordable, secure, comprehensive health care. Indeed, all Americans -- not just the 47 percent who Romney has caustically dismissed as spiteful moochers because they don't earn enough to pay federal income taxes -- will benefit from the full range of health care reforms.
Romney again emphasized his weird position that Obamacare -- though modeled on the plan Romney instituted as governor in Massachusetts -- was not good for the U.S., and he promised again to repeal it. Romney also kept repeating that Obama hasn't yet closed the job gap, and that his own formula for rebuilding the job and tax-revenue base would be superior. Yet he failed, again, to show how the math adds up for deficit reduction relative to his own proposed $5 trillion in tax cuts (most of which would go to the nation's super-rich), his additional $2 trillion for the Pentagon and his $1 trillion retention of the Bush cuts for the richest two percent over the next decade.
Obama accurately called Romney's proposals "a sketchy deal," one that mainly benefits the wealthy, like Romney, who pay a tax rate of just 14 percent. Romney's snide response -- that he had run businesses and knew how to balance a budget -- airily glossed how he and his venture capital company, Bain, had effectively raided corporations, sucked out their assets, saddled them with debt, shipped their jobs and Bain's profits overseas, and bankrupted and sold the shell companies that remained.
Obama didn't have to go there; Bain's record and its off-shoring of vast amounts of money and jobs are now widely documented.
When Romney attacked Obama's failure to pass a promised immigration reform, Obama turned the tables again. He noted that Congressional Republicans refuse to consider immigration reform, and that Romney had opposed reform in the GOP primaries. He also pointed out that Romney has endorsed the rigid, deeply controversial Arizona law -- pushed by Romney's campaign manager -- which has become the Republican model for other anti-immigration state governments.
On virtually every question -- Medicare and Romney's voucher plan, women's rights and wage inequity, education, and Romney's politicizing of the attack on the Libya consulate -- Obama came out ahead. With the presidential race tightening to a thin line of undecided voters, Obama clearly earned improved support for his presidency.