Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Benghazi still the story after second Debate

The first Presidential Debate was widely viewed as a severe trouncing of the President by Mitt Romney. How much of an effect that trouncing had on the race and polling numbers is open to discussion, but certainly Romney benefited from such a clear victory. Just as certainly, the Administration's muddled response to the attacks in Libya have hurt Obama's campaign. Indeed, the largely pointless VP Debate left us with one takeaway: Biden's fumbling on Benghazi.

Last night, the Second Presidential Debate featured a far more confident and aggressive President Obama, though Romney held his own, as well. But in a format more favorable to the President, insofar as he continues to be more personable than Romney, Obama has been declared the victor by most observers, with some suggesting it was more of a tie. No doubt, Obama's poor performance in the first debate helped in this regard: comparatively, Obama looked so much better while Romney looked the same. But let's take it the way the typical biased pundit saw it: a win for the President.
Ultimately, though, Obama managed the delicate balance of keeping his rhetorical fist in Romney’s face — challenging his evasions and contradictions and falsehoods — without coming across as overly aggressive, desperate, eager to make up lost ground, or unpresidential. As Taegan Goddard rightly notes, this provoked Romney, pushing him into a testy mode where he tried to roll over the moderator, which didn’t go too well. 
This race will still be the dead heat tomorrow that it was yesterday, but Obama made big strides towards turning things around tonight.
A fine bit of panegyricizing that, from Greg Sargent at WaPo. But he's wrong, as are all of the other pundits who offered similar views. Indeed, so are all of the ones who saw the debate as a tie. Because there was--as in the Biden-Ryan debate--exactly one takeaway from last night: Benghazi is still a problem for Obama. It's not going away and may actually be growing (evidenced by Hillary Clinton's decision to take the heat for the situation).

From the debate:
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 act of terror. 
Obama: Get the transcript. 
Crowley: It -- it -- it -- he did in fact, sir. So let me -- let me call it an act of terror... 
Obama: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? 
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 about that.
The idea that Obama referred to the assassination of Chris Stevens as an "act of terror" comes from a misreading of the President's Rose Garden speech on the day after the attacks, wherein he said:
Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourned with the families who were lost on that day. I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi. 
As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe. 
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.
One could postulate from the above that Obama is allowing that the attack on the consulate was an "act of terror," but he doesn't actually say that. He talks about "acts of terror" in general after bringing up 9-11. In fact, he specifically calls it a "terrible act," not an "act of terror." Some might say this is unfair, that the President clearly implied what he failed to say. But in that same speech, he also said:
The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack. We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.  
Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.
Thus, the attack on the consulate is a "brutal act." Moreover, it is such because its an excessive response to something (a YouTube video) that denigrated the "religious beliefs of others." Obama can't have it both ways. Obviously, on the day after the attacks, Obama was intent on blaming this YouTube video as the cause. That intent was borne out by subsequent interviews and speeches from Administration surrogates in the following weeks, even though--as is now well-documented--it was known within 24 hours that the Benghazi attack was entirely unrelated to the video, that there were no protests of any sort outside of the consulate, that Chris Stevens was targeted and assassinated in a pre-planned, coordinated assault.

Nonetheless, the moderator of the debate last night--Candy Crowley--saw fit to "correct" Romney. And the immediate response to this from the left? Applause. Now? Crowley has been forced to walk back her declaration, allowing that Romney was "right in the main" on the issue. Pundits on the right are having a field day with all of this, as they now get to keep on the Benghazi issue and point to bias on the part of the moderator in the debate.

But the Benghazi issue should remain in the forefront, because it is no small thing, the assassination of a U.S. Ambassador by al Qaeda-linked terrorists. The Administration's attempt to minimize this--as a means of maintaining a phony narrative about its policies in the Middle East--remains a serious problem for Obama and his reelection bid; last night proved that he won't be able to spin this away, even as he double-downed on Clinton and also assumed responsibility for the attacks and lack of security. Because he's a month too late. The time for honesty was in the days after the attack, not now when such honesty looks like a transparent attempt to stop the bleeding in the polls.

So who really won the debate? Romney did. Because the fallout from last night is making Obama look worse, not better. Benghazi isn't going away. And the longer it's on the front page, the more impact it will have on the election. All to Obama's detriment.

Cheers, all.


  1. I am just curious, do the same people who defend Obama now, aknowledge that Biden was basically lying at the beginning of the week? This is a far more clear case of "you can't have it both ways". Either the intel community briefed Obama and VP and said that there were protests and Stevens died as a result, or it didn't, the pres knew it was an act of terror, said so the next day, and Biden was lying through his teeth during the VP debate.

  2. Obama is the most sophisticated consumer of intel in the history of the world, Dm. He knows more than the people on the ground...