A fight on our hands

Thu, Oct 18, 2012, 01:00

SECONDS OUT. Round two. And the champ has rejoined the fight, shaking off his round one lethargy and unwillingess to engage, now dancing around the ring, picking off the challenger with effective jabs. No killer blows in Hofstra University on Long Island. But a win on points, a turnaround. We’ve a fight on our hands again, with three weeks to go.

The second US presidential TV debate on Tuesday was a far better performance from Barack Obama, as post-debate polls recorded, one that will go some way to easing concerns in his jittery party. And, it appears, all without alarming swing voters who seem to have liked the more aggressive president.

No question this time of Obama waiting politely for Mitt Romney to finish comments before replying. The president scolded and rebuked his rival and accused him of lying. It was about character, and reminding voters of Romney’s policy vacillation on taxes, abortion, guns, healthcare, immigration .... Stand up the real Mitt. This time it was Obama on the front foot, Romney on the defensive.

Obama adverted repeatedly to Romney’s personal wealth and business record, particularly the fact he paid less of his income in tax than many middle-class Americans, the battle for whose hearts and minds was both candidates’ obsession. Romney countered, “I care about 100 per cent of the American people,” to deflect Obama’s jibe about his rival’s dismissal at a private meeting of 47 per cent of the electorate as victims who refuse personal responsibility. But he returned again and again to the challenges faced by small business and a middle class “crushed under the policies of a president who has not understood what it takes to get the economy working again.”

The attempt to paint the Obama presidency as one that has ballooned the national debt and the budget deficit, put millions on the dole, and bungled security for US diplomats in Libya, never quite rang true. Voters may disapprove of the president on all counts, but may also find it difficult to blame him. Not least because attempts to bring the debt/deficit under control have been so blatantly thwarted in Congress by Republicans.

As Peter Baker in the New York Times observed yesterday of Obama , “aides and friends have long said he is a clutch player on the basketball court, the kind who turns in listless performances during practice but raises his level when the game is on the line. The game was on the line Tuesday night.” To mix sporting metaphors.

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