If you enjoy long, abstract and poorly contextualized talking points about tax policy and health care costs, the first presidential debate was a blast.
However, for most progressives the debate held October 2 at the University of Denver was a dreary affair. President Barack Obama stood listless as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney remade himself as the candidate against tax cuts for the rich and for robust spending on Medicare. Romney also suddenly professed a desire for greater regulation of big banks. Be it causation or coincidence, Romney has subsequently enjoyed a surge in the polls.
The first debate, which solely focused on domestic policy, also existed in an alternate, anachronistic reality where issues such as climate change, immigration, reproductive rights, and gay rights simply did not exist.
Here is one look at what should happen at the town hall debate tonight at Hofstra University in New York – and what may actually happen.
* Romney the liar.
There has been much hand wringing among Obama supporters that the incumbent simply did not call Romney out as a liar. Apparently the campaign has caught on. They released a video today where former President Bill Clinton says, “In the debate, Governor Romney said that he really wasn’t going to cut taxes on upper income people he only wanted to cut taxes for middle class people. That’s not true.”
Clinton then coolly and crisply explains why it is not true. In other words, Clinton does what Obama probably needs to do in this debate – give a coherent explanation of how what Romney is saying now differs from what Romney has actually proposed.
* Foreign policy discussion
Obama has in many aspects run a more competent and internationally-admired version of the George W. Bush administration foreign policy. That has made it hard for Romney to get any traction on foreign affairs.
But the GOP campaign has been persistent as of late in blaming Obama for the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya who was killed in an attack in Benghazi last month. Perhaps this charge has stuck, because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday blamed herself for the killing, in the hope of deflecting criticism away from Obama.
Progressive points of view have arguably been drowned out even more on foreign policy than domestic policy. The escalation of drone warfare and the continuation of Bush “War on Terror” policies such as military tribunals and the operation of the Guantanamo Bay detainee camp go largely unmentioned by either campaign. Perhaps an undecided voter will do what the pundits largely have not and ask a question regarding counterterrorism policy in tonight's town hall meeting.
* Supreme Court Appointments
As Katha Pollit mentioned in The Nation, the word “women” was not mentioned once in the first debate, much less any discussion on issues of particular importance to women, such as reproductive rights and equal pay.
The New York Times noted in an editorial yesterday that with four U.S. Supreme Court Justices over the age of 70, abortion opponent Romney could appoint a Supreme Court justice that would overturn the 1972 Roe v. Wade decision, if elected president. Romney running mate Paul Ryan was pushed somewhat on this at the vice presidential debate Thursday. Will a questioner more directly ask Romney what his presidency would mean for reproductive rights?
* The Youth Vote
The number of people aged 18 to 29 who vote in the presidential election has been steadily increasing over the last few election cycles. However, a comprehensive Gallup survey from this summer showed that voter turnout among this age group will likely be down this year.
Neither candidate tailors their message to younger Americans, though Obama has touted his record on lowering the costs of student loans.
* The town hall format
Adam Serwer at Mother Jones has an entertaining look at past presidential town hall debates, concluding that, “In the town hall format, victory often depends on looking like you’re relating to the audience.” This would seem to favor Obama as Romney is often portrayed as being wooden to voters. But perhaps the nominee will reinvent himself yet again tonight as a man of the people.