I've prepared by watching Cupcake Wars and some not-very-inspiring Yankees baseball. I've made slow-cooker beef bourgignon, brussels sprouts with bacon and aleppo pepper, and homestyle egg noodles. And I've got the television on MSNBC. Ready to go as soon as you are, Mr. President . . .
9:03 pm The president looks fresh and positively giddy at the prospect of debating Mitt Romney.
9:03 pm College student asks Mitt Romney what he can do to reassure him that he'll have a job when he graduates. Romney cuts straight to the harrowing anecdotes about students who have too many student loans. Romney says that we have to do two things: make it more affordable to go to college, and make sure jobs are available when they get out. Somewhat lacking details on how we do that, however. "I know what it takes to create good jobs again." That's great, governor--how about enlightening the rest of us?
9:06 pm Obama says Jeremy, your future is bright, and we need to create jobs. First thing he'll do is build up manufacturing jobs. Apparently thinks that Jeremy went to college to get a job on an assembly line. Then rambles about improving the education system and green jobs. I understand that these are important talking points for the administration, but they have nothing to do with the kid's question.
9:11 pm Obama goes on the attack, says that all Romney wants to do is cut taxes for the rich. He's doing what he should have done in the first debate--but to do so, he's mostly ignoring the questions.
9:13 pm Asked about higher gas prices, the president waxes lyrical about green jobs, while saying he's increased fossil fuel production. Technically true, but administration has not been a supporter of expanded fossil fuel production or transportation. I happen to think that this is a good thing, but think it's fairly clear that Obama, like his energy secretary, thinks gasoline prices should be higher; wish he'd admit that. Closes with nationalistic warnings about Germany and China. If we're not careful, they'll steal all the green jobs!
9:15 pm Mitt Romney claims that he will be "Mr Coal, Mr. Oil, Mr. Gas". Probably true, but for whom outside of West Virginia is this a selling point? Waxes lyrical about a future of energy independence that is about as likely as the president's magical recession-curing green jobs.
9:17 pm President has started simply calling Mitt Romney a liar, claiming that oil production is up on federal lands. I have no idea who is right, but I can't wait to see the fact check on this. Right now, they both look like jerks.
9:20 pm Romney retreats to where his argument is hardest to rebut: gas prices are up, and the administration did block a major pipeline.
9:21 pm President says that prices were low when he took office because of the recession and gets in a big zinger: "We might go back to those prices if we elect him because we'll have another recession!" Funny line, but in fact, gas prices were about a dollar a gallon lower in October of 2007; it's not just the recession that has made the comparison invidious.
9:30ish pm Romney and the President engage in an incredibly dispiriting contest to see who can cut taxes more for the middle class. The words "budget deficit" are not mentioned. Deficit hawks begin looking longingly at the scotch.
9:35 pm Romney brings up the deficit, launching the first heavy counterattack of the night.
9:36 pm Romney should stop talking over the moderator. It makes him look like a jerk, especially, though I hate to say it, because the moderator is a woman.
9:40 pm Asked about fair pay for women, Obama obviously touts the Lily Ledbetter act. Romney launches into an anecdote about trying to find women to be part of his administration in Massachusetts--risky choice, but maybe effective. My understanding is that Romney actually has sought to advance women executives--Orit Gadiesh, who succeeded him at Bain Consulting, was one of the first women to hold such a position. He then veers to a broader discussion of the economy, which has been, to paraphrase, "bad for women and other living things".
9:44 pm Obama rebuts with rambling discussion of contraception mandates.
9:45 pm Undecided voter says she blames most of America's woes on Bush; how is Romney different? Core question that Romney should be answering.
9:46 pm Random aside about contraception. This debate is turning into an incredibly tedious battle over timekeeping. I'm sure both sides think it makes them look strong and in charge. Personally, it makes them seem annoying and petty.
9:47 pm Romney is doing a good job separating himself from Bush: energy independence instead of foreign wars, closing the deficit instead of growing it, and the standard hand-on-heart reference to small business. These goals range from a stretch to impossible, and many were actually shared by George Bush, but at least it sketches a clear division.
9:49 pm Obama says that centerpiece of Romney's economic plan is tax cuts, which sounds curiously familiar, doesn't it? Then veers into shameful display of economic nationalism, criticizing Romney for investing money in companies that outsourced. Free traders get up and fetch the bottle of scotch so that they can at least caress the neck.
9:54 pm When Obama runs over time, Candy Crowley is considerably more reticent about reining him in than she is with Mitt Romney. May be because he's done it less often, but suspect it's the majesty of his office.
9:56 pm Obama is strongest when he is criticizing Mitt Romney on taxes. Mitt Romney is strongest when he's pointing out that the economy sucks. Neither of which is news.
9:59 pm Asked about immigration Romney makes the nice version of the GOP case. Starts by saying that we are a nation of immigrants, then says that people who are here illegally can't get amnesty because they've taken the place in line of legal immigrants; speaks enthusiastically about educated immigrants; says he wants a pathway to legal status for the children of legal immigrants. That's moderately surprising and suspect that this was a pretty effective answer.
10:01 pm We are a nation of immigrants, the president agrees. First bipartisan moment of the night. Also offers sensible-sounding answer, saying that we should focus on going after the illegal immigrants who actually engage in illegal behavior. Cites falling illegal immigration, causing Ramesh Ponnuru to tweet "Obama: Flat economy explained low gas prices at start of term, but low illegal immigration flow is all about my great policies, not economy." But suspect that this is also pretty effective, though both he and Romney have also foreclosed some voters who feel very strongly.
10:04 pm Mitt Romney is quibbling with every single thing that Obama says. I'm not sure it works; makes him look petty and sucks up time. He's now running almost a full answer behind as he tries to rebut the last attack.
10:07 pm The difficulty of running against a challenger is that he doesn't have a record to run against. Obama has chosen to deal with this problem by simply declaring that Romney's plans are not what Romney says they are, and that instead the president knows what they are. Maybe it's working, but it sounds profoundly silly. It's fair enough in cases like his tax plan, where the numbers don't really add up, but when Romney calls him out for selectively quoting something Romney says, Obama responds by essentially claiming that he can see into Romney's secret heart, and this is what he really thinks.
10:14 pm The adminsitration has apparently decided that having Hilary Clinton take the fall over Libya will make him look weaselly and unmanly. President is now trying to take responsibility without anyone actually thinking worse of him for it. Now getting very indignant, calling it offensive for Romney to suggest that they attributed the Benghazi attack to a spontaneous reaction to the Mohammed video for political reasons. Offensive, perhaps, but also, the most likely explanation to most people.
10:16 pm Absolutely epic fail when Romney tries to get Obama "on the record" saying that he called the Benghazi attack a terror attack the day after in the Rose Garden . . . which turns out to be true. Romney's larger point stands--the administration spent a long time denying that it was a planned terrorist attack--but by getting too aggressive, he made himself rather than the president look like a jerk.
Update: Not exactly true, it turns out. The references to terror were vague and ambiguous, not clearly about Benghazi. Crowley should not have intervened to say it was true; I assume she was working off of a not-quite-full memory of the speech.
10:20 pm Asked about assault weapons, Mitt Romney correctly points out that automatic weapons (which is what most people in the media incorrectly seem to think assault weapons means) are already illegal. Says we need to enforce the gun laws we already have. Then says we need to cure the "culture of violence". Seems like something that's going to be hard to do from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
10:28 pm This is the assault weapons ban that our candidates spent precious moments of their lives, and ours, debating. Actual effect of its expiry: not much that was detectable.
10:29 pm Romney claims that ObamaCare has unquestionably caused a lot of businesses to refuse to hire people. I don't know how he could possibly know whether that was true.
10:30 pm After spending quite a lot of time bashing Romney for promising to combine a rate reduction and simplification for rich people, Obama seems to suggest doing same thing for corporate tax.
10:32 pm Asked how he'd convince companies to bring manufacturing jobs for companies like Apple back to America, Romney says we can compete with anyone if we're on a level playing field; says Chinese are cheating by manipulating currency, stealing IP. It's true that Chinese manipulate currency and steal IP, but hardly true that Americans would get jobs assembling iPhones if they didn't do those things. Maybe Vietnamese.
10:34 pm Obama says that some jobs won't come back--the low skilled ones (true!) Claims that he knows how to create high skilled jobs (false!). If Obama knew how American companies could create cost-effective high-skilled well paying jobs while making a profit, he'd be a billionaire.
10:36 pm Asked a question to humanize him, Romney passes up opportunity in favor of incorrectly claiming, once again, that his business experience will magically enable him to create jobs. President answers same question by rambling, then saying that he wants to fight for you.
Closing take: didn't change much. President has staunched the bleeding, but didn't blow anything away. Liberals will loudly proclaim that he won, trying to work the day after story. Conservatives will do the same for their guy. The dumbest moments of these debates is when they just stand their calling each other liars--and yet these are the moments that their base is most interested in.
For the rest of us, there's always that bottle of scotch.