By James Fallows
I didn't watch in laboratory isolation as I did the first time but with background commentary via The Twitter (via a VPN to get around the Great Firewall).
• Obama was as strong and "on" tonight as he was weak and flat the first time.
• In debate #1, Romney illustrated one of the main points about his debate performance: how good he can be when prepared. In debate #2, he illustrated the other: that he can be rattled, off-message, and error-prone when caught in a surprise move. As witness this:
• The Obama team had clearly thought about one long-term tic in Mitt Romney's debate demeanor: His apparently uncontrollable vulnerability to being flustered if he thinks the "rules" are not being enforced. "I'm speaking ... it's my turn." Thus pictures like this, with Romney in a "teacher! teacher!" mode. This is the counterpart to the iconic picture of the first debate, which was Obama looking downcast and downward with a scowl.
• To spell it out, I agree with my Atlantic colleagues Ta-Nehisi Coates and also Robert Wright on the general flow of this one, and I disagree with our National Journal colleague Ron Fournier, who considered it a no-winner squabble that left everyone worse off. Certainly there were pitched disagreements — but to me they did not amount to squabbling but rather to the expression of actual differences in outlook, on issues from Libya to taxes. Unfortunately not on the automatic-weapons question, but that's for another day.
18 October 2012