Who Won the Presidential Debate: Obama Won Town Hall Debate, as Romney Flip Flops On Contraceptives

For more than an hour and a half, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney answered questions from an audience of undecided voters, who peppered them on everything from gun control to last month’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The debate was held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, where the debate became very tense at times in this town hall meeting format, where the candidates were free to walk around the stage. At one point during a Romney response on energy policy, Obama interjected to correct the Republican nominee, and things became very tense, as the candidates walked toward each other in a quasi-heated confrontation. No doubt more imaginative viewers entertained the idea of the two candidates coming to blows at that point.

Romney was once again solid, at least rhetorically. He avoided substance and specifics at all costs, lest he actually let the vast majority of the American public in on the trickle down joke he plans to pull on them once in office. When asked by an audience member how he would create jobs, Romney simply reiterated his line that he has a five-point plan to create 12 million jobs. How? I’ll be damned if I heard anything close to an overview of just how that will be accomplished. In response, Obama said that Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan, but a one-point plan whereby the highest income earners play by a special set of rules and have their taxes cut. The president also hit Romney and House Republicans on their refusal to pass an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the bottom 98% of income earners but did not include the top 2% of earners, whose taxes Obama and the Democrats want to see back at the 38% level they were at during the Clinton administration.

Sadly, this debate expectedly involved a fair amount of bullshit, and as much as the first debate did, which is quite an achievement. Although it may not have seemed that way given that the candidates were interacting in a town hall-style setting, which gave their responses a certain whiff of sincere empathy with their inquisitors. But anyone who listened to what the candidates actually said, noticed an astounding lack of actual content in the debate responses. Romney especially was staggeringly full of shit throughout the entire debate.

One of the nuggets from this debate that might fly under the radar was Romney’s apparent 180 on the availability of contraceptives on employer health insurance plans. When defending his record on women’s issues against Obama’s attacks, Romney said,

“I’d just note that I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And -- and the -- and the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.

That is in stark contrast to what Romney's support of the ill-fated Blunt amendment earlier this year that would have allowed employers to refuse to furnish health insurance plans that provided contraception. The Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” requires that all employers provide health insurance packages that include contraception coverage (with some exceptions). Romney’s comments in this debate amount to yet another flip-flop for Romney, who has justifiably gained a reputation for being as sturdy as a weathervane.