Mehdi's Morning Memo: Barack's Back

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** US Presidential Debate Edition ** Barack's Back ** Benghazi Blooper ** Blame The Ref! ** What's With The 'Binders Full Of Women', Mitt? ** Zinger Of The Night ** Duncan Smith Versus The Disabled ** 'Some British Citizens Are More Equal Than Others' ** 'Royal Cover-Up' ** Hypocrisy Be Thy Name ** From EBacc To 'ABacc' ** For-Profit Schools? **

BARACK'S BACK

So how much Red Bull did the president of the United States drink on his way to the second presidential debate in New York last night?

CBS, Google and PPP 'snap' polls gave the debate to Obama. CNN's "scientific poll" of registered voters an hour after the debate found the president won the debate, 46% to 39%. 73% of voters thought Obama did "better" than expected - compared to 37% for Romney. But is this enough to change the momentum of the race? And, from Team Obama's perspective, will it undo the damage done to their candidate by Romney's strong performance in the first presidential debate?

My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Tuesday’s debate was far more combative than the pair’s first encounter, with the two men prowling the stage keen to interrupt each other, reflecting the importance both attached to their performances.

Criticized by Democrats for failing to go after Romney when the Republican said things they thought were not accurate in the first debate, Obama frequently challenged his claims.

"What Governor Romney just said just isn't true,” the president said when responding to one Romney attack on the economy. “Not true,” Obama repeated at several points during the debate."

Two weeks ago, after the first debate in Denver, I noted in the Morning Memo how Obama had been "slow, subdued, listless and hesitant". Last night, however, Obama was a changed man: feisty, passionate, engaged and in command. The president came prepared; he was determined, in the words of Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell "not to get alpha-rolled by Mitt".

He tried hard to come across as friendly and personable (a former aide told New York magazine that Obama "really doesn't like people") and, at times, managed to crack some jokes [see Zinger Of The Night below].

With a quarter of an hour still to go, a confident Bill Burton, head of Obama's own SuperPac, tweeted:

"Feels good to win a debate, doesn't it? #exhale"

Obama's supporters in the media and the blogosphere were delighted: the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof tweeted:

"Wow! Who's this feisty guy wearing the Obama mask?"

Markos Moulitsas, of Daily Kos fame, tweeted:

"Obama's split screen look is perfect. No more nodding at Romney's answers while looking down at his notes."

Meanwhile, some liberal commentators also queued up to heap praise on...Bill Clinton, who has been campaigning hard for his successor-but-one in recent weeks. The Atlantic's Steve Clemons tweeted: "Wow. Obama now using human stories, Lily Ledbetter and talking directly to lady in audience. Good job. Wonder if Bill Clinton called in."

For New York magazine's Frank Rich, Obama's improved performance was "the difference between Clinton as a debate coach and Kerry". (If you want a good, long read, btw, on the Obama-Clinton relationship, check out John Heilemann's excellent new essay in New York magazine.)

The highlight of the debate - aside from the Benghazi blooper from Mitt [see below] - was when Obama invoked his opponent's controversial, behind-closed-doors comments about 'the 47%'. For almost 90 minutes, some of us were wondering aloud on Twitter as to when Obama would get round to slamming this Romney 'gaffe' - which he curiously omitted to mention in the first debate - and whether he had run out of time to so. But, with minutes to go, and in answer to the final question from the audience, Obama said:

"[W]hen [Governor Romney] said behind closed doors that 47% of the country considered themselves victims, who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about... Folks on Social Security who have worked all their lives. Veterans who have sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country's dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas tax, but don't make enough income."
Boom! Romney had no time to respond...the debate was over...

For me, Newsweek's Andrew Romano summed up the night in a single tweet:

"Bottom line: Obama looked like Obama again. Romney looked like Romney again. That's a win for Obama. Is it enough to reverse the polls?"

BENGHAZI BLOOPER

The worst moment for Mitt, however, came over Libya. Republican supporters of the former governor were left scratching their heads as to how their man could possibly have lost an exchange with the president over the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi (and the Obama administration's subsequent record of mixed messages) - and how Romney ended up being humiliatingly corrected by the moderator in front of millions of Americans:.

From the Huff Post's Rebecca Shapiro:

"Presidential debate moderator Candy Crowley corrected a testy Mitt Romney after the Republican presidential candidate charged that President Obama failed to call the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi an "act of terror."


More than an hour into the debate, an undecided voter in the town hall forum asked the president about the recent attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three additional Americans.


When Romney responded to the question, Romney charged that it took Obama days to call the Benghazi attack an act of terror. This assertion was incorrect. Obama called the incident an "act of terror" during his remarks on September 12, just one day after the tragedy.


Obama interjected, telling the Republican presidential candidate to "get the transcript" of his remarks. When the governor doubled down on his charge, Crowley corrected him, saying the president "'did in fact' call the attack an act of terror.

"Can you say that a little louder?" Obama asked.

The succinct live factcheck left quite the impression. Twitter exploded with messages praising the CNN host."

Speaking after the debate, Crowley's CNN colleague John King observed: "Candy factchecked him in front of the American people." You can watch the full exchange on Libya/Benghazi here.

BLAME THE REF!

I thought Candy Crowley, the first female to moderate a presidential debate for 20 years, delivered a rather brilliant performance last night - especially compared to the weak and ineffectual Jim Lehrer, who tried and failed to moderate the first debate in Denver. She was clever, incisive, factual and stood up to the two candidates' - in particular, Romney's - attempts to try and bully her and secure more time for themselves and their talking points.

Mitt didn't seem to happy with the CNN presenter - and Republicans took to Twitter to express their displeasure. Mike Schrimpf, comms director of the Republican Governors' Association, tweeted:

"Candy tries to save Obama"

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin tweeted:

"Romney hammering Obama on pipeline again. Candy Crowley tries to throw O a lifeline."

Conservative blogger John Nolte tweeted:

"Crowley is the one losing this debate. She's been absolutely disgraceful and biased from choice of questions to time."

Bad losers, anyone?

WHAT'S WITH THE 'BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN', MITT?

Mitt Romney last night, trying to stress to an audience member that he went out of his way to recruit women to his team while governor of Massachusetts, said:

"We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said: "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women."

Mitt Romney: 'I Had Binders Full Of Women'

Eh? As the Guardian's Emma Keller writes: "Binders full of women" became #bindersfullofwomen on Twitter, a Tumblr page and a Facebook page which within half an hour had over 20,000 likes. By the end of the debate that had risen to almost 70,000. Why did the phrase resonate? Because it was tone deaf, condescending and out of touch with the actual economic issues that women are so bothered about. The phrase objectified and dehumanized women. It played right into the perception that so many women have feared about a Romney administration – that a president Romney would be sexist and set women back."

Film-maker Michael Moore tweeted:

"On Nov 6th, Mitt Romney will find out just how many Binders of Women there are. #waronwomen #notenoughwhiteguystowin"

FALSE ADVERTISING

So what happened? We were promised a town-hall debate that would be split 50:50 between domestic and foreign affairs. In the end, the Yanks in the audience lived up to 'they don't have passports' stereotype and refused to show any real interest in the outside world - across the 90 minutes, we were treated to a single 'foreign' question, on the Benghazi consulate attack, which became, as I noted above, a question about the handling of the attack and the Obama administration (not the Libya war or the future of the Arab Spring).

Let's hope the next (and final!) debate, on Monday 22nd October, which is supposed to be devoted entirely to foreign affairs, will allow us to hear what the candidates have to say about the ongoing war in Afghanistan; the growing Iranian nuclear crisis; the future of the Israel-Palestine conflict; Obama's drone war in Pakistan; the 'threat' to the US from China (and Russia!); climate change; soft power; etc. Sadly, I suspect we'll see there isn't that big a gap between the two men...

ZINGER OF THE NIGHT

"My pension isn't as big as yours," a smiling Obama told Romney, when challenged by the Republican candidate on how often he checks his "portfolio". "So, I don't check it as often." The town-hall audience laughed. Loudly. Oh Mittens...

FACTOID OF THE NIGHT

According to CNN's on-screen 'speaker clock', Obama spoke for about four minutes longer than Romney during the debate.

DO DEBATES MATTER?

Before I move on to UK political stuff, let me re-post this extract from a Reuters analysis piece that I originally posted after the first debate:

"...debates rarely have much of an impact.

Opinion polls have shifted by an average of less than 1 percent in the wake of the 16 presidential debates that have taken place since 1988, according to research by Tom Holbrook, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. The biggest shift came in 2004, when Democratic challenger John Kerry gained 2.3 percent points on Republican President George W. Bush. Bush won the election.

People who have made up their minds to vote against Romney won't change their minds no matter how presidential he looks in debates, said Popkin, author of 'The Candidate: What it Takes to Win - And Hold - the White House.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a dog hiding in the shower, out of shame and guilt, after chewing through a bedsheet. It's all part of the new craze for 'dog-shaming', it seems...

DUNCAN-SMITH VERSUS THE DISABLED

From the Independent:

"Up to half a million disabled people and their families will be worse off if Iain Duncan Smith's flagship proposals for a universal credit for benefit claimants go ahead, according to an inquiry led by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

Cuts to child disability payments and to support for the most severely disabled are likely to result in people struggling to pay for essentials such as food and heating, says the report which is backed by The Children's Society, Citizens Advice and Disability Rights UK.

Many disabled people who are already finding it difficult to make ends meet face further hardship under the new benefit system, it adds.

The report warns that up to 230,000 severely disabled people who do not have another adult to assist them will get between £28 and £58 less in support every week. It also reveals that 100,000 disabled children stand to lose up to £28 a week, while 116,000 disabled people who work risk losing up to £40 per week from payments towards additional costs of being disabled."

A spokesman for the DWP accused accused the inquiry of producing a "highly selective" report which "could result in irresponsible scaremongering". Let's see how far that line gets IDS and co...

"SOME BRITISH CITIZENS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS"

The Guardian, the Independent and, of course, the Daily Mail all splash on Gary McKinnon, the British computer hacker whose controversial extradition to the United States was halted yesterday by the home secretary Theresa May on the grounds that he is "seriously ill" and a suicide risk.

Despite being criticised by the US authorities, all of the papers, almost without exception, welcome the decision on McKinnon and lavish praise on May. "A great day for Gary - and British justice," says the Mail front-page headline. However, as my colleague Dina Rickman reports:

"The Home Office has been accused of double standards after blocking the extradition of Gary McKinnon, who has Asperger's, just two weeks after allowing the extradition of another British citizen with the same condition.


... [Babar] Ahmad and [Talha] Ahsan were extradited to America two weeks ago to face terror charges, after spending a combined 14 years detained without trial in the British justice system.


... Ahsan's brother, London-based art curator Hamja Ahsan, told The Huffington Post UK it seemed 'starkly unfair' his brother was now in solitary confinement in a correction facility where as Gary McKinnon is still in the UK.


... In a statement Babar Ahmad's family said they welcomed Theresa May halting computer hacker Gary McKinnon's extradition but questioned whether 'some British citizens are more equal than others.'"

Indeed. And a special mention must go to Green MP Caroline Lucas for raising the issue with Theresa May in the Commons yesterday; Labour's Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, refused to do so.

'ROYAL COVER-UP'

My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"The government has been accused of orchestrating a "royal cover-up" after it vetoed the publication of letters sent to ministers by Prince Charles.

Last month an appeals court overruled a decision by the Information Commissioner to block a Freedom of Information request submitted by The Guardian.

Granting the appeal, the court said it was in the public interest to discover if and how the unelected prince was attempting to influence government policy.

But on Tuesday Attorney General Dominic Grieve decided to veto the publication of the letters, arguing it could damage Prince Charles' 'ability to perform his duties when he becomes King' if they were made public."

What on earth is in these letters? And what's he got to hide?

The Charles story, by the way, is the splash on the front of the Telegraph.

HYPOCRISY BE THY NAME

From the BBC website:

"The UK government has been accused of inconsistency in its dealings with other countries over human rights.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee compared the boycott of the Euro 2012 football championships in Ukraine over human rights, with ministers not taking any action over the Bahrain Grand Prix.

It said Bahrain should be on a list of 'countries of concern' after the "brutal" suppression of protests."

FROM EBACC TO 'ABACC'

Having announced his decision to scrap GCSEs and replace them with the EBacc, education secretary Michael Gove now has A-levels in his crosshairs. The Times splashes:

"Now Gove rewrites the rules on A levels: Baccalaureate with final exams replace modules"

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS?

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports:

"The private sector should be asked to take over the running of chronically failing academies, James O'Shaughnessy, the former director of policy at No 10, proposes in his first piece of major research since quitting Downing Street .

... O'Shaughnessy's proposal to introduce profit-making academy chains is bound to be controversial as Gove, until recently, has opposed any question of profit making in schools. O'Shaughnessy writes: 'It is absurd, as well as counter-productive, to prevent for purely ideological reasons successful school improvement businesses from turning around these schools which have proved resistant to other interventions.'"

The Lib Dems, of course, have explicitly ruled out the possibility of Gove's free schools being allowed to become for-profit enterprises.

Over to you, Nick...

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"Government does not create jobs...government does not create jobs..."
- Mitt Romney speaking in last night's debate, in which he also claimed to have a 5-point-plan to create... wait for it... 12 million jobs.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

A new ComRes poll shows 54% of voters believe the government is "cutting public spending too much and too quickly". Ed Balls will be over the moon...

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@markos This format not good for Romney. He has trouble interacting with carbon-based life forms.

@BorowitzReport: For Republicans who loved the first debate, this must be like watching Ghostbusters 2. #debate

@aterkel Too many women on Twitter. Get back in your binders! #debates

900 WORDS OR MORE

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, castigates the UK government's 'war on drugs': "We are dealing with the darkest of bourgeois taboos. Of all the things on which the world has declared "war" in modern times, self-harming substances must be the daftest."

Alastair Campbell in The Times: "140 reasons why politicians are out of touch. They may not control the message, but MPs can still meet voters on the digital doorstep."

Writing in The Guardian, Alex Salmond says: "Voting yes will create a new Scotland, Independence will allow a proud country to take its seat at the top table, and on its own terms."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Chris Wimpress (chris.wimpress@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @chriswimpress, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol