The closest the second Presidential Debate came Tuesday night to discussing issues of discrimination was when a feisty President Barack Obama and less formidable former Gov. Mitt Romney were asked: “In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”
Though this was an opportunity to discuss the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) – a federal law that would rectify the fact that job discrimination based on sexual orientation is still legal in 29 states and in 34 states people can be fired based solely an employers interpretation of gender identity or expression. But the answers focused on equal pay for equal work – and yielded the Twitter meme of the night. (See the entire transcript here).
Obama talked about being raised by a single mother and a grandmother who hit a glass ceiling and trained her subsequent bosses in a bank, as well as signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act. “This is not just a women’s issue, this is a family issue, this is a middle-class issue, and that’s why we’ve got to fight for it,” Obama said. “[W]e’ve also got to make sure that in every walk of life we do not tolerate discrimination.”
Romney said it was an “important topic,” though in a quick fact-check on the spot, Obama pointed out that Romney’s campaign hasn’t taken a position on the Lilly Ledbetter bill. Romney referred to when he was putting his cabinet together as governor of Massachusetts and noticed that all the applicants were men:
And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are — are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?”
And — and so we — 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.
Twitter instantly blew up, Tumblr filled with parodies, a quick Facebook page got over 200,000 “Likes,” and American Bridge 21st Century, the super PAC started by openly gay Media Matters founder David Brock, quickly bought the URL www.bindersfullofwomen.com making “binders full of women” this debate’s Big Bird.
There were a number of other issues not discussed in the heated and contentious debate. Today, Oct. 17, the weather is expected to be 93 degrees in Los Angeles – but there was no discussion of global warming or climate change. But perhaps the key moment that revealed Romney’s lack of preparedness to be President of the United States was his response and attitude to the question of what happened at the Benghazi Consulate in Libya on Sept. 11 when an attack killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. Obama was seething. And once, again, Romney failed to comprehend that 3:00am national security phone call.
From Mike Allen’s PoliticoPlaybook:
OBAMA: “The day after the [Libya] attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror. … And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.” …
ROMNEY: “I think it’s interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror [?] It was not a spontaneous demonstration [?] … I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
OBAMA: “Get the transcript.”
CNN’S CANDY CROWLEY, the moderator: “[H]e did, in fact, sir.”
OBAMA: “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?” (Laughter, applause.)
CROWLEY: “He did call it an act of terror. … [I]t did, as well, take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.”
PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE: The point is arguable, but Romney botched the facts and Obama crushed him. In the Rose Garden the day after the attack, Obama said near the top: “[T]here is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.” In the days ahead, administration officials would portray the complex, sustained as a spontaneous reaction to an incendiary YouTube clip. Near the end of the Rose Garden statement, POTUS added: “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.” White House transcript http://1.usa.gov/QruohE
There will be much discussion in the coming days about how Obama won this debate and various pundits will point to specific issues as the key turning points for specific voting demographics. The Obama campaign was fact-checking throughout the night, noting, for instance, that “despite his claims tonight, Mitt Romney would put women’s health care decisions in the hands of their bosses.” The campaign noted that Romney not only supports defunding Planned Parenthood but supported proposed legislation by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would “allow any employer or insurance company to decline to cover any medical care for any moral or religious reason,” including coverage of contraception, which for most women is a health and an economic issue. And others will point to Romney’s curious suggestion that he might now support the DREAM Act, which during the Republican primaries he promised to veto. Romney said, “The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids, I think, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States and military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident.”
Obama’s closing remarks (watch HERE) will also be discussed – in which he said Romney is “a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims, who refused personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.”
But the measure of just how disgustingly divided this country has become is reflected in how Romney and Republican pundits immediately politicized the Sept. 11 tragedy in Libya. As commander-in-chief – as the President who answered that 3:00am phone call – Obama took responsibility for what happened, said the investigation would lead wherever the facts took them, and those responsible would be brought to justice.
Romney not only appeared to have no concept of “the fog of war” during which initial information is often incorrect – but he immediately blasted the administration. As this Bloomberg News report on Sept. 12 notes, an embassy official at the US consulate in Egypt issued a statement – not coordinated with Washington – “intended to ease tensions over an anti-Muslim film” that was released hours before protests erupted in Egypt and the attacks in Libya. Bloomberg reported on Sept. 12 that:
“Romney said in a statement issued late last night that the Obama administration’s ‘first response’ had been to ‘sympathize with those who waged the attacks,’ calling it ‘disgraceful.’…..
The campaign initially appeared to make an effort to avoid criticizing Obama’s team over the issue on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, issuing a critical statement just after 11 p.m. last night that was embargoed until after midnight on Sept. 12. An aide quickly lifted the embargo, and Romney ratcheted up his criticism today.
“It’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values,” Romney told reporters at a hastily arranged press conference held inside his Jacksonville campaign headquarters as supporters who’d gathered for a previously scheduled event looked on through windows. “Instead, when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation.”
Romney’s second round of remarks followed the confirmation that Stevens and three others were killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi amid protests in Libya and neighboring Egypt over a film about the Prophet Muhammad viewed as blasphemous by Muslims.
Romney, who said he mourned the loss of American life and was praying for the victims’ families, said the statement by the U.S. embassy in Cairo had been distributed “after their grounds had been breached.” A review of the statement’s release shows it was posted hours before the embassy walls were compromised.
“The embassy is the administration,” Romney said. “The statement that came from the administration was a statement that was akin to apology.”
Democrats were furious and some Republicans said Romney was injudicious. Romney “will find out that first reports from the battlefield are always incorrect,” said Richard Armitage, the former deputy Secretary of State under Republican President George W. Bush, told Bloomberg. “This should be his mantra, so he can speak in a deliberate manner, and not have to repent at his leisure later.”
But others doubled down. “Romney is right to bring home the weakness of the Obama administration, exemplified in the disgraceful statement issued” by the Egyptian embassy, wrote Weekly Standard columnist Bill Kristol in a what described as puff piece for the Romney campaign.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain piled on, too, calling President Obama “inept” and “ignorant” in initially claiming the anti-Muslim video caused the attack in Benghazi. From The Hill:
“It was either willful ignorance or dismal intelligence to think that people come to spontaneous demonstrations with heavy weapons, mortars, and the attack goes on for hours,” McCain said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
“To blame it on the video … shows the absolute ineptitude and ignorance of the realities,” McCain added. “It’s not the videos, it’s the radical Islamists [who] are pushing the videos.”
McCain said the White House was initially reluctant to label the attack a planned act of terrorism for fear of exposing the level of turmoil in the Middle East, a region he characterized as “unraveling” under Obama’s watch.
“It interferes with the depiction that the administration is trying to convey that Al Qaeda is on the wane [and] that everything’s fine in the Middle East,” said McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“This president doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism and he keeps telling people we’re leaving. Have you ever heard him say victory?”
During his visit to Los Angeles to help the congressional campaign of openly gay Mark Takano, I asked Rep. Barney Frank about Romney and the Republicans challenging the President of the United States right after a terrorist attack. Frank said:
“It blew up in their face. For the first time, the public sensibly understands that Obama is better on national security. He got out of Iraq. You know they say, ‘are you better off than you were four years ago?’ Well, let’s start with the fact that no one’s getting killed in Iraq right now. No Americans and no Iraqis and we’re saving a lot of money. That blew up in Romney’s face and McCain – it’s sad to see John – I think, detracting from the career he had by becoming an angry, bitter partisan.”
But where’s the patriotic outrage over Romney and the Republicans’ national security hypocrisy? Does anyone remember what happened to the Dixie Chicks? In 2003, on the eve of President George W. Bush’s pre-emptive attack on Iraq – based on hubris and manipulated bad intelligence – Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines told a London concert audience: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
That was it. The backlash by American conservatives included death threats and basically an end to their thriving career. Maines was forced to apologize – but three years and many deaths later, she recanted. “I don’t feel that way anymore,” she told Time magazine. “I don’t feel he is owed any respect whatsoever.”
But Mitt Romney? He not only undermined the president in a time of war and crisis – but doubled down during the debate, scowling and challenging Obama – only to be corrected in real time by the moderator. Why aren’t conservatives saying this is unpatriotic as they did for the Dixie Chicks simple insult?
More frightening is the prospect of a President Mitt Romney answering that 3:00am phone call and shooting first and getting correct information later. This ad is just as appropriate now: