by Lakshmi Chaudhry and Sandip Roy
Some experts are calling it a tie, while snap polls anoint President Obama as the winner. But the more accurate reading of the second presidential debate is to say simply: Mitt Romney lost. Yes, Obama was "much improved" as one CNN pundit put it, but his re-energised avatar would have been less impressive without Romney's help.
The former governor of Massachusetts committed 5 key unforced errors that determined the outcome of the debate, each revealing a different and un-electable Mitt Romney.
The Billion Dollar Man
The question was on immigration policy, which has never been Romney's strong point given his history of flip-flopping. But Romney chose to resolve his conundrum by jumping straight out of the pot into a Chinese wok. Using his allotted time to rebut Obama's charges about his investments in China, he said, "Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust and I understand they do include investments outside of the United States, including Chinese companies."
Fair enough, but then he took that step too far. "Mr President have you looked at your pension?" Romney asked Obama, repeating the question as he walked right up to him: "Have you looked at your pension?"
The "pension" moment underlined Romney's tone-deaf, billionaire image. Only an out-of-touch candidate would justify his hugely profitable foreign investments by attacking someone's retirement savings. The very word "pension" evokes the image of a middle class retiree in Florida with a little nest egg saved up for the golden years. In one fell swoop, Romney conflated Obama with that little old lady in Fort Lauderdale — an unexpectedly generous gift.
Obama didn't even have to spell it out. He just shrugged and slid in the dagger, "I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours, so it doesn't take as long." Everyone laughed — one of the rare moments of audience reaction during the debate — because they know exactly what he's talking about.
So Romney dug himself deeper: "Let me give you some advice. Let me give you some advice: You also have investments in Chinese companies, you also have investments outside of the United States. You also have investments in a Cayman trust." He's probably right, but you don't win elections as a billionaire investor by implying that the vast majority of Americans are every bit as compromised because their $50,000 "pension" fund includes some Chinese stocks.
The Ladies Man
Sometimes it just comes out wrong. Mitt Romney didn’t mean to sound like he was running a modeling agency when he said he had “binders full women” but that little gaffe is going to be the meme of the night says The Guardian.
"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.
But it also revealed something Romney doesn’t want revealed — his patronising attitude towards women and he wasn’t even in the tricky terrain of reproductive rights. The question was about the workplace. Romney expressed his shock (!) that his staff only brought forward the resumes of men. “And I said, ‘Well, gosh, can't we — can't we find some — some women that are also qualified?’”
Then Mr Fix-it got to work.
“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.”
First off, what kind of staff does he surround himself with that they didn't have any women they could recommend off the bat? And are qualified women a sort of rare and endangered species that you have to go on a special safari to find them? Ultimately, his great claim to championing women in the workplace was that he let his chief of staff go home early so she could fix dinner for her kids. Nice for his chief of staff but equal pay for equal work is means your promotions and perks don’t have to depend on the kindly largesse of bosses like Mitt Romey. Equal pay for equal work is about policy. Romney offered a little dinner-table anecdote instead.
By the way, that claim about Romney as the great white knight rushing to the rescue of ignored women, that’s not exactly true either. A non-partisan group called MassGAP was responsible for that effort according to the Boston Phoenix.
Either way, unfortunately for Mitt Romney, for undecided women watching the debate, the question becomes: Do you want to be in Mitt’s binder?