Once again, Obama's record wins it for Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney couldn???t match his soaring first debate performance in a rematch with Barack Obama ??? but considering it was often a two-on-one, he didn???t do that poorly either.

And after taking a drubbing in the first presidential debate, a re-energized President Barack Obama vowed to bring passion to Hofstra University. He did. Feeling better in the more tranquil altitude of Long Island, the president deployed all his populist hits.

On style points it was close, but it???s unlikely anyone won by a wide enough margin to alter the fundamentals of the race. And as a CBS News snap poll found, 65 percent thought Romney would do a better job on the economy and only 34 percent believed Obama would ??? though the president scored a 37 to 30 overall win over Romney, with 33 percent believing it was a tie.

A big storyline for conservatives was moderator Candy Crowley, who injected herself into the mix to aid Obama. But a bigger story should be how she used a contrived Townhall setting to pick predominately slanted and loaded questions about the “evils” of guns, unfair pay practices and a mass imagined ???outsourcing??? of American jobs from our cast of allegedly undecided voters. Almost all questions played to Obama???s advantage, though few were especially relevant to this election.

Not that it was an excuse. Candidates should be prepared to answer any and all comers. And in the end, though Romney might have missed a chance to hit Obama on his Libya distortions, on the economy, even an invigorated Obama couldn???t overcome one nagging problem: His record. When it was time to defend four years of stagnation, Obama bent time and space and blamed Mitt Romney.

In turn, Romney???s most effective moment came when he laid out the administration’s unmet promises. ???What you???re seeing in this country is 23 million people struggling to find a job. The president???s policies have been exercised over the last four years and they haven???t put Americans back to work.??? Romney pointed out that growth had slowed year to year and the unemployment numbers looked better than reality as workers have fled the labor market ??? factors that voters might not understand when reading headlines.

Though most of the debate rehashed ongoing campaign arguments, there were some new nuggets of interest.

In a night of protectionist rhetoric from both candidates, the president accused Romney of supported tax breaks to companies that offshore jobs, explaining that ???If you invest overseas, you don???t have to pay U.S. taxes.??? Obama is apparently referring to a ???territorial tax system??? supported by the Simpson-Bowles Commission (and Romney) that allows companies to bring foreign-earned profits back to the country without taxation. This idea has pretty broad bipartisan support.

Obama — reminding everyone, early and often, how shockingly rich the GOP candidate is —  claimed that Romney, in a 60 Minutes interview, was asked, ???Is it fair for somebody like you, making $20 million a year, to pay a lower tax rate than a nurse or a bus driver, somebody making $50,000 year? And he said, “Yes, I think that’s fair.” Not only that, he said, “I think that’s what grows the economy.”

Crazy, right? Except, of course, Romney went on to argue that the income in question was double taxed (at 30 percent, or higher, the first time around) and keeping rates low on investment income encourages more investment and growth. If the debate would have focused on the tax code, rather then another round of vacuous class ???fairness??? talk, we might have learned something.

Romney also finally pointed out that, despite all the president’s talk, Obama was the one that took General Motors and Chrysler through bankruptcy.

Then there were two moments that (inadvertently) told us a lot Obama???s economic vision.

The first occurred when a college student named Jeremy asked for reassurances about his job prospects after graduating. Obama answered: ???Number one, I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again.??? Jeremy was probably somewhat stunned to find out that his $100,000 in student loans could only land him a job working the line at a factory making government subsidized electric cars. Hey, in these unselfish, planned economies, Jeremy, you take what you’re given.

And when the candidates were asked by one of those committed undecideds to dispel any myths about themselves, Obama used it to lay out one of the least convincing arguments of the night. ???I believe,??? he explained, ???that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known.

Yet, if a person had listened to the preceding hour (the preceding four years, actually), they would have learned that the free enterprise system wasn???t ???great??? enough for the health care insurance industry, retirement funds, auto and banking industries, housing markets, education, green energy, or basically any other area that his administration???s policies have touched on in four years. It would be interesting if someone ??? perhaps at the next Townhall debate ???would ask Obama to define what the free enterprise means to him.

Until then, though, the campaign trudges on.