Voters Guide

October 28, 2012

Wars of words, the zingers of the presidential debates

The late-summer nominating conventions will likely be remembered less for the yawn-inducing acceptance speeches and more for a tough-guy actor giving a chair a stern talking-to and a former president urging voters to do the math.

The late-summer nominating conventions will likely be remembered less for the yawn-inducing acceptance speeches and more for a tough-guy actor giving a chair a stern talking-to and a former president urging voters to do the math.

This fall’s debates, however, delivered spirited mano-a-mano jousting. Moderators came under attack nearly as much as the candidates, and the cacophony of the Twitterverse bellowed in real time with its characteristic snark.

In the first debate, Republican Mitt Romney came ready and raring, speaking with confidence and conviction. President Barack Obama, meantime, disappointed even his partisans with a performance that felt phoned-in.

Next came the junior varsity, with Republican Paul Ryan and incumbent Democrat Joe Biden sharing a table but little in their world views.

Obama bounced back in his second face-off with Romney.

The final, sit-down discussion of foreign affairs was a fitting end to the series — contentious, disregarding of yet another run-over moderator and an almost comical tendency of the candidates to swing questions back to their claims of job-making powers.

Here’s some of what they said:

Round One


“No question in my mind, if the president is re-elected you will see a middle-class squeeze. ... You will see chronic unemployment — 43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.”


“Does anybody out there think that the big problem we had is that there was too much oversight and regulation of Wall Street (before the 2008 financial crisis)? Because, if you do, then Gov. Romney is your candidate.”



Obama: “Does anybody think that ExxonMobil needs some extra money, when they are making money every time you go to the pump? Why wouldn’t we want to eliminate that? Why wouldn’t we eliminate tax cuts for corporate jets?”

Romney: “Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government. We’re now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don’t want to go down the path of Spain. I want to put more Americans to work.”


Obama: “Well, for 18 months he’s been running on this tax plan, and now five weeks before the election, he says his big bold idea is ‘never mind.’ ”

Romney: “I’m sorry (PBS-based moderator) Jim (Lehrer). I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I like Big Bird. I actually like you, too.”

The Sidekicks

Ryan: “Here’s the problem. They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, turning Medicare into a piggy bank for Obamacare.”

Biden: “(Medicare) vouchers will not keep pace with health care costs. If it did keep pace, there would be no savings.”


“Romney said, ‘No, let Detroit go bankrupt. ... No, let foreclosures hit the bottom.’… But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. I’ve had it up to here with the notion of that 47 percent.”

Ryan: “Was it a good idea to spend taxpayers’ dollars on electric cars from Finland?”

Round Two

Romney: “On the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador (to Libya), the first time that’s happened since 1979, when — when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn’t know what happened, that the president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser.”

Obama: “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 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.”




“I care about 100 percent of the American people. I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future. I care about our kids.”

Obama: “When he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about. ... Folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives. Veterans who’ve sacrificed for this country. ... And I want to fight for them.”

Round Three


“We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed … the question is not a game of Battleship.”

Romney: “We can’t kill our way out of this mess.”

Obama: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”


“I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin, and I’m certainly not going to say to him, ‘I’ll give you more flexibility after the election.’ After the election he’ll get more backbone.”

Obama: “Nothing Gov. Romney just said is true, starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign, and every fact-checker and every reporter’s looked at it.”

Romney: “Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.”

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