2 Points on the Second Debate

Which I didn't watch in laboratory isolation as I did the first time but with background commentary via The Twitter (via a VPN to get around the Great Firewall).

1) Obama was as strong and "on" tonight as he was weak and flat the first time.

2) In debate #1, Romney illustrated one of the main points about his debate performance: how good he can be when prepared. In debate #2, he illustrated the other: that he can be rattled, off-message, and error-prone when caught in a surprise move. As witness this:



Details for later examination: Obama's use of the 47 percent in his closing comments (when Romney couldn't answer it -- but after Romney had opened the topic by saying he was for 100 percent of the public); Romney's answer or non-answer about the math of his tax proposals; the line on whose pension plan was bigger; "binders full of women"; immigration; switcheroo tactics on G.W. Bush; and so on.

Obama showed he could do much better when focused; Romney, that the surprise critique is a challenge for him. That's it for now. Late for another China-factory tour (and the bizarro-world contrast between what you see in these actual factories and how the international flow of jobs is discussed in a debate).

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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