A question of facts

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We’ve heard so many complaints through the years that presidential debates were more like “joint appearances” where the candidates did not get the chance to mix things up. Things have changed. But are we better off than we were four, eight, 12 or 20 years ago?

After watching the second debate between former Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, it’s not clear that we’ve cleared up the facts.

Both sides seemed to take liberties with the facts, and it’s not always easy for people at home to have the truth at their fingertips.

The town hall-style debate was supposed to make it a tamer affair than round one. The stars of the show were to be the 82 regular folks from Nassau County chosen by the Gallup Organization because they still had not made up their minds.

What we got were sharp, tense exchanges between the candidates that in many cases appeared to be far from spontaneous.

On Romney’s “five point plan,” the president said, “Governor Romney doesn’t have a five point plan. He has a one-point plan: that plan is that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.”

On the topic of energy, Romney said of the president, “this has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal.”

Each man seemed to want to get into the other’s personal space, mano-a-mano, perhaps in hopes of showing who was tougher. Few punches were pulled. And they jockeyed for position on the stage, with, at one point, Romney putting up his hand like a stop sign and saying to the president, “You’ll get your chance in a moment.”

At another point Romney said to Obama, “Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?” To which Obama replied, “You know I don’t look at my pension. I know it’s not as big as yours.”

After his failure in the first debate, it was crucial that the president get more aggressive, and he did. He certainly was quicker and sharper, and at the end of the day appeared to be very much on his game.

As for who won, it probably came down to whom you were supporting in the first place.

Undecided voters rely on the debates to cut through the haze of political commercials which often have little connection with the truth. They will have one more chance to do that, next week, when the president and Romney will square off again.

It appears, though, that this year has marked a turning point for presidential debates. Down the road, it seems there will be more “rock-em sock-em.” But the question remains, with more heat, will there be less light?