Romney's claim that Obama had misled Americans about what happened in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi generated a bristling Obama response, a presidential response of righteous anger, an anger that everyone could identify with, not something that could be turned into the caricature of the "angry black man." Romney had no effective way of dealing with the anger in that response.
So he went after a detail in the president's comments. A detail his debate-preparation team members had no doubt well-coached him on. Unfortunately for the candidate, they had chosen to buy into a theme that has been making the rounds in right-wing circles on- and off-line for weeks. That theme being that the president didn't call the Benghazi attack an act of terror until weeks after it happened. The only problem was, as his remarks in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12 show, Obama did consider it an act of terror:
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.Most Americans watching the debate have no more than a barebones knowledge of what happened in the attack on the U.S. consulate. Fewer still are aware of the right-wing's efforts to spread what Romney tried to spread with disastrous results, including an instant fact-check that amounted to a body blow by moderator Candy Crowley.
Crowley, in fact, had already been directly involved in an encounter over what Obama had said the day after the attack. So she didn't have to dig deep to make her correction of Romney Tuesday night. On the Sept. 30 edition of CNN's State of the Union, which Crowley hosts, senior campaign adviser David Axelrod said:
“As you know, the president called it an act of terror the day after it happened. But when you’re the responsible party, when you’re the administration, then you have a responsibility to act on what you know and what the intelligence community believes. This was—this is being thoroughly investigated,” he said.On the same day, over at the right-wing publication Commentary, Alana Goodman wrote under the headline: No, Obama Didn’t Call Benghazi “Act of Terror” in Speech:
“As the director of national intelligence said on Friday, that was the original information that that was given to us. What we don’t need is a president or an administration that shoots first and asks questions later,” Axelrod continued. “And, you know, Governor Romney leaped out on this Libya issue on the first day, and was terribly mistaken about what he said.”
...at no point was it clear that he was using that term to describe the attack in Benghazi. He’d also spent the previous two paragraphs discussing the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath. “Acts of terror” could have just as easily been a reference to that. Or maybe it wasn’t a direct reference to anything, just a generic, reassuring line he’d added into a speech which did take place, after all, the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.That was a ridiculous stretch, even for Commentary. But it and a misreading of an extensive Sept. 27 fact-checking of the Libya timeline at the Washington Post by Glenn Kessler apparently gave Romney's debate-prep team the idea that they could gain political advantage by challenging the president on this.
Instead, they got trounced. Not only did the latest Republican attempt to imply that a Democratic president is "weak on defense" get smacked down, but Romney wound up looking like a fool scolded by the teacher when Crowley interjected that the president had said what Romney claimed he had not. All the post-debate walk-back in the world won't change the impact of moment captured on video and beamed out to the tens of millions of Americans who saw the debate. There was a good reason Romney left the stage looking as if some part of his anatomy was caught in a vise.