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October 17, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Barack Obama wins debate, Mitt Romney replaces Big Bird tough talk with 'binders full of women'

The presidential candidates came out swinging Tuesday night. We heard a robust discussion about the economy, jobs, taxes, immigration reform, foreign policy, women's health, equal pay, and gun control. Within minutes of the live 90-minute broadcast, ABC News commentator George Will declared it the best debate he had ever seen.

There's a pattern emerging: the person who has the most to lose entering each of these debates comes out the winner.

Watch the entire debate here:

Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief. They wish the Barack Obama they saw in Hempstead, NY had shown up at the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 in Denver, Colorado.

I say it took that lackluster performance - and a few too many grins by Vice President Joe Biden last week - to awaken this notoriously calm and collected president from his incumbent slumber.

My conservative friends are up in arms. "Obama makes me sick!" one person declared in his Facebook status. Simmer down. We've got one more round in Florida, and it's going to be epic.

There are plenty of other places you can look to for analysis and fact-checking. I'll join the chorus with a few thoughts:

- It's easy to pin the country's roughly 8 percent unemployment and higher food stamp levels on Obama, but let's be honest with ourselves. The undecided voter in the audience who asked Romney how he differs from former President George W. Bush is right. She pointed out that many of the issues we face today, chiefly the massive deficit, are byproducts of a Republican administration that led the United States into two wars over the course of eight years. It took years for us to get into this mess; it will take years to pull ourselves out. Obama should bear some responsibility for not hastening the pace of recovery, but Romney should stop placing the blame for the increase in poverty and welfare programs squarely on the president's shoulders. His assertions simply don't paint the full picture, and we do ourselves no favors by taking a bitterly partisan approach to problems that truly require bipartisan solutions.

- Neither candidate has convinced me he can reduce the country's deficit. I worry about this because it's my generation that's going to end up with the bill. Where's the real talk of shared sacrifice in this country? I want to hear the candidates spell out exactly how they'll balance the federal budget and where that revenue should come from. It's just not possible to cut spending or raise taxes alone. We need a combination of both, along with a hard look at how our dollars are being spent. We live in the age of data. There has to be a better way to root out inefficiencies and to determine the return on government investment in programs. (I get heartburn every time I look at my paycheck and see the amount of money set aside for government causes. Happy to do my part, but how do I know that money is being spent wisely and efficiently?)

- I'm glad both candidates addressed women's health and equal pay. I appreciated Romney's talk about his efforts to appoint women to cabinet posts in Massachusetts and to give them flexibility to be with their families. However, he sidestepped the question of salaries. Obama scored points by discussing women's health as a family issue. He took a pragmatic approach by framing access to contraceptives as a means of allowing women to contribute to the economy's recovery. Romney, meanwhile, didn't back away from his campaign pledge to de-fund Planned Parenthood for ideological purposes (abortion), overlooking the organization's much greater role as a provider of reproductive services for poor women, including cervical and breast cancer screenings.

- Obama may have stretched the facts here and there, but I believe he brought forth a fundamental truth: many jobs are never coming back. The country must prepare for this new paradigm and invest in educating the work force for new jobs that will require new skills.

So what will people remember most? Romney and Obama circling the floor and pointing at one another? Candy Crowley affirming Obama used the word "terror" in the Rose Garden the day after the Benghazi consulate attack? Romney declaring he represents 100% of Americans?

I turned to good old social media to gauge audience reaction to the debate. Sure enough, my Facebook feed (filled with friends from all sides of the political spectrum) was filled with memes like the one below, making fun of Romney's simple utterance of the words "binders full of women" to describe the process of hiring women to leadership positions during his term as governor. Needless to say, the Internet went nuts.



Someone had the sense to immediately start a "Binders Full of Women" Tumblr blog. Within hours, the "Binders Full of Women" Facebook page had collected more than 200,000 'likes.' There's even a Twitter account for @RomneysBinder.

Political "theater" is alive and kicking in America. For some, the only way to get through this hostile, icky campaign season is to inject a little levity into the national dialogue.

For your pure enjoyment, check out Gifwich and this delightful round-up of "audience reactions" to the debate, courtesy of Mashable.

Okay, okay. One more "binder" meme. My personal favorite:


Barack Obama may have won this debate, but Mitt Romney got the last laugh - even if it was totally accidental.

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