Moderator Candy Crowley talks to the audience before the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, in Hempstead, N.Y. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Scandal of the night: The campaigns’ vaunted memorandum of understanding for the debates was ripped into shreds tonight.

In what will surely live as one of the great moments in modern presidential politics, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama tonight squared off on a controversial and arcane matter of energy policy not long after the start of the debate at Hofstra University. They verily spat at each other, challenged each other, negotiated a momentary truce and then delivered their respective positions.

And it was free of intrusion from some highfalutin’ moderator. How beautiful it was.

It started out when President Obama was touting his “all-of-the-above” strategy on energy, “and that’s what we’re going to do in the next four years.”

Then, combustion:

MR. ROMNEY: But that’s not what you done in the last four years. That’s the problem.


MR. ROMNEY: In the last four years, you cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Not true, Governor Romney.

MR. ROMNEY: So how much did you cut them by?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It’s not true.

MR. ROMNEY: By how much did you cut them by, then?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, we have actually produced more oil on --

MR. ROMNEY: No, no, how much did you cut licenses and permits on federal land and federal waters?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor Romney, here’s what we did. There were a whole bunch of oil companies --

MR. ROMNEY: No, I had a -- I had a -- I had a question --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, you -- no, you -- you -- you want --

MR. ROMNEY: -- and the question was how much did you cut them by?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- you want me to answer a question, I’m --

MR. ROMNEY: How much did you cut them by?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- I’m happy to answer the question.

MR. ROMNEY: All right, and it is?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Here’s what happened. You had a whole bunch of oil companies who had leases on public lands that they weren’t using. So what we said was, you can’t just sit on this for 10, 20, 30 years, decide when you want to drill, when you want to produce, when it’s most profitable for you. These are public lands. So if you want to drill on public lands, you use it or you lose it.

MR. ROMNEY: OK -- (inaudible) --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And so what we did was take away --

MR. ROMNEY: That’s --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- those leases, and we are now reletting them so that we can actually make a profit.

MR. ROMNEY: And -- and -- and production on private -- on government lands is down.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And the production is up. No it isn’t.

MR. ROMNEY: Production on government land of oil is down 14 percent.


MR. ROMNEY: And production of gas is down 9 percent.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What you’re saying is just not true. It’s just not true.

MR. ROMNEY: I -- it’s absolutely true. Look, there’s no question but that the people recognize that we have not produced more oil --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’ll give you your time. Go ahead.

MR. ROMNEY: -- and gas on federal lands and in federal waters. And coal -- coal production is not up, coal jobs are not up. I was just at a coal facility where some 1,200 people lost their jobs. The right course for America is to have a true all-of-the-above policy. I don’t think anyone really believes that you’re a person who’s going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal.

The clash was good for TV ratings, good for the candidates, good for the country and good for Jim Lehrer, the much-maligned moderator of the first presidential debate. After sustaining criticism from just about everyone that he was too easy on the candidates, Lehrer responded that his job was to recede a bit and let the candidates fight things out. Said Lehrer after the tilt: “The Commission came to me with this idea… Let’s see if we can try to have a real debate–not a moderated, simultaneous one-on-one interviews with the candidates, which is what they’ve been for all practical purposes–and set up a situation where the challenging is done not by the moderator, but is done by the candidates. And the candidates are either up to it or they’re not up to it. They’re either ready to go or not ready to go.”

The idea finally flourished in the town-hall format hosted by Crowley. Take a quick look at the transcript above: Romney asks Obama a question, several times.

That fact violates section 5(e) of the memorandum of understanding between the two campaigns regarding the debates. It reads, “The candidates may not ask each other direct questions during any of the four debates.” Thank god the candidates trampled that stupid provision.