Here’s another rare case where a sequel outshined the original. Of course, the bar was set pretty low in the first Obama-Romney debate. President Obama showed a bit more fire, and at one point it looked like they were about to either punch or kiss each other.
In the leadup we are reminded how much of a scripted scam these events are. First, here is the debate agreement both sides signed. Usually, it is not available to the public, and you can see why.
Next, a dustup over the role of the moderator. When she indicated that she may act like a real journalist and ask follow-up questions, scheduled moderator Candy Crowley was reproached reproached by attorneys from BOTH campaigns.
Finally, this is being billed as a “town hall”-style debate. Instead we have pre-approved people reading previously-rehearsed questions. Step out of line and the citizen gets their mic cut off (and probably a rough exit from the building, if not a trip to Gitmo).
As Kevin Gosztola put it:
For the town hall debate, the contract instructs the moderator to go through a cumbersome process of approving audience questions prior to the debate for the benefit of the candidates, who would not want to be caught off guard by a question the carefully selected media personality had not finessed and sanitized for public consumption:
…Prior to the start of the debate, audience members will be asked to submit their questions in writing to the moderator. No third party, including the Commission and the campaigns, shall be permitted to see the questions. The moderator shall ensure that the audience members post to the candidates a balance of questions on foreign policy and national security, on the one hand, and domestic and economic policy on the other. The moderator will further review the questions and eliminate any questions that the moderator deems inappropriate. At least seven (7) days before the October 16 (Second Presidential-Town Hall) debate, the moderator shall develop, and describe to the campaigns, a method for selecting questions at random while assuring that questions are reasonably well balanced in terms of addressing a wide range of issues of major public interest facing the United States and the world. Each question will be asked by the audience member submitting the question. If any audience member poses a question or makes a statement that is in any material way different than the question that the audience member earlier submitted to the moderator for review, the moderator will cut-off the questioner and advise the audience that such non-reviewed questions are not permitted. Moreover the Commission shall take appropriate steps to cut-off the microphone of any such audience member who attempts to pose any question or statement differently than that previously posed to the moderator for review. The moderator will inform the audience of this provision prior to the start of the debate… [emphasis added by Gosztola]
In essence, audience members will be publicly embarrassed for daring to confront candidates without the permission of Candy Crowley.
The campaigns have done their best to take the unpredictability and accountability out of the town hall format. I think it would be a great measure of a candidate to see how they would handle unfiltered questions from random audience members (OK, I’ll allow you to pack the audience with only undecideds) under the bright lights and on live television. The ability to think fast and stay composed under a more traditional town hall format would be great for making a case for the election. If you can’t handle the pressure of dealing with a random citizen, how can you claim to be the best person to handle the pressures of running the country?
On with the sham…
The first question comes from a nervous young fellow who is appropriately concerned about having a job after graduation.
ROMNEY: And also make sure that when they get out of college, there’s a job. When I was governor of Massachusetts, to get a high school degree, you had to pass an exam. If you graduated in the top quarter of your airlines, we gave you a John and Abigail Adams scholarship, four years tuition free in the college of your choice in Massachusetts, it’s a public institution.
Romney mentions this great program that would be supported by most Americans, but then if you are actually paying attention you’ll notice that he never says he wants to take such a program nationwide. It seems like he just wants credit for not killing it when he was governor. It’s an evolutionary step in campaigning: tell us something we’d like to hear without actually making a promise to do it.
Then he mentions that he likes the Pell grant program, before dovetailing nicely into the bigger unemployment issue.
ROMNEY: I know what it takes to create good jobs again. I know what it takes to make sure that you have the kind of opportunity you deserve. … I know what it takes to bring them back, and I’m going to do that.
Nothing specific there. Mitt, if you know what it takes to make jobs, tell us! This, “Trust me. I’ve got a secret plan that will fix everything” nonsense is not going to fly.
Obama then mentions investing in energy and infrastructure, without clearly telling us how that impacts jobs. His assuming we know this, leaves it unsaid and makes it sound like he’s dodging the question by changing the subject.
Then Crowley, despite being told not to ask follow-ups (Go, Candy!), asks for specifics about creating jobs today for people who have been out of work for a long time. Romney mentions his “5-point plan” to duck being specific, then somehow we get to this.
ROMNEY: And I know he keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did.
He’s trying to play cute with the terminology here and take advantage of the general public’s misconception of bankruptcy. In common usage, bankrupt means the company is dead. In practice, there is a bankruptcy process where failing companies are given drastic help before they either die or recover. Obama took the auto industry to the Emergency Room in a speeding ambulance. Romney wanted to leave it to die in the gutter. Here’s how Obama responded:
OBAMA: Candy, what Governor Romney said just isn’t true. He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open. And we would have lost a million jobs. And that — don’t take my word for it, take the executives at GM and Chrysler, some of whom are Republicans, may even support Governor Romney. But they’ll tell you his prescription wasn’t going to work.
I’ll give him credit for trying to clear up the confusion over the bankruptcy process used by Romney. I think he fell a little short.
Next, comes an attempt at a gotcha question — a rather lame attempt — but I’ll give Crowley some credit for letting even this much through the filter.
QUESTION: Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?
Obama’s answer makes him look like he’s ducking, even ignoring the question. He goes over a minute before mentioning gas prices. Instead he just jumps into his energy plan. Next, time give a quick short answer to the question then elaborate about your plan.
At this point the president showed that he has learned from the first debate and begins to put up more of a fight. This is the exchange:
ROMNEY: But that’s not what you’ve done in the last four years. That’s the problem. In the last four years, you cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.
OBAMA: Not true, Governor Romney.
ROMNEY: So how much did you cut (inaudible)?
OBAMA: Not true.
ROMNEY: How much did you cut them by, then?
OBAMA: Governor, we have actually produced more oil –
ROMNEY: No, no. How much did you cut licenses and permits on federal land and federal waters?
OBAMA: Governor Romney, here’s what we did. There were a whole bunch of oil companies.
ROMNEY: No, no, I had a question and the question was how much did you cut them by?
OBAMA: You want me to answer a question –
ROMNEY: How much did you cut them by?
OBAMA: I’m happy to answer the question.
ROMNEY: All right. And it is –
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.
ROMNEY: OK, (inaudible) –
OBAMA: And so what we did was take away those leases. And we are now reletting them so that we can actually make a profit.
ROMNEY: And production on private — on government land –
OBAMA: Production is up.
ROMNEY: — is down.
OBAMA: No, it isn’t.
ROMNEY: Production on government land of oil is down 14 percent.
OBAMA: Governor –
ROMNEY: And production on gas –
OBAMA: It’s just not true.
He’s almost forceful enough to be convincing. Just replace “not true” with “that’s a lie” and you’ve got some good evidence of having an actual spine.
This part, the highlight of his debate, adds to the effect:
OBAMA: Well, think about what the governor — think about what the governor just said. He said when I took office, the price of gasoline was $1.80, $1.86. Why is that? Because the economy was on the verge of collapse, because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression, as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney’s now promoting.
So, it’s conceivable that Governor Romney could bring down gas prices because with his policies, we might be back in that same mess.
That’s a great answer to Romney’s gas price spin. It just needed some explanation of how a wrecked economy causes gas prices to go down. People have a hard time believing that such a bad thing results in such a good thing.
Now, the next audience member stumbles and fumbles a bit because she’s very nervous. Why do we put these people through this ordeal? The questions are written and chosen ahead of time, just have Crowley read them all. The fake optics are not worth putting these folks under such stress. How many years did this take off that poor woman’s life?
The question was about which deductions Romney wants to eliminate. He bobs and weaves for a little bit before dropping this on us:
ROMNEY: And so, in terms of bringing down deductions, one way of doing that would be say everybody gets — I’ll pick a number — $25,000 of deductions and credits, and you can decide which ones to use. Your home mortgage interest deduction, charity, child tax credit, and so forth, you can use those as part of filling that bucket, if you will, of deductions.
That is the closest he’s come yet to saying which deductions he’ll eliminate, and it sounds like none — just a made-up cap on how many you can take.
Next, he goes on to repeat the misleading promise not to lower the wealthy’s share of the tax haul.
ROMNEY: And I will not — I will not under any circumstances, reduce the share that’s being paid by the highest income taxpayers. And I will not, under any circumstances increase taxes on the middle-class.
Obama adds his own middle-class tax cut grovelling.
OBAMA: So four years ago I stood on a stage just like this one. Actually it was a town hall, and I said I would cut taxes for middle- class families, and that’s what I’ve done, by $3,600.00. I said I would cut taxes for small businesses, who are the drivers and engines of growth. And we’ve cut them 18 times. And I want to continue those tax cuts for middle-class families, and for small business.
In the debate four years ago, he also said he wouldn’t extend the Bush tax cuts. How did that turn out? He does a decent job of explaining it here:
OBAMA: So what I’ve said is, your first $250,000.00 worth of income, no change. And that means 98 percent of American families, 97 percent of small businesses, they will not see a tax increase. I’m ready to sign that bill right now. The only reason it’s not happening is because Governor Romney’s allies in Congress have held the 98 percent hostage because they want tax breaks for the top 2 percent.
Romney rebuts eventually by repeating the worn out “tax cuts create jobs” scam.
ROMNEY: And for me, this is about jobs. I want to get America’s economy going again. Fifty-four percent of America’s workers work in businesses that are taxed as individuals. So when you bring those rates down, those small businesses are able to keep more money and hire more people.
How come nobody ever asks these guys whether the savings from the tax cut is larger than the cost of adding an additional employee? Unless you directly tie the tax break to hiring, the only hope you have for it increasing employment is if the tax savings is spent, spurring demand, which can create need for additional employees. We’ve got more than a decade of evidence showing how tax cuts have limited at best effect on job creation. I got a tax cut and didn’t hire anybody. In fact, I used my tax cut to help pay off debt. If you’re one of those folks who rely only on anecdotes for proof, well, there you have it.
Next, Crowley gets in another follow-up which allows President Obama to get on a roll.
CROWLEY: Governor, let me ask the president something about what you just said.
The governor says that he is not going to allow the top 5 percent, believe is what he said, to have a tax cut, that it will all even out, that what he wants to do is give that tax cut to the middle class. Settled?
OBAMA: No, it’s not settled.
Look, the cost of lowering rates for everybody across the board, 20 percent. Along with what he also wants to do in terms of eliminating the estate tax, along what he wants to do in terms of corporates, changes in the tax code, it costs about $5 trillion.
Governor Romney then also wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs even though the military’s not asking for them. That’s $7 trillion.
He also wants to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. That’s another trillion dollars — that’s $8 trillion.
Now, what he says is he’s going to make sure that this doesn’t add to the deficit and he’s going to cut middle-class taxes.
But when he’s asked, how are you going to do it, which deductions, which loopholes are you going to close? He can’t tell you.
The — the fact that he only has to pay 14 percent on his taxes when a lot of you are paying much higher. He’s already taken that off the board, capital gains are going to continue to be at a low rate so we — we’re not going to get money that way.
We haven’t heard from the governor any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood in terms of how he pays for that.
Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up.
Now that Obama had momentum, the debate takes a halftime break with a softball question about equal pay for women that gave us Romney’s famous quote about “binders full of women.” Following that the next question said “Bush” three times, and I could tell Romney and many in the audience were afraid that W. himself would appear.
This marks the end of my blow-by-blow analysis. This carefully-choreographed, joint photo op has taken up quite enough of my time already. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to the end of this trilogy on Monday.