Wow, was that a waste of time. I think I was only able to stay awake because I was live-tweeting (@RagingWisdom) some instant commentary. I’ll admit to not being in a very receptive mood after having the Red Sox roll over for the Yankees forcing the Orioles (who at least tried) to the sudden-death Wild Card game in Texas on Friday. However, after poring through the transcript, the debate still matches my initial impression: dud.
A New York Times editorial describes it well:
The first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, so long anticipated, quickly sunk into an unenlightening recitation of tired talking points and mendacity. With few sparks and little clarity on the immense gulf that truly separates the two men and their policies, Wednesday’s encounter provided little guidance for voters still trying to understand the choice in next month’s election.
First, it’s time for the Commission on Presidential Debates to find another meat puppet for their stable of hosts. This Jim Lehrer — while still loyal to the two party duopoly and ever-willing to not challenge the candidates — is looking a bit worn out even for this.
Second, apparently the opinion leaders decide who “wins” a debate mostly on presence and tone. The weight of one’s arguments and whether your ideas have merit (or if they even adhere to the facts) compared to your opponent seem to be of little importance to this exercise. So, yes, on presence and tone, Romney did better. Obama seemed a bit off, kind of like he had something better to do. He wasn’t fully present, perhaps thinking about how NATO ally Turkey’s shelling of Syria earlier that evening could bring us into war or at least further destabilize the region. We know he didn’t have as much time available to debate prep.
Now, on to the details: here are some clips (via Washington Post transcript) and reaction.
ROMNEY: My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit.
OK, but for that to work you have to make up for the imbalance somehow. Let me guess: spending cuts, “entitlements” first. It’s part of the right’s master plan to keep shrinking the size of government until it can easily fit inside a woman’s uterus and regulate the hell out of it.
ROMNEY: Number two, I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals. I know that you and your running mate keep saying that and I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. But that — that is not the case. All right? I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.
Not reducing the “share” paid by high-income individuals … I think I know how they might wiggle through this one. As long as the proportion of taxes paid by the wealthy stays the same, they can still cut taxes for them. Mathematically, the easiest way to do this is to cut everyone’s taxes by the same amount, that way the “share” technically stays the same. On the other hand, maybe he’s not trying to be cute with the numbers, but just lying about his position again.
As for trying to repeat something over and over until people believe its true, congratulations for going 5 minutes without telling us who cut $716 billion from Medicare again.
ROMNEY: So how do we deal with it? Well, mathematically, there are three ways that you can cut a deficit. One, of course, is to raise taxes. Number two is to cut spending. And number [three] is to grow the economy, because if more people work in a growing economy, they’re paying taxes, and you can get the job done that way.
The presidents would — president would prefer raising taxes. I understand. The problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth. And you could never quite get the job done. I want to lower spending and encourage economic growth at the same time.
Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. Obamacare’s on my list.
Does anyone else want to see the rest of Romney’s list? His campaign knows the more specific he gets the more votes he loses because people would learn their favorite program (probably their job) would be cut.
OBAMA :Now, we all know that we’ve got to do more. And so I’ve put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. It’s on a website. You can look at all the numbers, what cuts we make and what revenue we raise. And the way we do it is $2.50 for every cut, we ask for $1 of additional revenue, paid for, as I indicated earlier, by asking those of us who have done very well in this country to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit. Governor Romney earlier mentioned the Bowles-Simpson commission. Well, that’s how the commission — bipartisan commission that talked about how we should move forward suggested we have to do it, in a balanced way with some revenue and some spending cuts. And this is a major difference that Governor Romney and I have.
At least he has a website for his plan, but like Romney, Obama doesn’t seem to want to offer any details in the debates.
ROMNEY: You’ve been president four years.
Nope: 3 years 8 months. At this level you shouldn’t be getting the easy stuff wrong.
ROMNEY: And the reality is it’s not just wealthy people — you mentioned Donald Trump. It’s not just Donald Trump you’re taxing. It’s all those businesses that employ one-quarter of the workers in America; these small businesses that are taxed as individuals.
Therefore, just like individuals who are struggling and not making much, business who are struggling and not making much don’t pay as much as “millionaire” businesses. Some businesses, like people, don’t need a tax cut.
ROMNEY: You raise taxes and you kill jobs. That’s why the National Federation of Independent Businesses said your plan will kill 700,000 jobs. I don’t want to kill jobs in this environment.
“I don’t want to kill jobs in this environment.” Instead, he wants to make jobs that kill the environment. “I like coal.”
ROMNEY: Well, Jim, our seniors depend on these programs, and I know anytime we talk about entitlements, people become concerned that something’s going to happen that’s going to change their life for the worse.
And the answer is neither the president nor I are proposing any changes for any current retirees or near retirees, either to Social Security or Medicare. So if you’re 60 or around 60 or older, you don’t need to listen any further.
Wow! He makes it so clear what they are doing with this. For the people who will be the most upset and most likely to vote against him on this issue, the GOP is going to carve out an exception to their proposed changes. He doesn’t even want them to listen because they might get confused and think it applies to them.
I think it is kind of demeaning to those seniors and near-seniors. Romney and Ryan are assuming that seniors are selfish, that as long as they get their Medicare and Social Security, they don’t care about what happens to younger people who have yet to qualify for these benefits. By adopting this tactic, the GOP is betting that most seniors are really greedy bastards. I’m surprised more older folks aren’t calling them out on this.
OBAMA: And the essence of the plan is that you would turn Medicare into a voucher program. It’s called premium support, but it’s understood to be a voucher program. His running mate…
LEHRER: And you don’t support that?
OBAMA: I don’t. And let me explain why.
ROMNEY: Again, that’s for future…
OBAMA: I understand.
ROMNEY: … people, right, not for current retirees.
OBAMA: For — so if you’re — if you’re 54 or 55, you might want to listen ‘cause this — this will affect you.
The idea, which was originally presented by Congressman Ryan, your running mate, is that we would give a voucher to seniors and they could go out in the private marketplace and buy their own health insurance.
The problem is that because the voucher wouldn’t necessarily keep up with health care inflation, it was estimated that this would cost the average senior about $6,000 a year.
Now, in fairness, what Governor Romney has now said is he’ll maintain traditional Medicare alongside it. But there’s still a problem, because what happens is, those insurance companies are pretty clever at figuring out who are the younger and healthier seniors. They recruit them, leaving the older, sicker seniors in Medicare. And every health care economist that looks at it says, over time, what’ll happen is the traditional Medicare system will collapse.
This is Obama’s best moment of the debate. He made a firm and clear explanation of Romney/Ryan’s plan and its effects. To make a stronger case he needs to state how Medicare is single-payer and the Republican plan is to replace it by giving seniors a coupon.
LEHRER: We’ll talk about — specifically about health care in a moment. But what — do you support the voucher system, Governor?
ROMNEY: What I support is no change for current retirees and near-retirees to Medicare. And the president supports taking $716 billion out of that program.
LEHRER: And what about the vouchers?
ROMNEY: So that’s — that’s number one.
Number two is for people coming along that are young, what I do to make sure that we can keep Medicare in place for them is to allow them either to choose the current Medicare program or a private plan. Their choice.
Romney did a good dodge on this one. First, he repeated his grovel that his plan wouldn’t affect current seniors. Second, he tried to imply that any change for future retirees is optional, that they would still have access to the Medicare system that they’ve been expecting.
ROMNEY: Regulation is essential. You can’t have a free market work if you don’t have regulation. As a businessperson, I had to have — I need to know the regulations. I needed them there. You couldn’t have people opening up banks in their — in their garage and making loans. I mean, you have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work. Every free economy has good regulation. At the same time, regulation can become excessive.
This is masterful. He repeats what everybody believes, then tells us there has to be limits without telling us how he will decide where the limits would be.
ROMNEY: Number three, it puts in place an unelected board that’s going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have. I don’t like that idea.
The return of the Death Panels lie. Obama should have nailed him for this, but I can understand him not being prepared for Romney to go so far off the rails into Palinland, and thus not have a practiced response ready.
ROMNEY: But let’s come back to something the president and I agree on, which is the key task we have in health care is to get the cost down so it’s more affordable for families. And then he has as a model for doing that a board of people at the government, an unelected board, appointed board, who are going to decide what kind of treatment you ought to have.
He repeats the death panels lie again hoping to make it true.
ROMNEY: Mr. President, Mr. President, you’re entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts. All right, I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and — and grants that go to people going to college. I’m planning on (inaudible) to grow. So I’m not planning on making changes there.
Romney talking about not being entitled to his own facts? Pot, meet kettle.
LEHRER: Excuse me (inaudible). Excuse me, sir. We’ve got — we’ve got — barely have three minutes left. I’m not going to grade the two of you and say your answers have been too long or I’ve done a poor job.
OBAMA: You’ve done a great job.
LEHRER: Oh, well, no.
Obama wins the prize for biggest lie of the night.
OBAMA: But I also promised that I’d fight every single day on behalf of the American people, the middle class, and all those who were striving to get into the middle class. I’ve kept that promise and if you’ll vote for me, then I promise I’ll fight just as hard in a second term.
Obama, if you do want to “fight just as hard in a second term,” please just resign on January 22nd, we’ll take our chances with Biden. No, if you’re re-elected you better fight a hell of a lot harder.