Obama failed to defend his policies or the positive role of government. But next time he’ll be ready.
President Obama lost the debate. A bad night’s sleep did not change my mind about that. But let’s be clear that, even if more relaxed and lucid, Romney was the same as ever. There is no “new Romney.” He dissimulated, did not address details, and refused to answer what few charges Obama brought up.
He opened with a brilliant debating tactic — really a war tactic: open a second front and retreat on the first one. Romney tacked to the middle. No, he won’t cut any taxes he can’t pay for. No, it isn’t a $5 trillion plan. Obama wasn’t ready and didn’t seem able to adjust. But what is the Romney policy? He never said. More upsettingly, Obama noticed but never truly pressed him on it.
In fact, Romney’s is the same old George W. Bush policy, and it didn’t work then. Obama got to this point, too, but didn’t bring it home strongly enough. Job growth was the slowest under Bush of any other postwar president. Obama said it. Doesn’t anyone remember his saying it? But Romney dissimulated again, because he can’t pull this grand four- or five-point strategy off, just like he couldn’t pay off his original tax cut program. Obama could have asked him how much he plans to cut tax rates. He would have dodged it, but in dodging it he would have looked more like the old Romney than the new, bold Romney. Obama could have pressed harder on the details of closing loopholes. He didn’t.
Romney ignored the facts time and again, a tried-and-true debating technique. Obama pointed out that in a Medicare voucher program with choice, the insurance companies will steal the elderly who are healthy and raise costs for Medicare, jeopardizing its future. Romney simply ignored the point and went on to say, as if Obama had said nothing, that Medicare would still be there under his voucher program and if it worked better, it would stand.
In his attacks on the role of government, he persistently said the private sector can do better. But private sector health care costs have risen faster than Medicare. Why is that? He pushed the old ideological sticking points. Government is bad, private enterprise good. No facts, mind you. Just shibboleths. Keep the federal government out of health care. Give it to the states. Should we keep the federal government out of Social Security and Medicare — both very popular government programs — too?
But if Romney’s bluster was strong, Obama lost the debate more than Romney won it. He seemed incapable of defending Obamacare. He couldn’t even counter the alleged Medicare theft of $716 billion well. He didn’t defend his green investments. Ninety billion dollars is not much when you consider Japan will probably spend nearly $500 billion on renewables. He only passingly defended his stimulus bill, repeating the error of neglect he has made for most of his administration. In fact, he hardly defended his record at all, for fear it reminds people that unemployment is still high, as is the deficit. The point is they’d both be higher under a Romney plan.
And what of the policies for 2013? Where was talk of Obama’s American Jobs Act? Why not say that Romney’s policies will bring you a recession, sure as you’re sitting there?
And what about bipartisanship, of which Romney bragged during his governorship in Massachusetts? Could Obama have pointed out that he couldn’t deal with Republicans who proclaim their first priority is to stop his re-election? Did any prominent Massachusetts Democrats threaten Romney that way?
Now, the media will start analyzing the Romney promises, and therein will lie some justice. He won’t be able to defend them except in the same general, non-detailed ways. The Democrats have to counter-attack. There will be plenty of room to do so.
And one other point: I think Obama will be ready next time. He went into the ring cold. Every boxer knows you have to warm up and break a sweat before the first bell. I think he learned. He almost got knocked out in the first round. Not again, I don’t think.
Cross-Posted from Rediscovering Government
The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Photo credit: AP/The Denver Post, Craig F. Walker