Wednesday, October 3, 2012

First pres. debate: brief reaction

In terms of the level of discussion, it was quite a good debate: to get into policy in this much detail treats voters as adults, which is a good thing.

Both had their moments. One of Obama's best moments, I thought, was his recitation of Romney's failure to be specific about his plans: on which deductions and loopholes in the tax code he would propose to close, on which parts of Dodd-Frank he would keep and not keep, on what he would replace the Affordable Care Act with. Romney's reply, that he is laying out principles and would hammer out details in consultation with Congress, didn't really cut it. Romney made an interesting statement or two about weaknesses in the Dodd-Frank rules (e.g. 'qualified mortgages' have not yet been defined) but didn't really lay out his own alternative.

That said, in terms of effectiveness of overall presentation -- not substance but style, if you will -- I think one has to give this first debate to Romney. He hammered continually on certain points -- the $90 billion Obama has devoted to green energy, the $716 billion supposedly taken from Medicare -- the latter a false charge but the figure will stay in some peoples' minds. And Obama could have replied on the first point by bringing up global warming and the vital need for alternative energy -- which he really didn't -- and he didn't specifically reply on the false Medicare charge, though he did effectively criticize Romney's voucher plan. This is one of these debates where a review of the transcript alone would probably yield a draw but on the screen (computer screen, in my case) Romney seemed, as Shields said on PBS, happier to be there. And Obama was perhaps too 'cool' where an occasional flash of real passion and old-fashioned irritation (not anger, but irritation) might actually have helped. But I don't think in the end that it will sway many votes one way or another.

Update: Award for good line to Dan Nexon: "Romney's muse is unfettered by the shackles of truth and consistency."  


Kindred Winecoff said...

"Romney's reply, that he is laying out principles and would hammer out details in consultation with Congress, didn't really cut it."

I don't get this. Obama campaigned on a preference for single payer, but barring that a public option + no mandate. After he hammered out the details in consultation with Congress he ended up with no public option + a mandate. This was in the debates too.

Obama campaigned on letting the Bush tax cuts expire. After he hammered out the details in consultation with Congress he ended up with extensions of all the Bush tax cuts plus additional cuts besides. This was in the debates as well.

Etc. and Gitmo and etc. and detainees/renditions (summary executions didn't really come up in the debates IIRC) and etc.

Presidents are not dictators. All presidents can reasonably promise is to negotiate according to broad principles and then figure out what Congress will agree to. Especially on budget issues, since those must originate in the Congress. And especially since they don't know what the composition of the Congress will actually be.

When presidential candidates get too specific -- "Read my lips..." -- it can only hurt them down the road.

Of course your conclusion is absolutely correct: these things don't matter.

Kindred Winecoff said...


e julius drivingstorm said...

Authoritarianism (Romney) trumps Reason (Obama).

I wasn't able to watch the debate past the opening salvos as an evangelical rightwing republican acquaintance came over and interrupted with something about he had heard that if the "Muslim" were reelected we would be flying a flag other than the Stars and Stripes before 2016.

I then asked him which President sold missiles to Iran. He had no idea that Reagan did such a thing. He finally remembered he had heard of Oliver North. He knew nothing about the pardons issued to 14 indictees by Bush 41. I will get nowhere with him. He is a tribalist.

LFC said...


Presidential candidates in my opinion have an obligation both to lay out principles and to say what they would do in an ideal world, i.e. with a compliant Congress composed of reps. largely from their own party. The fact that this ideal world will not obtain does not relieve candidates of the obligation to be specific about their opening negotiating position. Otherwise you can do what Romney is doing, which is to say: "I will lower tax rates and broaden the base" but not saying how he wd like to broaden the base, i.e. which loopholes and deductions he wd like to close. Last night he said the $2.8 billion deduction for oil companies would be "on the table." Not good enough: does he want to get rid of it or doesn't he? At one pt toward the end he had a two-sentence line along the lines of "well, we cd do it [trimming deductions] this way or that way," but that's simply not sufficient to meet the obligation to be specific. The obligation is rooted in a respect for voters: you shdn't ask voters to vote for you if you don't tell them what your opening position w Congress will be, in detail.

It is irrelevant that candidates getting too specific may hurt them. They still have an obligation to be specific. "Read my lips -- no new taxes" was a stupid thing to say NOT b.c it was too specific but b.c of the dogmatic pledge-like language in which it was couched.

LFC said...


It sounds like your acquaintance is a hopeless case, politically speaking. In the late '80s I lived for roughly a year in a small town in West Virginia. That is the only place I might have encountered an evangelical rightwinger or two but I didn't stay long enough or sink deep enough roots into the area. There are relatively few such creatures, I think, in the Md suburbs of WashDC, though I did see one house around here w a Santorum sign during the Rep. primaries. One house.

Bro said...

I agree w LFC. Obama may not have done what he said he would in many cases, but at least he said what he would do. Romney, interestingly, has been most specific about what he would not do, i.e. he will not cut taxes if that will add to the deficit. But of course the if clause here shows that he is not being specific after all. He has not worked out any details in advance. Obama's attack line on Romney's tax and budget plans has been "the math does not add up." This is incorrect, and gives Romney too much credit. Once again, Obama's rhetoric is insufficiently sharp. His line should be: "There is no math."