Nel's New Day

October 15, 2012

VP Debate Redux

Another debate looms tomorrow night, this one with questions from the elusive undecided voters. A couple of weeks ago, the first debate moderator, Jim Lehrer, was objective but failed to guide the presidential candidates, especially when Mitt Romney was determined to take over through his incessant interrupting. During the vice-presidential debate, Martha Raddatz’s questions occasionally wandered into an ideological position.

Her lead-in to Iran stated that “there’s really no bigger national security…this country is facing.” It’s hard to know what she said during the ellipsis because of Ryan’s interruption when he said, “Absolutely.” It was either “threat” or “issue.” Either way the statement is debatable and definitely not objective. Her follow-up questions failed to address whether the United States has the right to attack any country it wants. After the past decade, preemptive attacks have become de rigueur.

Raddatz’s question about domestic issues showed the same disregard for objectivity: “Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process. Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive?”  The myth that both Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt has been debunked by many economists, but politicians are so intent on getting rid of the two programs that they ignore them.

Raddatz also asked the candidates how they felt about abortion because they are members of the Catholic Church. Yet she didn’t ask how they felt about the US government’s military aggression and its subservience to the wealthiest, two issues which the Catholic Church opposes.

One issue widely publicized after the VP debate was VP Joe Biden’s laughing, something soundly ridiculed by Fox News and their followers. In a Rolling Stone article,  Matt Taibbi strongly supported Biden’s actions, saying that everyone should be rolling their eyes at Ryan’s and Romney’s avoiding any concrete answers.

One example he gave was Raddatz’s question to Ryan about “how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics, or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?” Ryan tried to convince the audience that they would succeed in doing this with Congressional bipartisan agreements. When Biden scoffed at him, Ryan said,

“Look–look at what Mitt–look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that. What we’re saying is here’s our framework: Lower tax rates 20 percent–we raise about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forgo about 1.1 trillion [dollars] in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation …”

Once again, Ryan refused to answer the question about specifics, probably because there aren’t any. Instead, he and Romney will set the framework and then work out the specifics of getting there with the Democrats. He said in front of over 50 million people that the tax plan won’t be worked out until after the election. And by the way, he also said in front of 50 million people that he and Romney plan to get rid of Social Security.

Raddatz said, “No specifics, yeah.” And VP Biden laughed.

My favorite perspective of last week’s debate, however, comes from Oregon’s own David Sarasohn. His most recent column begins: “When Paul Ryan doesn’t want to be clear about a position, he tells a story. As we heard Thursday evening, that means it’s very often story time. So when Ryan was asked about Mitt Romney’s position on bailing out Detroit, or letting GM and Chrysler go under, he went into full storyteller mode.” Sarasohn then quotes Ryan about Romney helping a family that had been in a car crash. Nothing to do with Romney’s refusing to bail out Detroit, but a charming story about what a wonderful guy Romney is.

About the effect of Ryan’s budget on Medicare that leaves recipients without help? Ryan gave a lovely story about his mom and his grandmother. And Ryan’s belief that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) supported him, “a claim that always turns Wyden an interesting shade of purple, according to Sarasohn’s column. We in Oregon certainly know that Ryan was lying about his Medicare policy having bipartisan support.

What about the U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan in 2014? Ryan’s story this time was when he “sat down with a young private in the 82nd from the Menominee Indian Reservation who would tell me what he did every day.” Raddatz tried to move him along. Ryan moved into another story about one of his best friends from Janesville. Abortion? This time Ryan used an anecdote explaining why his firstborn was nicknamed “Bean.”

The benefit of these stories is that Ryan can talk a long time, look like a friendly fellow, and not address any issues. As Sarasohn said, “Politicians, of course, tell stories all the time: to humanize themselves, to connect with an audience, to provide an example that illustrates a policy. And sometimes, you get a story without the policy. That’s the story meant to lull you to sleep.”

Back to the elusive voters asking the question tomorrow night. Although 11 states (plus possibly Arizona) comprise the “swing states,” three may decide the president: Colorado, Florida, and Virginia. An average of the last two general elections shows that approximately 12 million people might vote in these three states; undecided voters are possibly six percent of these 12 million voters. That means that 720,000 voters may actually determine the next president. At least the rest of get to determine state and local elections.

Andy Borowitz has some acid remarks to make about tomorrow’s debate and the reaction to the first presidential debate:

“With his polite and well-mannered performance widely panned in the first Presidential debate, President Barack Obama is under mounting pressure to prove that he can act like an asshole in the second debate tomorrow night, a campaign aide confirmed.

“In America, we demand that our President remain cool and calm in a crisis but go batshit in a debate,” the aide said. ‘Tuesday night is all about that second piece.’ But even as Mr. Obama worked around the clock to practice being a douche, Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, doubted his efforts would succeed. ‘Being an asshole isn’t a skill that you can just pick up overnight,’ Mr. Rhoades said. ‘Mitt Romney’s been working on it all his life.’”

Aside: Yesterday I talked about the American Dream, and today this gem dropped into my email box: information about James Gustave Speth’s new book, American the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, that explains how America is not broke. The money is just in the wrong places. More about this later.

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