Nel's New Day

October 22, 2012

Presidential Debate Three

Those who watched all three presidential debates in the last few weeks have now seen four different debaters. After the first debate, commentators discussed how remote President Obama was while Mitt Romney attacked him. Talking with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show,  even the president laughed at himself about having slept through the debate. Viewers of the second debate saw much more combat with Romney coming out as a greater bully than the first one because President Obama pointed out his opponent’s “fact-challenged” statements. The same president showed up tonight, but a different Romney—quiet, agreeable, middle-of-the-road, and meek, almost pathetic—decided to attend. This new Romney didn’t push the moderator, Bob Schieffer, to get more time.

As far as fact-checking, Romney slipped in a few of his standard lies such as creating 12 million jobs (which has already been debunked by the conservative Washington Post) and accusing the president of making an “apology tour” when soon after his inauguration (which the president pointed out had been debunked by every fact checkers).

But the majority of Romney’s “lies” were in agreeing with the president in almost all the policies after having opposed them. He wants to leave Afghanistan in 2014, help women gain equality in foreign countries, use drones—the list goes on and on. The man who ridiculed the president for wanting to heal the planet now stressed that he wanted peace across the planet—a dozen times.

Romney even supported the president in forcing Mubarak out of Egypt, an action that he had earlier criticized. Six days ago, Romney almost turned purple when he talked about the president’s failure in the attack on Benghazi; tonight he just looked benevolent during the discussion about Libya.

Probably realizing that he knew little about foreign policy, Romney avoided looking like a radical, settling for occasional sniping. President Obama stressed the idea that the U.S. needs a careful, thoughtful approach toward foreign policy and should proceed in a strong, steadfast manner instead of the “reckless” manner that Romney has proposed.

Although Romney obviously did some studying before the debate, he had a bit of problem with his geography. He said, “Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.” In fact, Iran not only has a large southern coastline with access to the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman but also no land border with Syria.

Roger Simon’s description of the event was right on target: “Romney wasn’t terrible. But he was on the defensive for much of the evening, a fine sheen of sweat popped put on his forehead long before the debate ended, and – – worst of all – – Romney was repeatedly forced to say he agreed with Obama on policy after policy.”

Both candidates used the tactic of counting in many of the answers. Some undecided voters had earlier stated that they liked Romney’s “five-point plan” despite the lack of any details in these five points. They also said that they didn’t know what the president stood for so he took great care tonight in not only being high specific but also counting off all the items in a series.

People who know Romney’s past positions (like those he espoused last week!) realized that he had reversed himself in almost all of his positions. But I wondered how those less familiar with his past statements would react. One Republican pundit described him as reasonable, thoughtful, presidential, and circumspect with a reset to more traditional style of Republican policy.

The early polls erased much of my concerns that watchers would swallow Romney’s statements. CNN’s poll of registered voters gave the president 48 percent and Romney only 40 percent. Stronger was the CBS poll of uncommitted voters: President Obama – 53 percent; Mitt Romney – 23 percent; and tied – 24 percent. The 30 points difference was greater than the 24 points difference between the two men in the first debate with Romney winning.

In some ways, foreign policy is more important than domestic policy in a presidential debate because the president has greater latitude than foreign affairs. With U.S. foreign policy less constrained by Congress and relatively free from the media scrutiny that attends the president’s more domestic endeavors, foreign affairs largely remains the domain of the commander in chief.

In this discussion of foreign affairs, however, Romney merely looked pleasant as he largely agreed with the president during this narrow view of the country’s foreign affairs. Missing were issues such as drug traffic from South America, European economics and global finance, consequences of bombing Iran, keeping our planet habitable.

While Romney claims that he wants to help women, nothing was said about the “gag order,” the restriction that denies federal money for family-planning work abroad to any organization that provides information, advice, referrals, or services for legal abortion or supports the legalization of abortion, even using its own money.” Government financing for abortions overseas is already illegal under federal law, but the Republican’s gag rule forced clinic closures, reduced services, and increased fees. It also violated principles of informed consent by requiring health care providers to withhold medical information from female patients. By stifling political debate on abortion-related issues and violating free speech principles, the gag rule also badly undermined America’s credibility as it tries to promote democracy abroad.

Not mentioned in this debate, Romney also vows to renew another of George W. Bush’s shameful policies which blocked the United States from contributing to the United Nations Population Fund. This fund supports programs in some 150 countries to improve poor women’s reproductive health, reduce infant mortality, end the sexual trafficking of women, and prevent the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. The Republican presidential candidate purports the debunked claim that the Population Fund supports coerced abortions in China.

The annual federal contribution to the fund is now down to $35 million, compared with $55 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Overall support for international family planning and reproductive health programs stands at $610 million, far short of the need but still paying for contraceptive services and supplies that reach more than 31 million women and couples, averting 9.4 million unintended pregnancies, 4 million abortions (three-quarters of them unsafe), and 22,000 maternal deaths annually.

Romney may have known that criticizing President Obama for the death of four men at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi would have gotten him into more trouble.  Even Fox Republican pundit Juan Williams pointed out that Romney’s political strategy is based on deliberate misinformation about the Benghazi assault. These are Williams’ corrections for the myths that Republicans have been spreading:

Correction #1: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told the truth based on existing intelligence when she said that the violence grew out of a spontaneous demonstration that was prompted by an American anti-Muslim video. Even two days later, CIA Director David Petraeus confirmed Rice’s statement when he briefed the House Intelligence Committee. Both of them said that there was an ongoing investigation where conclusions were subject to change.

Correction #2: Extra security was requested, not for Benghazi but for Tripoli, 400 miles away. Also U.S. security officials reported that more guards could not have repelled heavy weapons used by the attackers. Nine armed guards were at the embassy as well as four other unarmed Libyan guards inside to screen visitors. House Republicans are also conveniently forgetting that they voted to cut $300 million from Embassy security.

Correction #3: The Taliban threat has diminished, despite Romney campaign claims. Under President Obama, missions have killed the top commanders of the terrorist group including Osama bin Laden, and drone strikes are decimating the other Taliban members. The third and final correction comes in response to the charge that the attack on Benghazi is evidence that al Qaeda is resurgent.

Romney didn’t want the debate to be interesting: he just wanted to survive the 90 minutes without losing more votes.

Much more information available here.

October 3, 2012

Debate One – Postmortem

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:54 PM
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Which Mitt Romney did the public see tonight? The Nation has an apt description.

  • Mitt Romney was for government, but not for “trickle-down government.”
  • Mitt Romney was for cracking down on Wall Street, except when he was against the Dodd-Frank banking reforms.
  • Mitt Romney was for Romneycare, and against Obamacare.
  • Mitt Romney was for the 47 percent, and against them.

Matthew Yglesias saw Romney this way:  “Romney swore to defend single-payer health care for everyone born in 1957 or earlier, touted the universal health care initiative he signed in Massachusetts, promised not to cut federal education spending, defended the role of regulation in building an effective market economy, defended the current structure of Social Security, and charged Obama with failure to crack down adequately on big banks.”

Jim Lehrer tried to guide the two men through the muddle of domestic issues such as the economy, health care, the role of government, and partisan gridlock in Washington, but more often than not Romney took over, talking whenever he wanted, frequently interrupting Lehrer and sometimes President Obama. He even compared the president to one of his sons who lied to him.

Reaction from the right wing was delight in Romney’s aggressiveness; liberals expressed disappointment in President Obama’s reserve. Many of the public seemed to want the president to attack Romney rather than debate him. The question is whether this was the correct approach, particularly when Romney dropped in some of his fact-challenged sound bites.

Romney said that a survey shows three quarters of businesses believe that Obamacare makes them less likely to hire. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce admitted that “this online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.”

Romney said his typical promise that he would create 12 million jobs over the next four years if elected president. Economic forecasters say that’s the number of jobs that the economy is already expected to create. That makes him right unless he really screws up—which he might.

Romney said he would not cut federal financial aid to college students, but his campaign has called the system fiscally unsustainable. His position paper on education says he would “refocus Pell Grants dollars on the students who need them most,” suggesting that fewer people would qualify. Paul Ryan’s budget plan calls for steep cuts in this program. The Romney position that he would allow banks into the federal student loan system indicates he would have to cut Pell Grants because this tactic would cost more money.

Romney said President Obama was wrong in saying that companies are rewarded for moving their operations off shore. It’s Romney who is wrong: the tax code allows deductions for doing this. As a businessman, Romney should know this from all the companies he has moved off shore.

Romney repeated the theoretical $716 billion Medicare cut, constantly accusing President Obama of taking money away from senior to pay for Obamacare. These “cuts” are actually savings, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office, from making health care more efficient during the next ten years.

Romney warned that 50 percent of doctors will stop taking Medicare patients because Obamacare reduces payments. Yet this claim comes from a very small, informal poll according to a Forbes article. A team of volunteers in North Carolina posing as Medicare beneficiaries wanting a new doctor called 200 family physicians—hardly a credible survey.

Romney’s constant claim that lower taxes produce more jobs doesn’t hold up. Paul Egerman, founder of the digital medical transcription company eScription, said that George W. Bush’s tax cuts saved him about $10 million over the last decade that benefited only himself.  “It’s not like I took the tax cuts and went out and hired people,” he said.

Romney accused the president of developing health boards that would “tell people what kind of treatment they’re going to get.” In reality, the board that President Obama described is a “best practices” board to reduce the cost of Medicare—only Medicare—which is already a government plan. The board does not decide on individual cases, is subject to congressional oversight, and is legally prohibited from rationing care.

When Romney tries to protect the top 3 percent of “small businesses” from receiving higher taxes so that they will hire people, he’s actually talking about large privately-held large corporations that classify themselves as S-corps for tax purposes. For example, one “small business” registered this way is Koch Industries, the country’s second-largest privately held corporation and one that donates millions and millions of dollars to conservative causes and candidates.

Romney kept telling President Obama that Romney’s proposed tax cuts would not cost the country $5 trillion tax cuts but didn’t give any proof. Even Romney’s defense was fact-challenged: he said that there were five studies that showed the Tax Policy Center Study was wrong about the $5 trillion cost to the country. The “studies” included an op-ed piece from the Wall Street Journal, and others are by Romney advisers.

“Obamacare’s on my list. … I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. … I’ll make government more efficient,” Romney said when he made a short list of how he would cut government costs.  Although Romney promised to balance the budget in eight years to 10 years, he hasn’t offered a complete plan. The parts that he has released, such as increasing Pentagon spending and restoring more than $700 billion in Medicare cuts during the next decade, work against his goal especially when he refuses to consider tax increases. One of the ways he suggested to decrease the budget is dropping Public Broadcasting, funding that comprises only 0.00014 percent of the federal budget.

According to an early polling, 46 percent said that Mitt Romney won the debate, 22 percent said that President Obama won it, and the remaining 32 percent called it a draw. I’d go with the last group. The polls that count, however, are the ones that indicate which one of the men will receive the votes.

It’s not over: here’s the schedule for the next three debates.

Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan: 10/11/12 Foreign and Domestic Policy; Center College, Danville (KY); Moderator: Martha Raddatz (ABC News Chief Foreign Correspondent); Nine segments of 10 minutes each

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney: 10/16/12 Foreign and domestic policy; Hofstra University, Hempstead (NY); Moderator: Candy Crowley (CNN Chief Political Correspondent); Undecided voters will ask questions; candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion.

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney: 10/22/12 Foreign policy; Lynn University, Boca Raton (FL);  Moderator: Bob Schieffer (Host of Face the Nation on CBS); Six time segments of approximately 15 minutes, opened with a question giving each candidate having two minutes to respond and following with a discussion.

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