To the delight of Republicans and the dismay of Democrats, Mitt Romney won the first presidential debate. His performance was reminiscent of the 1980 presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, where Reagan asked Americans, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
In the October 28, 1980 debate, Carter came across as serious and disdainful. Reagan appeared relaxed and competent. When hectored by Carter, Reagan chided, “There you go again.”
In the October 3, 2012 debate, Barack Obama was professorial and pensive. Mitt Romney appeared relaxed and competent. When challenged by Obama, Romney repeated one of his five promises: restore jobs, propose no tax cut that adds to the deficit, repeal Obamacare and shift Medicaid and other programs to the states, restore $716 billion cuts to Medicare, and prevent dramatic cuts to the military. Romney blamed America’s problems on lack of leadership and boasted he had the skills to get Republicans and Democrats to work together.
Romney’s opening statement set the contrast between his plan and that of Obama. “The path we’re on has been unsuccessful… trickle-down government.” “I will restore the vitality that gets America working again.” Romney was selling his skills as an executive more than a specific plan. Late in the debate Romney promised that on his first day as President he would sit down with Democrats and Republicans to figure out what to do.
Romney asserted: “Under the president’s policies, middle-income Americans have been buried… [They’ve] seen their income come down by $4300… At the same time, gasoline prices have doubled under the president. Electric rates are up. Food prices are up. Health care costs have gone up by $2500 a family.”
During technical discussions about tax plans, Romney kept returning to jobs.
And if we lower that rate, [small businesses] will be able to hire more people. For me, this is about jobs. This is about getting jobs for the American people… My priority is putting people back to work in America. They’re suffering in this country… We’ve go 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work… when the president took office, 32 million people on food stamps; 47 million on food stamps today; economic growth this year slower than last year, and last year slower than the year before.
Romney seemed to be in command of the facts but Think Progress reported that most of what he said was either a distortion or lie.
Romney dodged Obama’s complaint that he intends to turn Medicare into a voucher program and responded, “He’s cutting $716 billion from the program.” Actually Obama is not cutting Medicare benefits but instead producing $716 billion in savings by eliminating overpayments to insurance companies.
When asked to give an example of harmful Federal regulations, Romney mentioned the “Dodd-Frank” financial reform law and complained, “it designates a number of banks as too big to fail, and they’re effectively guaranteed by the federal government.” That’s not true. The Think Progress website noted: “The law merely says that the biggest, systemically risky banks need to abide by more stringent regulations. If those banks fail, they will be unwound by a new process in the Dodd-Frank law that protects taxpayers from having to pony up for a bailout.”
Romney presented a formidable case against Obamacare: “It will cost $2500 a year more than traditional insurance… it cuts $716 billion from Medicare to pay for it… it puts in place an unelected board that’s going to tell people what kind of treatments they can have… 20 million people will lose their insurance as Obamacare goes into effect…” Again, Romney’s complaints were untrue. Think Progress reported “Obamacare will actually provide millions of families with tax credits to make health care more affordable.” The $716 billion are savings. The Board is restricted to “lowering health care spending” and has nothing to do with treatment. “The Affordable Care Act would actually expand health care coverage to 30 million Americans.”
Romney finished strong.
What we’re seeing right now is… a trickle-down government approach, which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working. And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work… we need to have leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together.
For several weeks there have been rumors than in the final month of the campaign, Romney would liken Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter; he would do as Ronald Reagan did when he claimed Carter was part of the problem. That’s what Romney’s strategy was in the first debate; through aggressive duplicity, he painted Obama as a villain.
In 1980 Jimmy Carter had one debate with Reagan and lost it and the election. Fortunately, Obama will debate Romney two more times and has an opportunity to set the record straight. To accomplish this, Obama must be much more aggressive and engaged. The President must confront Romney on his lies and distortions.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at email@example.com