Could the traits of a good president — unflappable calm, sober deliberation and dedication to facts — prove lethal to presidential candidate Barack Obama? Last night’s first presidential debate showed us “no drama Obama” at his most wonkish, and the world called it a good night for Mitt Romney…
…whose agility onstage was stunning in direct proportion to his unbelievable re-invention. His etch-a-sketch moment, whose timing was impeccable.
First off, the good news. On the surface, both candidates were more serious, wonkish and focused on real issues than I have ever seen in a presidential debate. Moreover, in making his veer toward the center (see below), Willard Mitt Romney established what might actually be the outlines — come December and January — of a compromise on the budget that reasonable men and women could work out in a bipartisan manner, solving the Fiscal Cliff.
Assuming that one of the sides gets hammered enough to remember how to be “reasonable men and women.”
== The New Mitt Romney ==
I had been wondering when — after securing the Republican Party’s nomination, Governor Romney would take one of his patented veers, suddenly charging hard for the political center. (Or “shaking the etch-a-sketch”) to re-configure himself for centrists or undecided voters. Why did he delay till now?
Apparently, after a tepid convention, he seemed unsure of solid support from the GOP base and felt he needed to shore it up. Does that theory explain why, for several weeks, he maintained consistency with the far-right positions and statements he proclaimed during the primary? Those included:
– adamant vows to repeal all of Obamacare (despite it having originally been cloned from the Massachusetts plan that he helped bring about, and the earlier Alternative Republican Health Care platform of 1995.)
– adamant and absolute refusal to increase revenues to the federal government, especially from the top 1%.
– decrying government regulation in principle and especially constraints upon big banks, Wall Street — and denouncing any empowerment or activation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which was blocked for two years by House of Representatives (GOP) inaction and by GOP filibusters in the Senate.
– ridiculing alternative energy methods and declaring absolute fealty to tax breaks for fossil fuel companies.
– insistence on supply side “boosts” to the economy by funneling trillions into the richest pockets, on the always-wrong wager that this time it will result in a burst of economic activity that increases tax revenues.
== The Big Swerve ==
All of those positions — declared vigorously during the primaries — are (on average) deeply unpopular with centrist Americans and I was wondering… when will Mitt do his veer?
You saw signs of it about five days before the debate, when he floated a very vague, but suddenly-different, notion that the rich might face an upper limit to their itemized deductions. If the limit were chosen low enough – without exceptions – it might offend the mortgage industry, charitable trusts and many other interest groups; but yes, it could result in major revenue to counter the arterial losses inherent in Romney’s top rate tax cuts. You had to admire the jiu jitsu agility of it all, while denying he was breaking his “no new revenue” pledge. (Of course it amounts to a huge tax hike and could, indeed, be a basis for December-January compromise.)
In fact, what we were witnessing during the last week was brilliant prep work, perfectly timed, for his Wednesday night veer and hard charge toward the center. When Romney flat-out denied holding ANY of the beliefs or policies cited above! Not only that, but he blamed the president for failure to unleash the CFPB on Wall Street with more vigor!
With panache you just had to admire, Romney moved from chutzpah… claiming that – because of his three-day-old new tax policy he had never ruled out revenue increases or asking the rich to pay more or ever proposed a vast supply-side gift of trillions to the top 1%…
…all the way to flat-out lying. For example that ObamaCare is not directly modeled on the health care system he and the Democratic legislature enacted in his home state, when he was governor, down to the details of actual language in the bill. As more and more elements of Obamacare have come into action, and proved publicly popular, those portions have come into Mitt’s category of “oh, well, I’ll keep THAT part, of course.” And each time, he gets away with claiming that it is not a reversal.
Or his claim that Obama’s 90 billion dollars of aid to sustainable energy was fifty times the 3-4 billions per year of tax breaks given to the oil industry… when that 90 billion is mostly not expenditure but loan guarantees resulting in much lower costs, and is spread across many years.
I was reminded of an old Saturday Night Live sketch, in which a wife comes home to find her husband in bed with a bimbo and screams “what’s this?” To which he replies: “What’s what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He keeps up his denial while calmly getting dressed and the bimbo dresses and departs. Stonewalling her rage, he maintains the counterfactual with such puzzled calm and patronizing panache, while making coffee and suggesting that the wife is having blithering fantasies, that she winds up just sitting at the table with him, letting him change the subject to how her day went.
Seriously. Are we that stupid? And is Obama such a klutz he will just stare at the lies, in pole-axed surprise?
== The insanity of liberals ==
It has long been the bane of liberals that they keep offering to negotiate, expecting that they are still talking to the party of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley and that the spirits of those noble, old-style, intellectually formidable conservatives might somehow be roused — and the Beck-Fox madness quelled — by finding the right arguments or by marshaling enough facts!
Mitt himself showed the impossibility of that during the debate. In his biggest chutzpah, he claimed that the Democrats were the partisan fanatics, because ObamaCare passed without a single Republican vote, whereas in Massachusetts he got the nearly identical plan passed by working with all parties. Of course this reflects history, in that democratic-controlled legislatures always negotiate with Republican presidents and governors. Reagan, both Bushes, even Nixon were able to get large parts of their agendas passed that way. (In the case of GWB, that acquiescence constitutes a shame for which the DP should deeply atone.)
The opposite is almost never true. Just once, in 1995, the Republicans in Congress worked with Bill Clinton and negotiated two epochal achievements — Welfare Reform and the Rudman-Tsongas budget compromise that Clinton then meticulously enforced, giving us four years of budgets in the black and paying down debt. After which, the new wave of GOP radicals swore that cooperation with a democratic president would never ever happen again. They made that vow openly and publicly — launching the impeachment hysteria and so much else — and have kept it to this day.
The failure of a single Republican in Congress to support ObamaCare… which was based upon Newt’s Alternative Republican Health Care platform of 1995… was not about Democratic intransigence. It was about the fact that the GOP has become the most tightly disciplined partisan machine in the history of the American Republic.
And … President Obama wasn’t able to make hay of that???
Did any of you notice the lame little jibe he made? “And I agree that the Democratic legislators in Massachusetts might have given some advice to Republicans in Congress about how to cooperate, but the fact of the matter is, we used the same advisers, and they say it’s the same plan.”
Ah, yes. I guess he made my point… and maybe five people caught it.
== What the President did right ==
Look, I personally am happy with some things the President said.
Did anyone else notice that he mentioned SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGICAL LEADERSHIP five times? That’s more than lip service to the one factor in our society that produced more than half of our economic growth and power since 1945. Anyone who cares about a logical, scientific, progressive, pragmatic, problem-solving civilization should take that — and a myriad similar data — as evidence for why only 6% of U.S. scientists are still Republicans. No such mention is ever made by Republicans. Except Newt. Ever.
And sure, if he had to err in one direction or the other, then “no drama Obama” is the correct choice. Frankly, I don’t think he’d be president today, if he had an angry bone in his body. (Though he got Osama bin Laden, and nearly fifty other top terror leaders.)
Still, what would it hurt to — well — invoke the ghost at the banquet? A particular name. The name of a fellow known as George W. Bush?
Jeez! The Republicans are fleeing from that name like the Knights Who Say Ni! They never ever mention their own record at governance over the United States, which lasted longer and was more fierce in control than the shorter spans of democratic rule. Can you imagine this final chutzpah? Demanding power, while frantically refusing to discuss how you used it before? Or the resulting outcomes?
ALL of our current deficit can be attributed to two multi-trillion dollar wars of “nation building” that resulted in new satrapies of Iran, giant tax gifts to oligarchs who created no jobs, the unfunded Medicare Part D and the trillion dollar raid on our economy that led to the Second Depression… and the Dems are afraid to remind voters any of that? Any at all?
Well, maybe they’ve assigned that role to Vice President Biden. If so, I hope he is well rehearsed. Because Paul Ryan is a pit bull.
== Follow up ==
In my posting about Questions I would Ask at the Debates, I linked to some of my earlier articles about each topic. Still, I expect folks just skimmed on past, so let me urge you to consider:
My series about gerrymandering, offering some easy fixes you have almost certainly never seen before! Including the simplest reform that would require a minimum of bureaucracy…
…. and about the Electoral College. Let’s not bother to eliminate it. (Too much trouble.) But there is a simple, almost trivial fix that could ensure that there’s almost no chance that the popular vote winner will ever again be frozen out in the Electoral College. See also this very informative video assessment by Mansur Gidfar.