Terrific! More than a week later, it still feels great. I had predicted that the Prez would win but with only 277 electoral votes. But contrary to my thinking, he won Colorado, Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire, and he earned 332 votes instead. In many of the battleground states, Obama’s victory was narrow, but it was broad, except in the South.
How did this happen? It will be a while before the political scientists pore over the data to tell us what really happened in detail, but a few conclusions might be drawn now:
- There was and is an enormous reservoir of good will toward the Prez among most Americans. Most Americans think that he’s a smart, good guy trying to do his best against high odds and implacable opposition. Add that perception to the slowly but steadily improving economy and a slender majority decided to give him four more years.
- Obviously, demographics mattered. Much has been written on this, and I won’t add to it. Basically, the country has changed, the Democrats worked with/built on the changes but the Republicans mostly did not.
- Romney was a confusing candidate. I guess he had to wait until after the Republican convention to move to the middle for fear of leaving Tampa with a divided party, but his late centrism played into the narrative that he changes his mind to suit the moment. He never answered the question of who he is and what he believes in.
- He also did not answer major policy questions, such as how his tax and spending plan would work to reduce the national debt, with what legislation would he replace Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, etc. Basically, he wanted us to trust him, but given his flip-flps, how could we?
- The Democrats had a better ground game, especially GOTV in the days and weeks before the election and on election day. I was impressed by what I saw of GOTV in Colorado.
The biggest relief for me is that we did not choose to turn the clock back to the 1920s (economic policy), the 1950s (social policies) and the 1980s (foreign policy), which is what Romney offered. He was quite open about it on his website. I also feel relief that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely safe for another four years. The impact of a presidential election on the Supremes and federal appellate and district courts is always a huge issue, but it tends to be a sleeper in the campaigns, just below the surface. Romney said he would have nominated justices in the mould of Scalia and Thomas. Can you imagine the damage a court packed with folks like this would have done to the country for at least a generation?
I find myself wondering from time to time why I am such a strong fan of Barack Obama. His policy agenda is a big part of it, but there’s something else. I think it is his worldview. By that I mean his general approach to all the issues. He really does believe his rhetoric that economic growth must build from the middle-out, that other cultures and countries are just as exceptional as the U.S. in their own ways, that skin color, religion and national origin do not matter, that we’re all in this together on our small planet and that anyone can make it with a little help. Contrast this with Romney and most Republicans, who seem to feel that they have all the answers, that the U.S. is the only exceptional nation and that, if you do not believe in “God,” you’re somehow less worthy. This is 20th century, or even 19th century, thinking, and I’m glad that it has been pushed aside for four more years.
There is a fair amount of crowing, if not gloating, by Democrats these days. This is understandable, although somewhat over the top since the margin of victory was hardly a landslide. The slow-growing economy may stall again. If they’re smart, the Republicans will rely increasingly on the Bobby Jindals and Marco Rubios to show a more diverse face. The Ds could make a mis-step in the delicate negotiations surrounding the “fiscal cliff.” For the Ds, the time for a victory lap has already ended. Time to solidify the impressive but fragile coalition the Ds put together to triumph on Election Day. After all, we have mid-term congressional elections in less than two years!
I’m interested in how some Republicans are reacting to their defeat, particularly with secesson petitions posted on the White House website. These petitions mostly find signatories in southern states. I am tempted to say, “Good riddance,” given the profound political and cultural separation between much of at least the rural South and the rest of the country. (In fact, maybe the biggest cultural divide is between urban and rural America, wherever located.) The White House has promised that it will respond, since at least one of the petitions has more than 25,000 signatures, the threshhold for an official response. It will be interesting to see what the White House says. I hope it will be more than just pablum.
The key challenge in DC these days is how to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” or “fiscal slope” as many believe it is more properly called, made up mainly by the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the “sequestration,” under which Defense and non-Defense spending are trimmed drastically. The main issues are (1) how the two sides will find sufficient revenue to provide balance in reducing the national debt, now over $16 trillion, and in so doing whether the Bush tax cuts will expire, in whole or in part and (2) what steps they will propose to deal with so-called entitlement programs, especially Medicare and Medicaid.
ll indications are that Congress will eliminate the sequestration. In its place, they will likely make a very small deposit on bringing down the national debt but otherwise kick the can down the road, leaving broader reforms to the tax code and to the entitlement programs to discussion in the context of some, at-this-time unknown “structure.”
This would be unfortunate. While I concede that reducing the national debt must be done very carefully in an economy that is weak, I doubt that mostly kicking the can further down the road will give sufficient confidence to the markets so that American businesses take some of their $2.5 trillion in cash and start making capital investments here at home. And without that, joblesseness will remain high and consumers without the wherewithal to increase demand for the products that businesses sell. The result? A weak economy continues. I strongly hope I am wrong and that a grand bargain of sorts can be fashioned before the end of the year. But I doubt it.
The negotiations over fiscal cliff are dramatic, in their own way as important for our country as last week’s elections. My plan is to stay abreast of and post on them in the weeks ahead.
Bruce Driver Boulder, CO November 17, 2012
Here are a few late pre-election thoughts plus predictions on the race for the White House and control of the U.S. Senate. The House is too complicated for me to make predictions. The latest conventional thinking, though, is that the Republicans may actually gain at least 5 seats in the House. How that is possible, given the instransigeance of House Republicans and their in-the-storm-cellar low popularity is way beyond me. Probably just shows that these races are mainly decided on local issues and personalities.
Pre-election thoughts If Romney wins, there will then commence a complicated, messy and bitter unwinding of much of what Obama has accomplished in the last four years, based on what Romney has said in the campaign, such as:
- There will be an attempt to repeal Obamacare. If the Rs win control of the Senate, they will try to do this mainly through reconciliation procedures that circumvent filibusters. If they do not win the Senate, the Ds will not allow this to happen. Romney will then undo as much of Obamcare as he can through executive-branch action. This will leave much of Obamacare intact, but it will be incredibly messy.
- There will be an attempt to repeal Dodd-Frank financial regulation. Same scenarios as with Obamacare, depending on who controls the Senate. But in this case, Romney will be able to administratively destroy more than with Obamacare, such as rendering the new Consumer Protection Office a eunuch. House Rs will help him by refusing to appropriate revenues for it.
- Romney will attempt to re-insert the banks as middle-men between federal revenues and students applying for loans. Think how stupid this is–it just diverts billions of dollars away from students and to the banks.
- Federal programs promoting clean energy resources will be dismantled and new goodies given to coal, oil and gas producers. If he can get it passed Congress, Romney will give power to the states to manage all federal lands for coal, oil and gas production. He may be successful if the Rs control the Senate.
- The present, careful movement within EPA to encourage industry to clean up its act on a wide range of pollutants, inlcuding carbon dioxide, will be dismantled and legislation to gut federal environmental laws will be sent to Congress. It is not clear whether Congress will agree, although it is much more likely it will if the Rs control the Senate.
- Medicaid funds will be slashed unmercifully, imposing new costs on those least fortunate. This is mainly a budgetary matter and, thus, is in the hands of the Republican House.
- Steps will be initiated to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Whether this gambit will be successful will, again, depend on which party controls the Senate. Even if the Rs control the Senate, this will be a heavy lift.
- There will be no effort made in the lame duck Congress to address the impending fiscal cliff or the debt ceiling. Romney has asked Congress to do nothing on these critical, short-term issues if he is elected. He seems to think he can resolve these matters after he’s sworn in. The effect may be halt the steady, if slow, economic recovery now underway.
- Romney will finally have to tell us how he expects to avoid exploding the national debt while cutting taxes mostly for the wealthy, increasing Defense spending by $2 trillion that the DOD does not want while keeping federal revenues the same as they have been AND not raising taxes on the middle class. Can’t be done.
For these and many other reasons, the election of Romney will de-stabilize the country and threaten a recession. Some argue that a Romney election would encourage business and industry to get off the sidelines and invest the trillions in cash that they hold, apparently a result of foreseeing lower corporate tax rates. I doubt this, because what’s holding business back is not so much its tax burden but a middle class without purchasing power. Nothing Romney proposes will change that, except maybe for the worse.
A Romney victory would reward Republicans for being obstructionists for most of four years. It would also elevate to power many Tea Party types who are just angry but without wisdom. Do you want these guys to have more power?
Character matters. How much character does Romney have when he changes his positions to fit the audience and the situation? What does he stand for? Does he even know?
There is an eloquent piece by E.J. Dionne, maybe my favorite political pundit, on why Obama must be re-elected. Much better than I could ever do, it makes the case for the Presiednt’s re-election without descending into interest-group or zero-sum arguments. Here’s a link to the article: http://swampland.time.com/2012/11/01/the-case-for-barack-obama/. Truly worth reading.
Predictions I’m doing this because it’s fun, not because I have any particular insight or wisdom to share, although I do follow the daily polls obsessively.
Race for the White House I think Romney will win the national vote but that Obama will win the electoral-college majority. I see a 51-49 vote for Romney but Obama winning the electoral college 277-261.
States that are solid for Obama total 201 electoral votes and states solid for Romney 191.
At latest count, and being charitable to the Romney campaign, there are eleven battleground states, that is, states where the outcome is in some doubt. With their electoral-college votes in parentheses, they are: Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), Virginia (13) and Wisconsin (10).
In Colorado the polls show a toss-up, a little better for Obama than two weeks ago. However, I give Colorado to Romney on the basis of hunch and seeing more Republican (Romney/Ryan) yard signs in Boulder, which is 80% liberal, than I have ever seen in a presidential election since I’ve lived here (20 years). I also give Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia to Romney. I am least confident in my hunch about New Hampshire and Virginia, but it seems that NH is trending Romney and the defense industry (Norfolk) and coal country (Southwest Va.) may slightly trump northern Virginia. I don’t understand why Florida leans Romney, with all the old folks down there, but it does, according to the polls, which have been tightening toward Obama in recent days.
All the other states go to Obama. As an Obama suppoter, I am most worried about Iowa, but Obama can still lose that state and prevail with 271 votes. I am less worried about Ohio, since Romney’s car gaffe, incurring the public annoyance of both GM and Chrysler, has probably solidified Obama’s slender lead there. Nevada seems almost a lock for Obama, given the Reid machine and the labor Dems that operate in Las Vegas and Reno.
If you total up the electoral votes from the battleground states as I have stated them and add them to the “solid” states for each candidate, you get 277 for Obama and 261 for Romney. A loss in either Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania would give the election to Romney. Of these states, I’m most worried, but not too much, about Wisconsin.
The U.S. Senate In toto the Senate races are as important as the race for the White House, because with control of the Senate comes the ability to set the schedule and, thus, whether and how the Senate considers key issues, as discussed above.
Currently, there are 50 Democratic, 47 Republican and 2 Independent members of the Senate. The two Is caucus with the Ds, leaving Ds in shaky control of the chamber by 53-47. Of course the liberal use of the filibuster means that 60 votes are necessary to approve any significant bills. Because of this, Majority Leader Reid mainly imposes his will through decisions regarding scheduling of debate.
21 seats currently held by Ds, 10 by Rs and both seats held by Is are contested this election. The much greater exposure of the Ds to an election led most pundits a year ago to forecast a Republican takeover of the Senate this fall.
But it does not look like this will happen. As of today, the polls show that 46 Democratic or D-leaning independent Senate seats are either safe or are not up for election and 43 Republican seats are also safe or not up. That leaves 11 “battleground” Senate seats to be decided next Tuesday. They are in Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Democrats could win all of these contests, but that is unlikely. On the basis of the polling and just plain hunches, I’d give Arizona, North Dakota and Wisconsin to the Rs and all the rest to the Ds, although North Dakota and Wisconsin could swing to the Ds. That leaves the 2013 Senate with 54 seats for the Ds and Is and 46 for the Rs. At least three of the seats that I think will remain with the Ds are surprises given their status earlier this year: Montana, Missouri and Indiana. Missouri and Indiana are likely to fall to the Ds because the Rs nominated wing-nuts. In Montana, Sen. Tester has showed remarkable reslience in the face of outside money supporting his opponent. But Tester could easily lose. He’s up by about 1 point in the polls.
The news from the Senate contests is good. It should be a safety net against the possibility that Obama loses the White House.
Bruce Driver Boulder, CO 11/2/12
As we are but a week away from election day–although many will have voted before it–I thought I’d discuss a few underlying issues.
First, neither campaign has spent much time talking about the fiscal cliff and the necessity to lift the federal debt ceiling. These are the major economic issues that a new administration will have to face right away, unless Congress magically resolves them in the lame duck session, which is unlikely, especially if Romney wins. Why have the campaigns largely ignored tehse key issues? Maybe because they don’t poll-test well. Americans just don’t want to hear about them. Discussing them may alienate key voter blocs. Shows how much both parties pander to their bases and how the American electorate is largely in a state of denial.
Second, if Obama wins, I think the likelihood of resolving these big fiscal issues may be enhanced. Romney, like most congressional Republicans, has signed the Grover Norquist no-tax-increase-under-any-circumstances pledge. If Romney wins, he will be under enormous pressure from his right flank not to include revenues as part of a package to address the fiscal cliff and debt limit. So he and the House Republicans will produce a budget that relies entirely on spending cuts except for Defense. But this position is not popular among most voters. So, when Senate Democrats filibuster the Romney budget, they are likely to find support among much of the electorate, even though the filibuster, itself, is unpopular. Looks like gridlock again. But if Obama is re-elected and if he offers a “grand bargain” that relies mostly on spending cuts but includes some revenues, the pressure on congressional Republicans to accept this deal will be immense, especially since an Obama victory will itself produce unpopular gridlock unless the Republicans relent on revenues. I guess what I’m saying is that the Norquist pledge is even more toxic than the filibuster.
Third, even apart from the policy disaster, I am convinced that it would be a huge mistake to hand over the reins of government to the Republicans right now. The Republican Party has been taken over by extremists, including the Tea Party, religious fundamentalists, anti-science thinking, federalist-society constitutional “orginalists” and others who are outside the mainstream. It is also mostly a party of older white guys. I just don’t think these folks are right for a country showing more diversity, significant and growing income inequality, enormous economic challenges and a steadily increasing role of women in business and other aspects of life. It’s better for all of us if Obama is re-elected but that he must deal with thoughtful economic conservatives in Congress–there are some. Sustainable compromise will be essential among these forces, and this is much more likely with Obama in the White House.
Fourth, following the campaign prettty closely, I have learned to accept that Obama is indeed flawed. His flaws have little to do with his policy positions, which I largely support, but with his temperament. In short, he is the opposite of LBJ and Bill Clinton. These two actually loved (Clinton still does) the back-slapping and give and take of politics. They draw energy from other people. I don’t think Obama does. Obama is an intellectual who believes that ideas should drive the discussion from start to finish. I think this is mainly why he did not rise to the body-language situation in the first debate in Denver, when it became apparent that Romney was on his game. I am somewhat surprised that Obama chose political life as his career, since I think he views it as a kind of necessary evil, to be endured as the cost of changing the world. But I’m sure glad he did.
Fifth, have there ever been two candidates who are so different from one another than Romney and Obama? Romney is a classic Daddy figure from the 1950s. Some women love this model, explaining, in part, why Obama has lost some of the gender edge he has had. Many older men love this model, too, since it’s the way they think things were in the good old leave-it-to-Beaver days. Obama is the academic intellectual, sometimes cold and arrogant, but very well-plugged into the 21st century world in which we now live culturally and with his expansive worldview.
Sixth, I’ve never seen a candidate turn to the middle and fudge his past positions as much as Romney has. It’s breathtaking. But this is typical. He has had so many different positions on so many issues that I can’t keep up. He truly does change his positions to fit the audience. When he needed to be a “severe conservative” during the Republican primaries, he was. Now, when he needs to appeal to the center, he spouts centrist positions on most issues. Who is this guy? No one knows. Maybe he doesn’t either. The one thing we do know is that he is ambitious. Scares the hell out of me.
Finally, no one should forget the fact that Romney still has not explained how his fiscal and tax plans can work. He denies it, but if you cut tax rates by 20% for everyone, you add $4.8 trillion in deficits. Period. He says that his plans will be revenue-neutral because he’ll close tax loopholes, but he still has not said which ones. Every reputable analysis of his plan concludes that it cannot work, unless there is totally improbable economic growth, without ultimately raising taxes on someone, likely the middle class. Add to all this that he wants to increase outays for Defense by $2 trillion above what the Pentagon says it needs, and he is being wildly fiscally irresponsible. Yet, he may be getting free ride on these issues. How can this be?
Bruce Driver, Boulder, CO October 29, 2012
The third debate between the presidential candidates, on foreign policy, is rapidly disappearing from view, but I thought I’d summarize what happened before it is forgotten. I’ll wrap this post briefly with where we stand with ten more days to the election.
The third debate The takeaways from the debate, as reported by most of the media, were that Obama dominated and that Romney changed his positions so that they were fairly close to that of the President. I watched the debate and then read the transcript. I agree with the common opinion of what happened. The transcript heightened my sense of Obama’s dominance. The debate is also a window on the Romney campaign strategy, since the conventions, to re-invent his public image as a pragmatic, if ill-informed, moderate. This strategy, along with the President’s lackluster performance at the first debate, has measureably tightened the race. A small, but critical swath of the electorate, including more women, seem to be drinking the kool-aid. For me, Romney’s performance since the convention makes him even more untrustworthy than I have thought he was. He seems to be willing to say anything to get elected. Problem is, who can know what he would really do with all the power if he wins?
Third-debate issues Moderator Schieffer raised six issues:
Libya The question was directly on Benghazi, and it was directed at Romney. Romney dodged it. Instead, after saying he worried about Al Quaeda, he laid out a four-point plan to influence the Muslim world: (1) economic development; (2) better education; (3) gender equality and (4) rule of law. These are all worthy aspirational goals, but Romney gave us no details as to how he would use the White House to achieve them. Obama did address Benghazi (although not the changing story of what happened), saying that they’ll find and bring to justice who did this. He also pointed out that Romney had said that Russia was our #1 geo-political threat and has been wrong on other foreign-policy issues, including Iraq. Romney said that attacking him is not an agenda. Romney ended up by saying that we need to do nation-building at home, not elsewhere. Clear advantage Obama, both on knowledge of the issues as well showing how Romney’s always-evolving positions make him untrustworthy.
Syria The initial question was whether the President needed to revisit his Syria policy in light of the fact that a year had passed and 30,000 people had died. Obama did not answer the question directly, but he said that he’s confident that Assad’s days are numbered and that we have to be careful about arming bad guys. Romney said that Syria is critical because it is Iran’s route to the sea, which it is not, since Iran and Iraq do not share a common border and Iran has its own route to the sea. Romney said that we need to be organizing responsible parties in Syria, but that we should not get involved militarily. Obama said that this is exactly what his administration is doing. Schieffer then asked Romney whether we should establish a no-fly zone over Syria. Romney did not answer the question. Schieffer next asked Romney whether he thought we abandoned Mubarak too soon. Surpisingly, given earlier statements, he said “no.” Romney ended this segment by saying that he waned a “peaceful planet,” bolstered by a strong American economy and military. Advantage Obama, unless you’re drinking the cool-aid.
U.S. role in the world Romney said that our role in the world is to make it more peaceful, promote human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression and elections. He criticized Obama because our economy is not strong, we have tensions with Israel, we pulled our missile defense from Poland and we let down the Green Revolution in Iran. The discussion then slipped over into the candidates’ domestic policies, as Schieffer lost control. Obama said that we’re a stronger nation now than when he took office, and he ticked off the reasons why, summarizing what he said he’d accomplished and his agenda for a second term. Romney responded with his stump speech about what he’d do if elected. Obama responded that Romney’s record on small business when he was Governor was bad. He then described up (what I think is) the biggest issue in the campaign: How can Romney cut taxes by $5 trillion and expand defense spending by $2 trillion and not explode the deficit or increase middle-class taxes? Romney did not answer, other than to say that he has balanced budgets 19 times (?). Obama then made some news by stating that the pending sequester affecting the Pentagon and domestic, discretionary spending “will not happen.” Romney said that our navy has less ships now than it did in 1916. Obama pointed out that we also have less horses and bayonets now. Times and technology change. Advantage: Clear for Obama.
Redlines, Israel and Iran Obama was asked whether he would be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the U.S. Obama did not answer the question directly, only to say that we’ll stand with Israel if it is attacked. He then pointed out that sanctions have weakened Iran, its currency having lost 80% of its value. Romney did not answer the question either, but said that he would have imposed crippling sanctions earlier and that military action is a last resort. Schieffer then asked if Obama has agreed to bi-lateral talks with Iran. He said that reports of these talks are untrue. Romney then said that Iran sees a U.S. that is not strong and that Obama went on an “apology tour” of the Middle-East. This got Obama angry, and he blasted Romney for failing to see that Obama has taken the necessary time to mobilize the world against Iran. Romney mentioned that Obama has not been to Israel. Obama described his visit to Israel as a candidate, when he did not take donors and hold a fundraiser, as Romney had. Schieffer asked, what if Israel calls and says that its bombers are on the way to Iran, what would you do? Romney said that that would never happen because of his relationship with Netanyahu. Obama summed up this discussion by pointing out how Romney’s positions on Middle-East issues had been all over the map. Advantage Obama, since the “apology-tour” notion has been discredited by most observers.
Afghanistan & Pakistan This was a short discussion in which it was hard to find any present disagreement between the candidates. Changing his position almost 180 degrees, Romney said that, if he’s President, we’re finished in Afghanistan in 2014. He said that we need to stay engaged in Pakistan and the supports the use of drones. Obama agreed. Advantage Obama, since he showed consistency, whereas at least on Afghanistan, Romney did not.
China The question that started this segment was, “What is the greatest threat to the security of the U.S?” The President said that it was terrorism. He added that his administration had gone after the cheaters in China. Romney said the greatest threat is Iran. On China he repeated his vow to label China a currency manipulator on Day 1. That led Schieffer to ask Romney if doing so would not start a trade war. Romney did not answer the question. Obama said that Romney should know about jobs going to China, since he invested in companies shipping jobs overseas, that we’d be importing cars from China now if we’d followed Romney’s advice about Detroit, that the value of China’s currency has increased since Obama has been President and that we are shihfting military assets so that we are a Pacific power. Romney insisted that he wanted Detroit to go through a managed bankruptcy. Obama stated that Romney may have wanted Detroit to go bankrupt but without direct federal help. The debate became heated at this point with Obama saying that Romney was not telling the truth about his position on Detroit and Romney denying this. The debate then turned into dueling stump speeches again on domestic issues. Advantage Obama because Romney did not answer the trade war questions and Obama simply has the better position, politically speaking, in Ohio.
Closng statements This was the last moment in the campaign in which the candidates would have an audience of nearly 60 million people, and they used it to make brief closing statements. Obama said that the U.S. is digging itself out of policies that gave us two wars, record deficits and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Romney wants to put in place the very policies that caused these problems. Romney said that we’re heading toward $20 trillion in national debt under this president and that we are becomng another Greece. What the country needs is strong, bi-partisan leadership, which, Romney said, he will give the country.
In sum Obama won this debate pretty easily. Yet, foreign policy is not a significant issue in this campaign. So, Obama’s performance does not seem to have made much a difference in the polling, which shows today that Romney has a very slight lead in the average of national polls but that Obama holds slight leads in the key battleground states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin, while Romney has a slight lead in Florida. Polling in Colorado and Virginia shows jump balls. Perhaps what the third debate did was to continue to stanch the bleeding from the first debate, thereby at least slowing Romney’s momentum.
Bruce Driver Boulder CO October 26. 2012
As you know, I am a fan of Nate Silver’s 538 blog. He analyzes daily polls and prepares a forecast of what these polls mean for the election, day after day.
Today, he opines on the validity of the Gallup poll, which shows Romney with a 7-point lead. Those of us who shudder at a Romney victory, almost assured if the election were held today according to Gallup, will be heartened at Sillver’s analysis. Read it and feel a little better. http://fivethirtyeight.blogs,nytimes.com/ BD
Maybe like many of you, I watched the second Presidential debate with obsessive interest. I came away thinking that Obama had clearly won. In any event, his performance at Hofstra indicated that he truly did want a second term, which was not entirely clear after the first debate.
I then read the transcript of the second debate. In my view, on the substance the contest was closer than it looked on TV. I still thought that Obama had prevailed, but not necessarily any more than he had in the first debate. I concluded that, like most of the electorate, I had been influenced by body language, style and tone as much as substance. Obama was much better on these intangibles than he had been in the first debate. Romney was the same animated guy he was in the first debate, but, pounded by a more aggressive Obama, he got tired toward the end.
As a result of the questioning, eleven broad issues were discussed by the combatants. What follows is a brief rundown of them and how (I thought) each of them did on the substance, trying to correct for my opinion that, just about across-the-board, Romney’s policies are awful for the country:
- Jobs: The debate began with a question on each candidate’s proposals for jobs. I thought Romney engaged in a lot of rhetorical hand-waving without much detail. Obama got off-track and talked about his agenda for a second term, important but mostly unresponsive to the question and unclear about the impact of his agenda on job creation. Toward the end of this discussion, Obama got in a couple good licks on the auto rescue. A tie.
- Gasoline prices/energy: The question that began this part of the debate was whether Obama agreed with his Energy Secretary who allegedly said that it is not the job of the U.S. DOE to help lower gas prices. Obama did not respond to the question until prompted by the moderator to do so late in the discussion. Romney responded with lots of anecdotes about how Obama’s policies stifle oil, coal and gas development in the U.S. There was extensive discussion on leasing for oil and gas on federal lands. This is mind-numbing for most people. Obama has the facts on his side here, but I doubt most of the audience know enough about this issue to have seen that. Again, at the very end of this long discussion, Obama got in a good shot about how Romney might lower gas prices substantially because he’ll plunge us back into recession. Slight advantage to Obama.
- Taxes, deficits and debt: In my view this subject area is Romney’s major achilles heel. he did nothing in the debate to repair this dominant problem. His across-the-board 20% tax rate reduction would result in the loss of $4.8 trillion to the federal treasury under reasonable economic projections. He claims that he will offset that loss by closing loopholes, but no unbiased analysis backs him up. (See my second-to-last post.) In fact, unless there is economic growth beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations, Romney will have to raise taxes from the middle class to avoid adding to the deficit. He says he will do neither, but that is mathematically impossible. I thought Obama pointed all this out well. He also explained that Romney also wants to spend $2 trillion more on Defense, when the DOD is not asking for it, with consequences for deficits and the national debt. Clear advantage Obama.
- Women’s issues: Mostly Romney touted the effect of his plans to spur more economic growth as benefitting women. And he also talked about his” binders of women,” as exemplary of his commitment to women, and his flexibility to their needs in the workplace. Obama started out talking about his mother and student loans at some length, only tangentially on topic, losing an opportunity to jump all over Romney for his shifting positions on these issues. But then he pointed out that Romney had not endorsed the Lilly Ledbetter legislation and wanted to stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Neither candidate touched a woman’s right to choose. I give Obama only a slight advantage, although the going-viral of Romney’s “binders of women” may be the major takeaway from the debate.
- Is Romney different than Bush? I thought that Romney did a strong job pointing out how, as the times are different, his positions on some issues are different than Bush’s, especially on energy, China and the deficits. I also thought Obama was strong in this interchange. He pointed out how Romney’s positions on Medicare, Planned Parenthood and on some social policies are different (and worse) than Bush’s. A tie.
- Why should someone support Obama for another term? Obama gave a spirited but hardly systematic recitation of some of his first-term accomplishments. He said he would “keep trying” in another term. Romney came back with a systematic, data-heavy attack on Obama’s first term. Obama did not try to respond. I thought that this was Romney’s best moment in the debate. Advantage Romney.
- Immigration: The candidates expressed similar policies on this topic. This is a big etch-a-sketch shift for Romney, whose primary-positions were far right. Obama pointed out that he had stoppped deporting the kids of illegals who are here through no fault of their own and that he, but not Romney, supports the Dream Act. Obama also mentioned that he had strengthened border control. Romney pointed out that Obama had promised to submit comphrensive legislation on immigration but had not done so. Obama responded that you need bi-partisan support for immigration legislation, and this has not existed. Slight advantage for Obama.
- Benghazi attack: The question was: Who denied extra security in Benghazi and why? Obama gave a general answer, then promised to bring the attackers to justice. He then stated that Romney had attempted to politicize the events while they were happening. Romney implied that Obama was covering up the lack of proper security by blaming the you-tube video for the attack. Obama pointed out that he had referred to the attack as “terrorism” one day after it had occurred. The moderator backed him up on this. Romney then used his time to accuse Obama of having taken an “apology tour” in the Middle East and generally mucking up matters in Iran, Egypt and Syria. Obama ended this discussion with accepting responsibility for Benghazi. Advantage Obama. This is not Romney’s strong suit.
- Guns: This was a discouraging discussion between a President who has done nothing on guns and a man who favored more gun control while Governor but who nows toes the NRA line. Romney made a mistake in this discussion by saying that it is illegal in the U.S. to “have automatic weapons.” No, it’s not, since Congress refused to re-authorize this ban several years ago. Romney also said that the greatest failure we’ve had with regard to gun violence is the Fast and Furious program at the ATF. That’s absurd, when inner-city kids are killed all the time by handguns. Obama said we have to get at the root causes of gun violence by more economic opportunity. Advantage Obama, mainly because Romney was awful, not because Obama was terribly eloquent.
- Outsourcing of jobs: Romney said he’d deal with this issue by relieving business of regulations and charging China as being currency manipulator. Obama pointed out that China’s currency had increased in value by 11% under his administration, thereby making American goods more competitive. He also pointed out that Romney wants to extend tax breaks for companies who outsource and that, indeed, Romney’s approach will create 800,000 new jobs, but they’ll be in India, China or Germany. Advantage Obama.
- Misperceptions of the candidates: Romney said that the biggest misperception people have of him is that he does not care about ordinary folks. Obama said that the biggest misperception people have of him is that he thinks that the government is the solution to every problem. Here is where Obama slipped in his reference to Romney’s 47% comment, tactically a brilliant move because Romney could not respond, since the debate was over. Advantage Obama.
One large issue that was not discussed in the second debate is what each candidate would do about the fiscal cliff the federal government faces at the end of December. Not only the substance, but how would you go about getting a deal? A related issue is that the debt ceiling will again have to be raised early in 2013. These are huge issues. Surprising that neither candidate found a way to talk about them.
Another issue not addressed, although it could have been in response to the energy inquiry: Climate change: Is this a real issue or not? If it is, what do you propose to do about it?
I also thought that neither candidate addressed the biggest jobs/economy issue that the U.S. faces on the long run: Globalization. Globalization has made this a “flat world,” using Tom Friedman’s phrase. What are your plans to restore America’s economic vibrancy when we compete with countries who pay their labor force much less than we do and are newly equipped to compete because information is universally available? Maybe the candidates don’t talk directly about this, because they know that an honest answer to this question might be a death knell on election day.
In the wake of the second debate, some pundits have complained that Obama still has not lain out a vision or agenda for a second term. This is inaccurate. He has done so, even in this debate in the Jobs discussion. But you have to look carefully for it. And he has not been clear about what he thinks the effect of his agenda should be on jobs and the economy. He needs to do this and soon.
I thought that Obama missed an opportunity to describe, once again, how he has accomplished much, notwithstanding the obstructionism of congressional Republicans.
Status of the race. The second debate allowed the President to recapture his mojo, but it is not clear yet whether he, together with Joe Biden’s performance in his debate with Paul Ryan, has slowed Romney’s momentum from the first debate. Today’s national Gallup poll has Romney up by 7%. If you were to base your judgment of where this race stands on Gallup alone, you’d have to conclude that this is Romney’s race to lose, but most of Gallup’s polling took place prior to the second debate. Other national polls are much closer. Battleground state polls show that Romney has gained, but that Obama is still favored in the key state of Ohio, if not clearly in any other battleground state. Go to Nate Silver’s informative”538″ blog to see what all this means for projections on election day. http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/
Bruce Driver, Boulder, CO October 18, 2012
At this writing, Mitt Romney has seized the momentum in the campaign. He is slightly ahead in an average of national polls and has pulled even with the President, or is even ahead of him, in most battleground-state polls.
How did this happen? It would be hard to exaggerate the impact of the President’s desultory performance at the first Presidential debate, since most of Romney’s gains have occurred since then. But there’s more to it than the President’s performance. Romney re-created himself as a “pragmatic moderate” in front of 70 million people in the first debate. For many, this was their first real look at the man. For others who had seen him, his performance encourged reconsideration.
That it is now impossible to tell who he really is does not seem to matter to people hungry for someone who says he can break the gridlock in Washington, D.C. Too, I think that the Obama Campaign has not been forceful in pointing out that Romney’s tax, deficit and debt plan is smoke and mirrors, nor in showing that Romney is essentially untrustworthy. Yes, there have been TV ads on these subjects, but I expected Obama, himself, to be more personally out-front since the debate.
Lest we forget what a Romney Presidency would bring to the country, here I outline ten (there are more) reasons why a Romney victory simply is not in the public interest, starting with issues that matter to me the most:
- Energy policy: Romney’s energy policy is all coal, oil and natural gas. His Energy Plan makes only passing reference to renewable resources and no mention at all of energy conservation. He would scrap the new vehicle efficiency standards and allow the critical Wind Production Tax Credit to expire. This is just wrong-headed and would throw 40 years of progress on energy policy under the bus.
- Environmental Policy: His web-site statement of issues does not mention environmental protection. He has committed to review federal environmental statutes and regulations in the interest of promoting business. There is no balance in his approach. There is no recognition that environmental statutes and regulations protect human health and safety and promote economic growth. Again, 40 years of progress is in jeopardy.
- Climate Change: He ignores it completely, even though there is a cost-effective, clean-energy path forward that would create millions of jobs and significantly lower the risk of rendering the planet uninhabitable for later generations.
- Federal lands management: Romney would give to the states management of energy development on federal public lands. This is a baldface end-run around federal statutes and regulations that protect these lands for other uses, such as water supply, recreation, hunting and mantenance of the natural environment. This is the wet dream of energy developers and the sagebrush rebellion. In the West the result would not be pretty.
- Notwithstanding that he now denies it, Romney’s tax plan would cut taxes, mainly for the wealthy, by $4.8 trillion over the next decade. This would either blow an enormous new hole in the national debt or result in higher taxes on the middle class. Read the “Tax Policy Center’s report, “On the Distributional Effects of Base-Broadening Income Tax Reform,” August 1, 2012. (Sorry, I can’t find a link for the report, but it should be available by googling Tax Policy Center.) Also, on October 11, 2012, the staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation informed the Joint Tax Committee that, even if Congress repealed all itemized deductions, the Alternative Minimum Tax and most other “loopholes” in the Internal Revenue Code, this would allow only a 4% decrease in ordinary tax rates if you did not add to the national debt. You should be able to access this letter at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/files/2012/10/BN_101212_192832.pdf. Romney has promised a 20% decrease in tax rates. Obviously, there is not anywhere near enough revenue generated by closing loopholes, even if you could do this politically, to finance a $4.8 trillion tax cut. Romney’s tax plan is smoke and mirrors.
- Women’s rights: A Romney Presidency is a direct threat to a woman’s right to choose. He says he will work to overturn Roe V. Wade. He questions the President’s policy to require insurance companies to cover access to contraception. His Vice-Presidential candidate is against abortion in all cases, inlcuding rape, incest and the life/health of the mother. What happens if he becomes President?
- The Supreme Court: Romney says that his role model for a Supreme Court Justice is Antonin Scalia, a far-right ideologue who uses his theory of consistitutonal theory (“originalism”) as a masquerade for his extreme policy positions. It is likely that at least two Justices will retire in the next four years. Do you want Romney appointing replacements?
- Gay rights: Romney says he wants to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. He supports the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. Do we really want the federal government to stand in the way of equal justice under the law for gays and lesbians?
- Foreign policy: Romney has been struggling to distinguish his foreign policy from that of the President. Yet, there is a cold-war, saber-rattling quality to Romney’s rhetoric. He seems like he might be OK with another one or two wars in the Middle East. He wishes we’d left troops in Iraq. Behind Romney is the cabal of neocons, like John Bolton, who got us into Iraq on false premises. We don’t want to go there again.
- The bigger political picture: The Republican Party has been taken over by extremists. Many of them want to “take back their country” to a time before the New Deal. There are few moderates left in the party. Given this, the Republican Party should not be given any more power than it now has. It is just not in a position to lead the diverse, economically-challenged country in which we live. If Romney were to win, this untrustworthy man will be chained to the extremists in his party, both in and outside of Congress. This is bad enough. Should the Republicans hold the House (likely) and take the Senate (very possible), there will be no restraining the right-wing, except by the use of the filibuster by the Democrats in the Senate. More gridlock. If Obama wins, however, I think there’s a prettty good chance that the country will not allow obstructionism in Congress to rule the day for four more years. We could actually get the “grand bargain” on fiscal issues that we almost got in 2011. One can only hope.
Bruce Driver Boulder, CO October 13, 2012