The first 2012 Presidential debate hosted by Jim Lehrer of PBS on Wednesday, October 3, was one of the most anticipated in recent years. It was a Charles Dickens classic of two distinct political philosophies. Although one cannot fault Barack Obama for the great love he has for wife Michelle, but mentioning their twenty year anniversary in the opening remarks at such a serious time was perhaps not the best venue for such devotion, and it may have set the tone for a lest than stellar performance by the president.
Mitt Romney used the opportunity to reinforce that he cares about people as he opened with several stories about struggling families. One of the charges that Romney accuses the president of is “Trickle-Down Governomics” (bigger government, higher taxes, more spending on entitlements, and more regulation). For President Obama, it is basically the same things he has been talking about for months now and basically nothing new has been offered. Romney wants to take federal funding for training programs under the Department of Education and give it back to the states.
One of the things that wasn’t so clear in the former Governor’s message is when he wants to lower tax rates for corporations and individuals and at the same time lower deductions, credits, and exemptions but keep taking in the same money while maintaining growth; just how does that work? Romney wants to use government lands to increase oil and gas production, offshore Alaska, the Keystone Pipeline from Alaska and use “clean coal” so we can create more jobs. President Obama’s contention is that Governor Romney will increase military spending by two trillion dollars in addition to five trillion in tax cuts and middle class taxpayers will have to foot the bill.
Romney’s plan to grow jobs is to tax small businesses at the corporate rate instead of at the individual rate that they now pay and these companies will be able to hire more workers. Romney says that President Obama wants to increase the tax rate on small businesses from 35% to 40% and according to the Federation of Independent Business this will result in a loss of over 700,000 jobs.
Governor Romney has a simple litmus-test when it comes to cutting federal funding programs-“Is the program so critical that we have to borrow money from China to pay for it; if not, I’ll get rid of it” Under this plan, PBS is on the chopping block. Certain government programs will be defunded at the federal level and run by the states and some government agencies and departments will be consolidated and employee cutbacks will be done by attrition, but Romney [just like Texas Governor Rick Perry] hasn’t mentioned which ones are targeted. The Obama record consists of eliminating 27 government programs, another 18 for education that were ineffective, $50 billion in medical fraud (Medicare/Medicaid), and savings of a trillion dollars from the ‘discretionary’ domestic budget [which covers what??].
There was an interesting exchange between President Obama and Governor Romney when he mentioned about American companies receive a tax break when they build a plant overseas and Governor Romney mentioned that he has been in business for over 25 years and he has never heard of such a thing. He had to also fact check the president when Obama mentioned about the Big Oil companies like Exxon/Mobil getting 4 billion dollars in corporate welfare tax breaks. Romney cited a Department of Energy study the amount is more around 2 billion dollars with most of the money going to drilling operators and other contractors. Romney reminded the president with all the government subsidies that went into Green Energy companies that went bankrupt like Solyndra and Tesla Motors.
The most spirited part of the debate centered around entitlements (social security and Medicare that President Obama says is structurally sound and his administration has saved 716 billion dollars by not overpaying insurance claims and lowering prescription costs for seniors by $600 annually. Romney doesn’t want to make changes in the program for current and near-current retirees but has proposals to make structural changes [unspecified] for younger people that are fifty years old and younger. He accuse President Obama of making a 716 billion dollar cut to the program for current recipients as an offset for lower prescription costs while limiting other services and benefits.
Romney supports having the option to choose the current Medicare/Medicaid system or a private plan (voucher program) for future retirees at no additional cost to beneficiaries. President Obama feels that the private plans will pass on the administrative costs to seniors enrolled under their plans and coverage would vary from state to state. Governor Romney mentions a study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that under ObamaCare 20% of people will lose medical benefits as well as a report by McKinsey & Company of American Business that 30% of insurers under the plan anticipate dropping people from coverage [because of all the government regulations].
When asked about the role of government, President Obama said it is to keep people safe and as a vehicle to ladders of opportunity. Mitt Romney mentioned the Constitution and Bill of Rights and government’s role is to provide the principles of those documents for life, liberty, a strong military to protect our freedoms, to maintain a commitment to religious freedom and tolerance, and the right to pursue happiness (including taking care of those who are less fortunate), and maintain for individuals the right to pursue their dreams without the government making choices for people.
To the question of should the federal government have a role in education, Romney mentioned that states or school districts receiving federal grant aid such as IDEA or Title I (lower income or disability [autistic, ADHD, etc]) the money should go to the family so the parent and child can use it to pay for education and other services at the school of their choice. President Obama accuses Romney of wanting the cut the funding to schools [K12] by 20%, which Governor Romney denies and vows not to cut education funding. Romney did bring up the fact that Obama had talked so passionately about supporting education and wanting to hire extra 100,000 teachers in Math and Science, but put 90 billion dollars into Green Jobs where instead, that money could have been used to hire 2 million more teachers.
It just seems that Mitt Romney was more persuasive overall than the present as having a better command of the facts as presented in their first televised debate. Romney seemed sharper, engaged, focused, and looked more presidential. On the other hand, President Obama seemed a little rusty, less energized, and his body language suggested discomfort or lack of attention or having trouble focusing or his vaunted oratory was a little flat. While Romney did lack some of the specifics and more detail would have been better, sometimes too many facts can be a negative.
The one thing that has to be acknowledged is that things aren’t as bad now as they were four years ago and some of the credit has to go the president’s leadership and other reversals or leveling of a downward trend happened in-spite of his policies. But as Governor has said, Barack Obama has been in office for 4 years and we still have 23 million people unemployed (over 8%) or have given up looking for work; 47 million people receiving food stamps; economic growth slower than it has been in several years; gasoline prices around $4.00/gal; government debt that approaches or in excess of our GDP, and students graduating from college who cannot find work or employers who have job openings but applicants don’t have the technical skills or training to do the work.
Do Americans want to give President Obama “Four More Years” or do we want CHANGE, coincidentally, the same campaign slogan that presidential candidate Obama ran on in 2008. Barack Obama looked into the camera and told his wife, “A year from now we won’t be celebrating in front of 40 million people” and that statement just might turn out to come prophetically true because he might be fired from his job by then.
Perhaps its time because Barack might not have the fire in the belly anymore and is all out of fresh ideas, and like a boxer who hasn’t trained and disciplined himself before a title bout, the ring rust shows as he receives jabs to the body and head from his opponent without an effective counter-punch or defensive maneuvers. Barack seems to be looking for Mitt to lower his guarding or drop his left after making a punch, leaving an opening so he can get the knockout because on the scorecard it is still too close to call.
The president accuses Romney of being a different person now than during the Republican debates but the same can be said for Barack Obama. Even after becoming President he said “The buck stops with me” and so it is fitting that he takes the blame for the economy. Even cabinet appointees, like the remarkably talented Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State has not accomplished anything significant in Foreign Affairs. Mitt Romney is right when he says it’s all about leadership and you don’t lead from behind.
America’s problems are serious and require bold, innovative, and never-been-tried before solutions inspired by out-of-the box thinking and risk-taking. President Obama echoes the words of George Bush wanting Americans to just “stay the course” mentality which seems to be looking at life from a half empty perspective. Things were worse four years ago but they should be better in the future but this approach lacks the optimism of living life with the glass half full and things are going to be better. Barack famously decried the final term of George W. Bush as “Eight is enough” but I say to him: “4 and No More.”
776 Commerce St. #B-11
Tacoma, WA 98402
October 5, 2012