Only hyper-partisans today are saying that President Barack Obama won Wednesday’s debate. The rest of the world saw a halting, tentative president who failed to press home points as effectively as his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, did.
“Mitt’s a good debater. I’m just OK,” Obama said at a rally that presaged three days of debate prep here in Southern Nevada. Turns out, he was absolutely right.
Romney may have done himself the most good by repeatedly saying how much he loves the middle class. (Contrast that with what he told those donors at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser: His job was not to worry about the 47 percent of people who are dependent on government benefits and could not be convinced to take personal responsibility and care for their lives.)
But Obama scored a couple of points that were lost amid the chaos of the format at Romney’s relentless messaging.
First, he raised the math question that still plagues Romney’s shifting tax plan. How can Romney credibly claim he will cut the deficit and reduce debt when he’s going to cut taxes as well as spend more on defense? Romney replied that he wasn’t going to cut taxes that much — cheer at this brand-new revleation, conservatives! — and that he would eliminate deductions and loopholes while he lowered rates.
But, the president replied, if that’s so, won’t popular deductions such as those for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and health care fall? And if they do, isn’t that the equivalent of a tax increase? And would that not burden the middle class? And would we still not need fairly deep cuts into essential programs to make this all add up? Good questions all.
Second, Obama attacked the latest iteration of the Romney Medicare plan — to introduce a voucher-style privatized plan alongside traditional Medicare, giving people what Romney called a choice. Obama warned that private plans would glean as many healthy (and, thus, lower cost) patients as possible, leaving Medicare to insure sicker (and, thus, higher cost) patients. That could imperil the government-run program, which now pools healthy and sick alike.
There were other details lost in the debate — for example, Romney referred repeatedly to the 23 million unemployed Americans, but Obama never replied that he’s finally seen a net increase of private sector jobs from the beginning of his term. Obama was unable to answer when Romney reminded him of his unfulfilled promise to cut the deficit in half. And Romney no doubt disappointed supporters of Ron Paul with this line; “You can’t have a free market work without regulations.” (Of course that’s true; it’s just nice to hear a supercapitalist admit the free market is anything but free.)
Oh, one last thing: The wrangling over health-care plans bordered on silly. Romney’s position was that it would be perfectly OK for states to each implement Romney-style, mandate-driven health care reform plans, but that it’s not OK for the federal government to do so. (We know that’s wrong, since the Supreme Court has settled this question.)
Romney was at pains to distinguish his plan from Obama’s — he claimed it was bipartisan, that it didn’t raise taxes and that he didn’t have an unelected panel to decide what coverage would be offered.
To those points: Romney in Massachusetts did not face what Obama did, a relentless Republican opposition dedicated to stopping any and every initiative at any cost, having declared his defeat their No. 1 priority. (Romney, instead, dealt with a Massachusetts Legislature made up of majority Democrats open to providing health-care to the Bay State’s citizens.)
Obama’s health-care plan doesn’t raise taxes — that is, unless one chooses to ignore the law and not get insurance.
And the “panel” argument? (Romney didn’t call it a “death panel,” although that clearly was the implication.) That panel exists to find cost savings in providing care, something that all intelligent medical systems should seek to do. (A recent report by the Institute of Medicine found $750 billion in wasted health care dollars in a single year.)