Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Obama-Romney Debate #2 Thoughts

Well, that was a surprise.  I really had no idea that President Obama would play as well as he did last night.  As a matter of fact, I was personally moved by his speechmaking.  His "Hope and Change" political magic stopped working on me roughly ten minutes after his electrifying acceptance speech in November 2012, and I haven't really felt very excited in a positive away about political movements since.  Barack Obama more or less fell asleep with the rest of America during the first debate, but last night he came out to play, and play hard.  And somewhere between slamming Mitt Romney and laying out the numerous successes of his four years in office, Barack Obama finally truly sold me last night.  He took responsibility for the Libyan attacks, which really were his biggest weakness and thus deprived Romney of his greatest ammunition.  What Romney was left with was his refrain of "I'm a businessman, and I can make the numbers work... somehow."

Unfortunately Romney's pivot to the center ended last night, which greatly saddened me considering how well it was looking for that campaign.  Romney claimed two weeks ago that he would not lower tax rates for the wealthiest of Americans, and I either fundamentally understood what he meant by that, or he's flipped back, because taxes are going down for everybody again.  Immigration?  Romney came down hard, offering no amnesty or reforms, essentially leaving the twelve million illegal immigrants in this country as an underclass.  That alone probably cost Romney his election, since the Republican Party needs the Latino vote.  They aren't going to get it if they continue to act as thoroughly ant-immigrant.  What does Romney offer women?  A better economy (allegedly) and "binders full of women" to fill up his Massachusetts cabinet for cynical political correctness.  Well, Mitt Romney, we wanted you to be a more honest about yourself, and we definitely see exactly who you are:  a politician.  Obama is a politician, but he makes me feel warm inside, Romney doesn't.

But that warmness is emotion, and emotions should be the least important thing when it comes to running a country.  Politics runs on emotion, likeability is important to democracy, that's why the rules of an intellectual game like a debate seem to overshadow the actual substance of arguments.  Obama lost the first debate, but his arguments stalemated with Romney's, as both sides offered more than they can actually deliver in terms of actual job growth plans and fixing the deficit.  Tonight, however, a lot more was covered than the depressing hopeless promises of economics, and its on these fronts that Mitt Romney lost.  It was a fiery entertaining debate (even if the moderator did a truly godawful job*), probably the best show in terms of watchability that American politics has ever put together, and that was fine.  But I'm about substance here, and here they are:

Economics Jobs Stuff:  A young college student asked if he had any chance in hell at getting a job after he graduated.  I'm a Senior History Education Major, so I'd kinda like to know the answer to this question myself.  It was largely a repeat of the same economic plans from both candidates, though I thought Obama's ambitious talk of sending more Americans to college and giving government support for college bills spoke to me.  Obama wants jobs, good-paying jobs based on higher education, but also to rebuild the American manufacturing base - but based not on the cheap labor of the past but advanced technology and run by a technocratic class.  Romney is a little vaguer when he says he wants to support small businesses.  Is either plan possible?  I have no idea.

By the way I did my homework and found out that neither Obama or Romney's tax plans actually could possibly result in a balanced budget.  However, this is worse for Romney since he's supposedly the big business guy who can make the numbers work.  You'd think the capitalist would have something more solid for me to invest in than the same fantastic dreams as the professor.  Deficit reduction is central to the Republican economy policy, not to Obama's.  Well, if you can't achieve one of your goals, why should I vote for you?  Oh, and can you be more specific about what you mean by loopholes?

Energy Policy:  The debate opened with a discussion about the high price of gasoline, which characteristically neither politician actually wanted to admit was going to be a permanent part of life.  Oil demands have skyrocketed around the world, and we're hovering around Peak Oil.  More people want it, and there's less of it, basic Supply and Demand will tell you that prices are going to rise, and there's next to nothing that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney can do about it.  So instead they argued about energy policy, avoiding the hard truth that neither wanted to accept.  Mitt Romney challenged Obama about the high gas prices, noting that prices were far lower in 2009, which is true.  But Obama's response was perfect:  we were in a recession in 2009, prices were low because the economy was collapsing.  Recall that prices were rising all throughout George Bush's second term as well.

But the rest substance of this particular argument was who had the better energy plan.  Obama took credit for the surging growth in natural gas and oil in North America.  The President also continued his goal of a "little bit of everything" energy plan, which is basically everything at once.  Romney, however, jumped at him, saying that Obama had cut leases on federal land, accusing the President of being anti-oil, anti-gas, and anti-coal**.  The explanation Obama gave was that he removed leases to oil companies that were not using them, and that federal lands have actually expanded production in his presidency.  Mitt Romney was certain that they had gone down by 14% (or 20% as he then claimed a minute later).  Well, I looked up the facts, and federal oil production has generally increased during Obama's first two years.  But it went down in 2011.  Why?  Because of that Gulf Oil Spill.  Remember that little ecological catastrophe?  However, its still equal to 2009 levels, and the 2012 numbers aren't in yet.

Romney also attacked Obama for not approving the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.  Obama has put off that decision until next year, probably as a political move.

Romney's plan for energy independence by 2020 is ambitious, but it relies on a few features that I am a little bit uncomfortable with.  He said that word "nuclear" last night... this only a year after one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.  Romney is basically "drill baby drill", which we all know is not sustainable in the long term.  Its a mild win for Obama here, but energy policy was never the deciding factor in this debate.

Women's Issues:  This particular argument got a bit muddled as the candidates seemed more interested in giving anecdotes than really talking about substance.  Which is a shame since the Women's Vote is - if the pundits are to be believed - the deciding one this year.  Romney's "binders full of women" did not work for me, at all.  But Obama had legislation he could offer:  Lilly Ledbetter, which worked to break the Glass Ceiling.  Romney just said "the economy sucks for women too, and I think I can fix it."  There's also that nasty birth control argument that broke out in the spring to worry about here, thought it was a minor note in the actual debate.

Libya:  This really was Romney's second largest attack point after the Recession.  Romney was highly critical of the Obama Administration's handling of the Libya attack, picking up on Paul Ryan's gains against Joe Biden from last Thursday.  Unfortunately, Romney's attack got mired down in the specifics of whether Obama called the attack "terrorism" in his speech the day after.  And Obama was able to stalemate him here, since Obama referred to "acts of terror" in the closing remarks of his speech, which could only be construed as describing the embassy attack.  Though technically is was another two weeks before anybody was certain that it was an attack and... we're splitting hairs now on minutia.

What was most inspiring for me was when Obama took responsibility for the attacks, and used the excellent line "I'm the one in charge, they were my men, I'm the one who has to greet caskets when they get home."  Then he assured us that everything that could be done after the fact was being done.  Romney didn't have much to say after that.

Immigration:  To be fair, Mitt Romney was absolutely correct when he said that Obama promised to have immigration reform done in his first year in office, which he obvious has not.  But that's more an argument about timing, Obama has worked for immigration, most notably the DREAM Act.  Remember that?  The Republicans buried it.  Mitt Romney would support only the military half, not the college degree portion.  Obama clearly positioned himself as far more lenient towards undocumented immigrants, and Romney couldn't help but seem cruel.  Obama's argument that Romney wanted a nationwide implementation of the Arizona Immigration Act was most a misquote, though Romney is not exactly the guy we want deciding immigration issues.

Romney said clearly what immigrants he wants:  upper class educated professionals.  Working-class Latinos - the people we actually need to drive our economy - need not apply, especially if you're illegal, when you should pack your bags.  But don't worry, he won't kick you out, just do it voluntarily.  Obama did say that "gangbangers" should get deported, which I don't think anybody will disagree with.  Another huge score for Obama came later when Romney was compared to Bush by a questioner and Obama noted that Romney is worse than George W. Bush when it comes to immigration.  Romney had a chance to move towards the center in immigration, but instead he bravely hung onto the wrong side of the issue.

Conclusion:  Obama won the debate, and the arguments.  And even though I suppose he had my vote already, technically, I was wavering.  There's still one more debate, and I hope that Obama can deliver a knock-out blow to the empty creature that is Mitt Romney.  The only thing Romney had is Paul Ryan, and he's in the weakest position in government:  Vice President.  I am entirely unconvinced that Romney is offering a better offer to the American people.

However, I am proud of America for so far leaving gay marriage out of the election year issues this time.  But then again, one more debate.  Who knows?

* I know an hour and a half of time is a lot to ask from the President of the United States fighting a brutal election, but seriously, an hour and a half is not nearly enough time for these debates.  When issues were going too long, the moderator would step in and break up the fighting, but sadly, THAT'S THE MOST INTERESTING PART!  I want to see Obama and Romney railing each other, to just let each other go at it for five hours.  Maybe somewhere along the line we can actually see the truth.  Or god help us, they might find something to agree upon.  The worst moment in the night for me when was when Mitt Romney was challenged by Obama to finally describe what he means by "loopholes" which are essential to his budget plans... and the moderator changed the subject.

** This is entirely off-topic, but modern coal production in West Virginia is unbelievably awful.  Look up "Mountaintop Removal Mining" and you will see the most disturbing environmental disaster of our times.  They tear down mountains, they destroy towns, they fill in riverbeds.  Its a nightmare.


  1. I yearn for a time when a president can take a positive stance on gay marriage without being forced to.

    Actually, I yearn for a time when gay marriage is no longer an issue. I agree that the debates should stop ignoring it, though.

  2. Not to be off topic here, but I think this may be relevant to your interests...