My Reaction to the 2012 Obama/Romney Debates (1/3)

If you watch no other debate series I’ve linked to, watch these. Not only are they the most recent and by definition the most relevant to our world today,* but they’re probably the greatest examples of what to do and what not to do when participating in a debate. So, you know my thoughts on Obama, but let’s talk about the new Republican contender…

*ASIDE: Even after the 2016 debates, I think the “most relevant to our world today” description holds up for these. 2016’s debates were an absolute clusterfuck and embarrassment all around–we’ll get into that later.

Unlike McCain, I have little respect for Romney–not as a person, nor as a candidate. You can call me biased for that opinion, but it’s how I feel. He has negative charisma, he has a certain look/mannerism about him that makes me instinctively distrust him, and the story about what he did to a classmate as a teen really rubbed me the wrong way. For those who don’t know, Mitt and his goons held down an effeminate boy with long hair and cut all his hair off. Now, some apologists tried to dismiss this as a “childhood prank” and “boys will be boys.” It’s not. It’s legally an assault, and it takes a very long time for hair to grow out. For myself, it was one of the most frustrating, agonizing parts of transitioning, waiting for it to grow and being stuck with a “jewfro” in the meantime. If someone did to me what Romney did to that boy I’d be absolutely devastated beyond words. It may sound melodramatic but I felt defeated even just the two times I tried to get split ends taken care of by a hairdresser and left with two inches of my locks butchered on the floor, knowing it’d take half a year just to make up that deficit. I guarantee this was a traumatic experience for that boy they victimized.

And to those who’d say “so what? Focus on the issues” or “Romney was a boy himself, he grew out of it.” No. When brought up during the campaign, Mitt expressed no remorse and even laughed about it. I think something like that says a lot about a man’s character. I personally feel terrible about a lot of things I said and did in High school and none were even half as bad. I certainly wouldn’t laugh about them now, if confronted by someone from my past who told me I hurt them I would at least try to make it right, and for Romney to dismiss this incident is just sadistic as far as I’m concerned. [I do commend Romney in the years since for coming down against Trump but I believe Romney was part of the wave which made Trump possible, and I suspect much of it is just political posturing for when Trumpism inevitably fails. He flip flopped on many issues between his term in Massachusetts and being the Republican presidential nominee as well which leads me to believe he’s just triangulating a position for the future. It’s a nice mark on his record in my eyes but not enough to change my overall opinion.]

Even putting aside that huge personal sticking point, Romney strikes me as an inherently dishonest person. The way he was caught on camera smiling after announcing the Benghazi tragedy—happy he had new ammo against Obama. The smug look on his face coupled with those soulless dead eyes. The way he promised to cut planned parenthood as his first act as president when abortions make up less than 2% of what they do, no federal money goes towards abortions, and there should be far more important things on any President’s agenda than that anyway. Boasting he only wrote one speech on election night—the victory speech. And finally asking people to bring food for Hurricane Sandy relief when the Red Cross said food wouldn’t help as it’d all go to waste. Romney did that for the photo opp of himself standing in front of a pile of food, nothing more. All of these incidents just off the top of my head paint a picture of a literal sociopath. I know that word gets tossed around a lot, to the point where it loses meaning, but in this case I feel it’s 100% warranted.

Trump is the embodiment of the xenophobic, obstructionist, stands-for-nothing Southern Strategy wing of the Republicans and McCain was the embodiment of the out of touch, nation-building, preserve artificial boundaries and bomb Iran neoconservative wing. That leaves Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, in between them as the embodiment of the soulless, crony corporate, money-above-people neoliberal wing. Even Reagan and Trump, for all their horrible policies at least have charisma which can sometimes make them fun to listen to, and McCain for all his faults had a compelling POW backstory and soft-spoken grandfatherly charm. Romney talks like the slick business executive who says all the right things without any warmth to his voice and then turns around and lays off thousands of employees just before the holidays.

I say all this against Romney now because I’m gonna be pretty hard on him in these analyses and I think its only fair to be upfront about my bias. That’s partly why I encourage you to watch these and all other debates for yourself–do not rely on my reactions as an objective view of them. I also want you to understand why I was pleased to see Obama win again in 2012 even though I already thought he was a disappointing President. There was talk about how Obama was only playing nice with the Republicans to win reelection but afterwards he’d really start fighting them to get his promises enacted. Oh how wrong we were. Still, unlike 2008 where I see some of McCain’s points in hindsight, I’m 100% convinced the right man got elected in 2012. I don’t think I could stomach 8 or even just 4 years of Romney.

First Debate

Oh great, that annoying moderator Jim Lehrer is back. This moderator is just as awful as ever. He keeps cutting the candidates off and forcing them to talk about certain topics when they’re not even done on the current topic yet. I really think he needs to sit back and let them answer the question. There are 2 more debates for whatever else he wants to address, and as I’ve noted before, they usually end up repeating topics in the later debates anyway. Lehrer just wants to play god basically and it’s infuriating this egomaniac was able to moderate so many debates without someone calling him out on his behavior. You can see how it breaks the candidates’ concentration at times too. One of the best moments of the debate is when this imbecile Lehrer cuts Obama off to say his time is up and Obama counters “No, I had five seconds until you interrupted me” with a suave smile. Again, the debate format has to be changed. I say let the candidates go on until they consider their positions thoroughly laid out. Let the debate take as long as it has to take. Especially now in the internet age, it’s not like if people go to bed they’ll never see it, or if some network can’t make money then no one else could host it. But you simply cannot explain complex proposals to multifaceted problems in 2 minutes, especially when this asshole keeps directing you to focus on certain subtopics you don’t want to.

Romneys first answer on the economy is a real laugh. Every damn cycle it’s the same thing “we need a new path.” Everyone on the left and the right says that and it never happens. The only two times in the modern era where this promise led to anything substantial were 1932 and 1980 when we elected people who legitimately flipped the whole socio-economic paradigm on its head and ushered in new electoral coalitions. We all thought Obama was gonna flip it back to the FDR model in 2008, and then 2012 but…nah.

Back to Romney though, he lays out a five point plan: energy independence (which if you’ll recall, Obama promised in the ’08 debates), open more trade to Latin America (in hindsight, hilarious considering Trump’s repudiation of this), make sure people have the skills they need to succeed through education reform, a balanced budget, and finally champion small business. I agree with him on energy independence and education reform, not so big on free trade without some kind of protections for American workers. A balanced budget sounds great and should be a goal, but sometimes the government legitimately needs to run in the red, especially if something unexpected happens. It’s like Bush the First’s pledge “no new taxes,” it sounds great but it’s not always a promise you can keep. We need to rebuild American infrastructure and provide healthcare and I’d say we can justify that if we could justify Iraq.

Romney uses the soundbite “trickle down government” which is pretty sleazy considering the Reagainsts gave us trickle down economics, and if you recall this was a failed attack against Clinton from Papa Bush back in ’92. I don’t feel like Romney has the right to co-opt and weaponize a phrase like that against the Democrats, and reusing another failed candidates’ old buzzword is pretty weak from a campaign perspective. Just my opinion. Obama agrees about energy independence and gives more lip service to renewables. He also adds in the tax code and the need to reform it. Again, as far as I know, nothing has been done about that despite being a hot button buzzword since the 60s. He talks about scaling down military budgets…again nothing really done about that, at least nowhere near enough.

After Obama talks about Romney’s tax cuts, Romney does the typical song and dance about it being for middle income Americans. He also trots out the phrase “clean coal” a more perfect oxymoron there has never been. Coal is being crushed, Mr Romney? GOOD. It should have been crushed decades ago. Finally, it’s hilarious in hindsight how Obama name-drops Trump as an example of small business, and then says “I’m sure he doesn’t like to think of himself as small anything.” It’s an accurate assessment of Trump’s character for sure, and overall just funny the next President nobody saw coming was casually name-dropped here. But it also goes to show how disingenuous and unhelpful “small business” as a term is, and how crazy the loopholes are where a supposed billionaire empire is technically “small business.”

I don’t believe Romney when he says he doesn’t use the term “Obamacare” derisively. It was a term coined by FOX to tie Obama to what was imagined to be an unpopular law and turn their viewers against it by association with a President they already decided they hated–it was originally intended to be derisive. I also think it’s wise for Obama to own the term, though as the bill continues to disappoint and possibly fail in the future (which I suspect will be the case) this will bite him in the ass in the future. Anyway, while I personally consider Obamacare is a flawed, neutered compromise, I also think Romney is being obtuse saying “I’d rather have a private plan, so you can get different insurance when you need it.” Umm…it’s not so easy for us plebeians to just “get better insurance!” And really, that’s why the modern Republican party is out of touch and has no business governing. They’ve become the party of obstructionism in Congress, and in presidential elections they spin a lot of nice sounding platitudes such as these, which are deliberately blind to the reality of the situation. Sort of like how saying “leave it to the states” sounds good by itself, but in the context of gay rights and abortion it means millions will be stripped of their civil rights and bodily autonomy. I’m for individual and states rights too, but in cases where individual rights will be trampled by the states, I feel the Federal government should step in as the voice of reason. To get back on the topic of Obamacare, Romney is deliberately obfuscating the fact that Obamacare means buying private insurance–it’s not government-funded single payer.

Anyway, I’m also disappointed in Obama for saying “healthcare companies have to make a profit. Nothing wrong with that, that’s just what they do.” Again, this is a case where I’d love to see a candidate drop the phony politeness and just outright say “peoples’ healthcare should not be privatized. For anyone to profit off of peoples’ health is a deplorable conflict of interest. That’s why, I support Capitalism and recognize the profit motive is the best, most reliable there is, but in certain areas like healthcare it’s unacceptable.” Obama does sort of get into that, talking about how a voucher system would put seniors at the mercy of insurance companies. But he doesn’t go nearly far enough. I chalk this up as being afraid to turn people off if he goes “too extreme.” (That and he’s bought off.) But I think Bernie has proven there is an audience for that; people have had enough with America’s excessively cruel healthcare system. I think a lot of us, myself included, want to see a fighting liberal idealist who doesn’t mince words. That’s why I love RFK and Huey Long. When asked where the money to pay for his plans would come from, RFK looked the guy (a wealthy doctor) in the eye and said “from you.” And when one of Long’s bills got shot down, he literally said Congress was treading towards getting strung up by an angry mob and he’d be right there directing them. We need people like that again on the liberal side, who have the convictions and force of will to redirect the conversation away from right-wing talking points for the first time since 1980.

Romney is absolutely right about how Obamacare means less people get hired. I remember distinctly that’s when companies stopped hiring people full time at 35-40 hours and made it 25-30 hours. Basically, full time jobs became a thing of the past for most sectors of the economy. However, he’s pretty hypocritical to say “we should do what my state did…” since his own state was basically the pilot for Obamacare. Romney seems to mean “let the states handle it” but again, while this sounds good and “pro-freedom!” in a soundbite, in practice it means healthcare quality, rules and standards vary wildly across the country. That’s not practical nor is it ethical. I’d support a 5 year testing period maybe, of letting each state craft their own system and then the Feds adopting the best one, or mixing and matching the best bits from several. The real answer to this and several other problems we can’t seem to agree on is Asymmetrical Federalism. Why does it have to be all or nothing between the Feds running a big program or no one? Why can’t the Northeast and West Coast pool their collective resources to achieve a Single Payer system for the citizens of each state which chooses to participate? If Kansas and Mississippi don’t want to join they don’t have too–just don’t let them stop the rest of us from having it either. This is the perfect solution which apparently none of these oh-so-wise-and-wonderful career politicians have ever thought of. And if it requires a constitutional amendment then propose one and let the voters decide already, if the Midwest and/or South strike it down then lay their hypocrisy bare for the world to see.

Obama calls Romney out on how Obamacare was a Republican plan—in fact, Romney’s own plan—which is fantastic. He doesnt do so right away, so for awhile I was worried Obama was gonna let that perfect counter-attack go to waste. It seems in hindsight he was letting Romney dig his own hole to fall into–something we’ll see put to even greater effect in the next debate.

Romney keeps harping on “leave it to the states” throughout the debate. I see his point in theory, he directs us to the Constitution, of which Article 10 says the powers not granted to the Federal government ought to be left to the states. And I do believe we need at least one party to be a check on the Federal government getting too powerful. Once again though, the real world practicalities supersede that in a lot of cases. This is another example of why the Constitution is out of date. When the founders wrote it, education wasn’t standardized or as important to getting into college which in turn is important for most people to have a good life. You usually learned a trade at home. It was a pre-Industrial and pre-Information Age. Same with healthcare; hospitals with sterilization, operations and medicine didn’t exist yet. It was a pre-vaccination, pre-penicillin, pre-surgical operation world. I think those areas of our lives ought to be under some level of Federal standard-setting and oversight because the profit motive runs contrary to the best interests of the people relying on these services. The question is how much, but “just leave it to the States” is no answer. Lots of states don’t have the money to even fund any kind of comprehensive health plan; and I’m sure Romney knows that. This is not a good faith counter-argument to Obamacare (his own plan, remember) it’s a meaningless soundbite and token oppositionism because god-forbid the two agree on anything ever.

I don’t think either candidate had the best answers for healthcare or education in this debate. For healthcare, I personally support single payer. I have no such quick and easy answer for education except a greater focus on modern history, more free expression of the students, less regulation on the teachers’ every move, remove zero tolerance and look into progressive education and the Waldorf School. I dislike Romney’s plan of a ranking system for schools. Seems to me that only goes halfway, and would lead to people fighting for sending their kids to the “best” schools, overcrowding of these “best” schools, and the poor kids who can’t move stuck with a substandard education. Effectively, that’s already what’s happening now, but this would just speed up the process. The whole system needs to be changed, we shouldn’t scapegoat individual schools.

I like how the moderator brings up partisan gridlock. But Lehrer once again interrupts the candidates, in this case Romney, as he’s giving a solid answer to the question—he’d sit down with the leaders of both parties, as he did as governor of Massachusetts. Obama gives a great counterattack “well, Mr. Romney’s gonna have a busy first day since he’s also promised to repeal Obamacare his first day. That’s not gonna be popular with those Democrats hes sitting down with.” The obstructionism at the time was 100% the Republicans’ fault. The leaders of the party literally sat down after Obama got elected and said “we’re not gonna let this guy get anything done,” because they didn’t want him to get any credit. You can’t blame Obama for that, but I do blame him for his negotiating skills and his failure to work with them in some way or use the bully pulpit to put the blame where it belonged. Again, he’s not the first President to face obstructionism or an opposition-controlled Congress. FDR and LBJ faced a ton of blow-back trying to get the New Deal, Great Society and Civil Rights passed. Reagan had a Democratic Congress his entire term as President and he still managed to completely redefine the entire political spectrum in the US. Lincoln faced a ton of opposition in the North for continuing the Civil War. The fact is, Obama got elected too soon. He had few connections, no acumen and no negotiating skills. I don’t hate him or think he’s a bad person, and I certainly don’t think he’s as bad as Conservatives say. But a truly great President would be able to get things done even with significant opposition. Those saying he’s the greatest president ever or the best Democrat since FDR are just as misguided as those saying he’s a Muslim Socialist Antichrist. And even if you do think Obama was wonderful, surely we can all agree he would have been far better had he waited a cycle or two (or three) and took the oath of office as an older, wiser man with established connections on Capitol Hill and favors to call in.

1 Comment

  1. This is another of the debates that I’m glad you watched so I will never need to. Your analyst did persuade me that Obama was the lesser of the two evils but I still see them as both evil. I think I was more disappointed with the election of Obama than I have been with any other election in my lifetime. From your analysis I see that things could have been even worse if Romney had been elected. At the time I couldn’t see anything at all positive in the outcome.


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