Debating Conventional Wisdom About the Debate

I finally got around to watching the first Presidential debate this morning, as I was working last night. Maybe I’m just a wonk, as I neither found it as boring, nor thought Obama did as bad a job as many people, especially on the left (friends and progressive media), seemed to believe.

When I got home and checked first the news sites, then Facebook, everyone seemed agreed it as awful. One friend mentioned wanting to poke her eyes out during the debate, another posted a video of Charlie Brown’s teacher speaking to show what the debate sounded like to her and Andy Borowitz reported in The New Yorker  that “[m]illions of Americans lost consciousness on Wednesday night between the hours of 9 and 10:30 P.M. E.T., according to widespread anecdotal reports from coast to coast.”

James McMurtry’s pre-debate post made me smile, and seemed like it would have been the best way to watch the debate:

Decided to let Johnny D’s run the debate close captioned while I play. Never tried that. Should be interesting. Might even sync up. Come on out.

You Can’t Make It Here and Choctaw Bingo sounded like the perfect sound track for the state of our nation, which has only slowly turned around (and only on some issues) under President Obama.

Then the Tom Morello/Crosby, Stills & Nash concert to support California unions right to support candidates and defeat Proposition 32 in California Rolling Stone reported this morning also happened last night seemed even more relevant.

Not that I wouldn’t have loved to be at either concert, but I’m glad I finally watched the debate online.

I thought President Obama was considerably better than reports from, say:

Joan Walsh in Salon:

A subdued, deferential, over-prepared President Obama ceded the first debate to Mitt Romney on style and substance.

or Matthew Rothschild in The Nation:

[Obama] was sluggish and dull and let Romney box him all over the ring.

While I thought Obama was stronger on the issues than the left-wing pundits gave him credit for, I agree that he was too unwilling to attack Romney when he had an opening. I have mixed feelings about that, as I think it has a lot to do with Obama wanting to be a nice guy and play fair, and longing for a bi-partisanship that doesn’t exist any more.

I’m in full agreement that Obama should have fought back, for example as Truthout‘s William Rivers Pitt points out “when Mr. Romney re-re-re-re-re-told the $716 billion Medicare liearound 43 minutes into the debate.” I think President Obama is a little too hesitant to “[t]ag a liar for being a liar,” but he could have brought up the facts, without getting personal.

From the PolitiFact article Rivers Pitt links to:

Neither Obama nor his health care law literally cut funding from the Medicare program’s budget. Rather, the health care law instituted a number of changes to try to bring down future health care costs in the program.

What kind of spending reductions are we talking about? They were mainly aimed at insurance companies and hospitals, not beneficiaries. The law made significant reductions to Medicare Advantage, a subset of Medicare plans run by private insurers. Medicare Advantage was started under President George W. Bush, and the idea was that competition among the private insurers would reduce costs. But the plans have actually cost more than traditional Medicare. So the health care law scales back the payments to private insurers.

Then there was Romney’s hypocritical critique of the Wall Street bail out and the “too big to fail” banks, which I didn’t fully understand at the time, but struck me as odd coming from a venture capitalist (who has shipped jobs to China, something else Obama should have got him on).

In his column, Romney’s Obscene Posturing As a Wall Street Critic, George Zornick of The Nation takes it on, and explains what Obama should have in his response to Romney.

As Zornick points out:

Romney—the private equity veteran running a presidential campaign funded by Wall Street, on a platform that contains a full repeal of every financial regulation over the past four years—positioning himself as an opponent of those big “New York banks” was a historic moment in presidential debate cravenness. (And a real missed opportunity for Obama to wallop his opponent).

It turns out with the Dodd-Frank legislation “too big to fail” banks are subject to more regulation.

Dodd-Frank has two provisions regarding too-big-to-fail that Romney is talking about here. The first is the ability of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, created by the legislation, to name financial institutions “systemically significant.” This means they are so big that their failure could threaten the health of the financial sector, and that designation subjects them to heightened regulation and higher capital requirements.

The big banks hate this requirement, for obvious reasons—they come under increased scrutiny and restrictions. So Republicans have been dutifully attacking it. (Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, repeatedly blasted it before joining the ticket). The GOP argument, as you heard Romney deliver it, is that by giving them the “systemically significant label, the government is officially “designating” banks as too-big-to-fail—a very bad-sounding thing indeed!

The banksters need more regulation, not less; not that I think Obama and the Democrats have done enough, with both parties too much in bed with Wall Street and corporations.

What I do feel Obama did a pretty good job of defending was the Affordable Health Care Act (or Obamacare, as even he is calling it):

And let me tell you exactly what Obamacare did. Number one, if you’ve got health insurance, it doesn’t mean a government takeover. You keep your own insurance. You keep your own doctor. But it does say insurance companies can’t jerk you around. They can’t impose arbitrary lifetime limits. They have to let you keep your kid on their insurance — your insurance plan until you’re 26 years old. And it also says that you’re going to have to get rebates if insurance companies are spending more on administrative costs and profits than they are on actual care.

Number two, if you don’t have health insurance, we’re essentially setting up a group plan that allows you to benefit from group rates that are typically 18 percent lower than if you’re out there trying to get insurance on the individual market.

Further pointing out:

… the irony is that we’ve seen this model work really well in Massachusetts, because Governor Romney did a good thing, working with Democrats in the state to set up what is essentially the identical model and as a consequence people are covered there. It hasn’t destroyed jobs. And as a consequence, we now have a system in which we have the opportunity to start bringing down costs, as opposed to just leaving millions of people out in the cold.

Romney, in response claims “I like the way we did it in Massachusetts. I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together.” He complains that the Affordable Health Care Act was passed without a single  Republican vote, and talks about “[w]hat we did in a legislature 87 percent Democrat, we worked together”. . .

There’s a major difference with the Republicans in Congress, though, and Obama rightly comes back with “I agree that the Democratic legislators in Massachusetts might have given some advice to Republicans in Congress about how to cooperate, but the fact of the matter is, we used the same advisers, and they say it’s the same plan.”

Above quotes from Washington Post’s transcript:

While I wish it was stronger, the Affordable Health Care Act is a start and one of the things Obama tried to do. Like with jobs, there was a lot of push back from the Republicans in Congress.

Of more concern, with Obama (and even more so with Romney), are all the issues still not covered in this debate. Yes, I know I’m voting for the lesser of two evils. While I’m on the “for voting for the lesser” side of the progressive debate, I don’t feel like we should downplay (in addition to corporate influence) wars, drones, the NDAA, Guantanamo. . .

Oh, yeah, to take off my partisan hat for a moment, and switch to my favorite non-profit, how did we do with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Presidential Bingo?

Amnesty International Presidential Bingo
Amnesty International Presidential Bingo

Darn! A losing ticket again. . .

Just wish the stakes weren’t so high.