Two debate casualties

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Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

The basic rule of political punditry is you’ve got to be interesting, original and not sound – or read – like all the other pundits. But most of all, you’ve got to have your facts straight. Regardless of whether anyone has thought to write it down somewhere, the same rule applies to political debates.

The participants in the first presidential debate of our overlong political season seemed to have skipped right over that requirement.
First, the Obama side. His claim that Social Security is “fundamentally solvent” and “does not need fundamental changes.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says those are the facts today but will not be the case in 2030. Fundamental changes must be made. He knows that.

The President claimed his authorship of a “$4 trillion dollars deficit-reduction plan.” Actually it’s $3.8 trillion, counts letting the Bush tax cuts expire – not likely – and counts savings already agreed to a year ago. Bit slipshod in the math. He knows better. There were some other “stretches” to make points but nothing that most debaters don’t do when in full stride.

As for his performance, Obama needs to offer sincere apologies to all his supporters for showing up with less than his “A” game. He ignored obvious openings, walked right past distortions of fact, offered no challenges of his own and seemed sort of bored with it all. He had a bad attitude problem going in and coming out. And it showed.

The respected David Gergen nailed it for me. “Romney drove the debate,” he wrote. “I sensed the president had never been talked to like this over the last four years. I think he was so surprised that he thought Romney was just flat-out lying – that he never proposed a 20% tax cut. I think it sort of threw (Obama) off his game.”

As for Romney, this will be a longer list. But if my Republican friends will take off their GOP sweatshirts for a moment and look at Romney as only nondescript “Candidate A,” you’ve gotta go with me on this. Because “Candidate A” flat out lied. Many times.

Romney scored high in presentation, seeming interest in the debate, attacking openings and camera presence. Very high. Even some of his own staff said they had never seen him perform so well in public before. High “5′s” all around.

But – as a friend of mine has said – Romney became a human pretzel trying to make his various points. He stretched “maybe’s” into “sure things” and ignored fact when trying to make several points. While he certainly scored well for his side in appearance and presentation, he was near the bottom of the chart in substance and fact. He even flatly contradicted some of his own previous campaign rhetoric.

Here are some cases in point. Romney repeatedly claimed Obama has taken $716 billion out of Medicare and crippled the program. Fact: Obama has transferred $716 billion from insurance company payouts and hospital- approved provider payments to add solvency to Medicare. The dollars are still there. While saying he would not substantially change Medicare, Romney has repeatedly endorsed the Ryan plan which does – a plan he has repeatedly said he would sign into law. And he has endorsed the Simpson-Bowles Commission report which does the same.

Romney claimed he was not in favor of a $5-trillion tax cut – something he has supported on the campaign trail. He said he would not put any tax cut in place that would add to the deficit. But the non-partisan Tax Policy Center concludes Romney’s tax plan would cost $4.8 trillion over 10 years. The top one-percent would also get an average tax cut of more than $246,000 each under Romney’s plan. And he again refused to give specifics, saying he didn’t want criticism of his plan before he’s elected.

Romney said he would not cut education funding. While campaigning, he has said he would make such cuts or he’d pass whatever lesser federal dollar amount he approved to the states. But, again, the Ryan plan does cut education funding and Romney has endorsed that plan – even promising over and over he would make it law.

There are more items on the fact check list. Many more. In the next few days, you’ll be seeing and reading a lot of media and government kickback as the fact checkers do their business in depth. But here – in the first headlines – is a summary worth noting:

Chicago Sun-Times: “Romney wins on style – Obama wins on facts.”
CNN: “Mostly fiction.”
FactCheck.org: “Romney sometimes came off as a serial exaggerator.”
NPR: “Romney goes on offense – pays for it in first wave of fact checks.”
Huff Post: “Romney walked back many positions – denied own tax plan”
David Gergen: “Romney was just sort of flat-out lying.”

But the saddest fact about this first debate is this: far more people will have seen the movie than will ever read the book.

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