FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE (of THREE) 2012
Wednesday 3 October 2012
Location: Magness Arena- University of Denver: Denver, Colorado
Subject: Domestic Issues
Moderator: Jim Lehrer- of the Public Broadcasting System's News Hour
Format: moderator asking a "lead question" in each of 6 approximately 15-minute segments; 2 minute response by the candidate to whom the question is directed (the candidate to whom the question is directed is determined by coin toss [which President Obama won: he elected to go first]), each subsequent "lead question" alternates between the candidates as regards who answers it first), followed by a 2 minute response by the other candidate; an "open discussion"- controlled by the Moderator- takes up the remainder of each of the 6 segments. Debate to last no longer than 90 minutes all told.
Scoring for 'The Green Papers' by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON TheGreenPapers.com Staff
Explanation of the SCORING SYSTEM used by 'The Green Papers' for the 2012 Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates
Round 1: What are the differences between the candidates re: job-creation?
President Obama opened this Round with a recitation of what he saw as the economic achievements of his own Administration in the wake of "the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression... the auto industry was on the brink of collapse, the financial system had frozen up". But, or so the President claimed, "Over the last 30 months, we've seen 5 millions jobs in the private sector created: the auto industry has come roaring back and housing has begun to rise. But we all know that we've still got a lot of work to do and so the question here is not where we've been, but where we're going".
Governor Romney responded by noting that, as regards those facing difficulties in a still-sluggish American Economy, "We can help- but it's going to take a different path, not the one we've been on: not the one the President describes as top-down, cut taxes for the rich- that's not what I'm going to do!" Romney went on to outline the five most basic objectives of his Economic Plan: 1. Energy Independence; 2. Open up more Trade (concomitant with "crack[ing] down on China, if and when they cheat"); 3. "Make sure our people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the World"; 4. Balance the Budget and 5. "Champion Small Business: it's Small Business that creates the jobs in America", after which Romney specifically cited a stat that new business start-ups were at a three-decade low. He then chastised Obama and the Democrats for being champions of, instead, what Romney called "trickle-down Government".
In the "open discussion" period that followed each candidate's initial answer to the question, President Obama spent too much time citing where he and Governor Romney likely agreed ("Governor Romney and I both agree that our corporate tax rate is too high... Governor Romney and I, we both agree, that we've got to boost American energy production") even while citing his own policies and proposals on each such subject. It was only after a time that Obama asked the rhetorical question: "How do we make sure we are reducing spending in a responsible way, but also: how do we have enough revenue to make those investments?" The President went on to claim that "Governor Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut- on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts, that's another trillion dollars- and another $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for: that's $8 trillion! How we pay for that, reduce the deficit and make the investments that we need to make without dumping those costs into middle-class Americans, I think, is one of the central questions of this campaign".
Romney retorted: "First of all, I don't have a $5 billion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale that you're talking about. My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class, but I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people... Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4300: this is a tax in and of itself- I'll call it 'the Economy Tax'... at the same time, gasoline prices have doubled under the President; electric rates are up, food prices are up, health-care costs have gone up $2500 a family... I'm not going to cut massive taxes and reduce the revenues going to the Government- my number one principle is: there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit!"
Nevertheless, President Obama continued, when his turn again came, to hammer on the notion that Romney was going to cut taxes by $5 billion and increase military spending by $2 billion, adding that "he is saying he is going to pay for it by closing loopholes and deductions- the problem is: he's been asked over a hundred times how he would close those deductions and loopholes and he hasn't been able to identify them", to which Romney reiterated that he does not support as much as $5 billion in tax cuts and, again, that "I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans!" adding that "54 percent of America's workers work in businesses that are taxed, not at the corporate rate, but at the individual tax rate- and if we lower that rate, they will be able to hire more people. For me, this is about jobs: this is about getting jobs for the American People!"
Obama responded: "Well, for 18 months he's been running on this tax plan and now- five weeks before the Election- his big, bold idea is 'Never mind!' " After some more 'back and forth' between the candidates on the small business tax rate (the President claiming that, under his plan, "97 percent of small businesses would not see their income taxes go up" to which Governor Romney noted that "those businesses that are in the last 3 percent of businesses employ half of the people who work in small business: those are the businesses that employ one-quarter of all the workers in America"), Romney went back to arguing that a tax cut in the range of $5 billion was "not my plan" before citing statistics such as 23 million people out of work "or who have stopped looking for work in this country" and an increase in the number of people on food stamps. "Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American People who are struggling today", the Republican nominee concluded.
Governor Romney won this first Round because, while he had to so defend himself against the claim that he was proposing a $5 billion tax cut, President Obama had used up much too much time ever pressing that same point while Romney continued to use his rebuttal of this as a vehicle through which to bring up more and more negative economic stats which President Obama himself failed to rebut, mitigate or otherwise explain. Considering that Romney came into this first Presidential Debate as the consensus "underdog", it was certainly a better start for the challenger than for the incumbent.
Round 1: Romney 10 - Obama 9
Round 2: What are the differences between the candidates re: Federal deficit reduction?
Here, Governor Romney got to answer first: "It's a critical issue: I think it's not just an economic issue, I think it's a moral issue. I think it's- frankly- not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing these burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation and they're going to be paying the interest on the principal all their lives... Mathematically, there are three ways that you can cut a deficit: one, of course, is to raise taxes; number two is to cut spending; and number three is to grow the Economy because, if more people work in a growing Economy, they're paying taxes... the problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth... What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I would eliminate all programs by this test- if they don't pass it: is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And, if not, I'll get rid of it. 'Obamacare''s on my list... I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS... I like PBS, I love Big Bird!... But I'm not going to keep spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for-- that's number one. Number two: I'll take programs that are currently good programs but I think can be run more efficiently at the State level and send them to the State; number three: I'll make Government more efficient... my cutbacks will be done through attrition, by the way".
President Obama responded: "When I walked into the Oval Office, I had more than a trillion-dollar deficit greeting me and we know where it came from: two wars that were paid on a credit card, two tax cuts that were not paid for and then a massive economic crisis. And, despite that, what we said was: yes, we had to take some initial emergency measures to make sure we didn't slip into a Great Depression- but we also said is: let's make sure we are cutting out those things that are not helping us grow... Now we all know we've got to do more and so I've put together a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan... and the way we do it is: for $2.50 of every cut, we ask for $1 of additional revenue, paid for- as I indicated earlier- by asking those of us who have done very well in this country to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit."
Romney retorted: "I love this idea of $4 trillion in cuts: you found $4 trillion in ways to reduce or to get closer to a balanced budget, except we still show trillion-dollar deficits every year... You raise taxes and you kill jobs... I don't want to kill jobs in this environment". Obama replied: "There has to be revenue in addition to cuts. Now, Governor Romney has ruled out revenue" to which Romney himself responded: "The revenue I get is by more people working, getting higher pay, paying taxes: that's how we get growth and balance the budget- but the idea of taxing people more, putting more people out of work, you'll never get there! You'll never balance the budget by raising taxes. Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on Government; we're now spending 42 percent of our economy on Government- I don't want to go down the path of Spain!"
"If we're serious", President Obama answered, "we've got to take a responsible, balanced approach- and, by the way, this is not just when it comes to individual taxes: let's talk about corporate taxes... the oil industry gets $4 billion a year in corporate welfare: basically, they get deductions that those small businesses Governor Romney refers to don't get... Right now, you can actually take a deduction for moving a plant overseas: I think most Americans would say that doesn't make sense". Governor Romney pounced on these very points when his turn again came: "The tax break for oil companies is $2.8 billion a year and it's actually an accounting treatment, as you know, that's been in place for a hundred years (President Obama here interrupted: "It's time to end it!")... actually, this $2.8 billion goes largely to small companies, to drilling operators and so forth... you said you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas: look, I've been in business for 25 years- I have no idea what you're talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant! But the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case."
Governor Romney started off this Round quite well but his references to "borrow[ing] money from China to pay" for the Federal Government were somewhat silly (for the story of the sources of the US National Debt and to whom such Debt might be owed is a rather complex one) and his "I love Big Bird!" (that is: the most famous resident of PBS's Sesame Street) verged on the embarrassing. President Obama, on the other hand, took the high road-- but, as was the case in Round 1 (albeit for different reasons in Round 2), this only created openings for Governor Romney to bring up "inconvenient truths" about the President's own policies and proposals while, at the same time, effectively defending his own positions (by contrast, the President- once more- failed to much do likewise) and, by so doing, Romney ended up salvaging a Round that so easily could have gone against him.
Round 2: Romney 10 - Obama 9
Round 3: What are the differences between the candidates re: entitlements such as Social Security?
President Obama began this Round by talking about how his maternal grandmother was able to live independently in retirement because Social Security and Medicare had been available to her. He noted that "$716 billion we were able to save from the Medicare program by no longer overpaying insurance companies by making sure we weren't overpaying providers" to which Romney, in his own opening answer, noted "Actually, just going to them and saying 'We're going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board- everybody's going to get a lower rate': that's not going after places where there's abuse- that's saying 'We're cutting the rates'. Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take any more Medicare patients under that scenario; we also have 50 percent of doctors who say they won't take any more Medicare patients... I want to take that $716 billion you've cut and put it back into Medicare... the idea of cutting $716 billion from Medicare to be able to balance the additional cost of 'Obamacare' is, in my opinion, a mistake!"
The President responded: "First of all, I think it's important for Governor Romney to present this plan that he says will only affect folks in the future- and the essence of the plan is that it would turn Medicare into a voucher program: it's called Premium Support, but it's understood to be a voucher program... (Romney, interrupting: "Again, that's for future people, right? Not for current retirees") "I understand-- so, if you're 54 or 55, you might want to listen 'cause this will affect you... the problem is that, because the voucher wouldn't necessarily keep up with health-care inflation, it was estimated that this would cost the average senior about $6,000 a year. Now, in fairness, what Governor Romney has now said is that he'll keep traditional Medicare alongside it- but there's still a problem because what happens is: those insurance companies are pretty clever at figuring out who are the younger and healthier seniors. They recruit them- leaving the older, sicker seniors in Medicare... over time, what'll happen is the traditional Medicare system will collapse".
Governor Romney then rebutted: "What I support is no change for current retirees and near-retirees to Medicare and the President supports taking $716 billion out of that program... for people coming along that are young, what I do to make sure that we can keep Medicare in place for them is to allow them either to choose the current Medicare program or a private plan- their choice!... I know my own view is I'd rather have a private plan: I'd just as soon not have the Government telling me what kind of health-care I can get... We have to have the benefits high for those that are low-income but, for higher income people, we're going to have to lower some of the benefits: we have to make sure the plan is there for the long term".
The discussion was soon steered, by the Moderator, into the issue of Government Regulation per se. Governor Romney noted that "Regulation is essential: you can't have a Free Market if you don't have regulation... you couldn't have people opening up banks in their garage and making loans... Every free economy has good regulation: at the same time, regulation can become excessive... Dodd-Frank was passed and it includes within it a number of provisions that I think has some unintended consequences that are harmful to the Economy. One is it designates a number of banks as too big to fail and they're effectively guaranteed by the Federal Government: this is the biggest kiss that's been given to New York banks I've ever seen!... There have been 122 community and small banks that have closed since Dodd-Frank."
President Obama responded: "This is a great example: the reason we have been in such an enormous economic crisis was prompted by reckless behavior across the board- now, it wasn't just on Wall Street!... so what did we do? We stepped in and had the toughest reforms on Wall Street since the 1930s." Romney retorted: "We have to have regulation of Wall Street- that's why I'd have regulation- but I wouldn't designate five banks as too big to fail and give them a blank check: that's one of the unintended consequences of Dodd-Frank."
This Round was the closest, in my opinion: President Obama might have won it had it ended with the whole discussion about Medicare-- but the segue into Government Regulation as a whole aided Governor Romney as it, once again, allowed him to bring up statistics that put pay to the President's own arguments.
Round 3: Romney 10 - Obama 9
Round 4: Governor Romney wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act: why? (For President Obama: Why should it not be repealed?)
Governor Romney began by claiming that the Affordable Care Act (that is: 'Obamacare') adds to the cost of health-care (by, or so Romney said, $2500 per family), that he'd rather put the $716 billion cut from Medicare back into Medicare and then saying that "it puts into place an unelected Board that 's going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have: I don't like that idea!" President Obama defended it on the grounds that "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"; the President closed his opening answer by noting "the irony" that Governor Romney himself had applied just such a model in Massachusetts.
Romney defended his own health care plan instituted during his tenure as Governor by noting that "we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together: what you did instead was push through a plan without a single Republican vote. As a matter of fact, when Massachusetts did something quite extraordinary- elected a Republican Senator to stop 'Obamacare', you pushed it through anyway!" He then went on to note that his own plan didn't include that "Board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they're going to receive". When it was his turn again, the President finally addressed the issue of this 'unelected Board': "What this is is a group of health care experts- doctors, etc.- to figure out how we can reduce the cost of care in the system overall... what this Board does is basically identify Best Practices and says 'let's use the purchasing power of Medicare and Medicaid to help to institutionalize all the good things that we do' ".
Romney declaimed that "the right answer is not to have the Federal Government take over Health Care and start mandating to the providers across America, telling a patient and a doctor what kind of treatment they can have" to which the President responded that "this Board that we're talking about can't make decisions about what treatments are given: that's explicitly prohibited in the law!" Romney got the last word by noting that "what we did in Massachusetts is a model for the Nation State-by-State and I said that at the time: the Federal Government taking over Health Care for the entire Nation and whisking away the 10th Amendment- which gives States the rights for these kinds of things- is not the course for America to have a stronger, more vibrant Economy".
Although Governor Romney tacked a bit too close to the old 'bugaboo' of "States' Rights" at the end there (putting aside the reality that States- as is the case with all Governments- don't actually have Rights, only Persons do... Governments, on the other hand, have Powers [and, indeed, the principal 'Reserved Power' (note well the term used therein!) in the 10th Amendment cited by Governor Romney is that Police Power regulating Safety, Health and Welfare]), he did well parry President Obama's thrusts in this Round. In addition, the President waited way too long before defending against Romney's negative claims about that "unelected Board".
Round 4: Romney 10- Obama 9
Round 5: What is the fundamental difference between the two candidates as regards how each views the mission of the Federal Government?
Interestingly (if only from my own [admittedly narrow here] perspective), this particular question touched upon the very subject of the quotation from Woodrow Wilson's The State with which I opened my Commentary of 3 October!
Both candidates answered this question directly (in each of their respective 2 minute "opening answers") quite well:
President Obama declaimed that "the most basic function" of the Federal Government is to keep the American People safe but also that "the Federal Government has the capacity to help open up opportunity and create ladders of opportunity and to create frameworks where the American People can succeed". Acknowledging that "the genius of America is the Free Enterprise system and Freedom and the fact that people can go out there and start a business, work on an idea, make their own decisions", the President then used examples of Federal intervention in ordinary endeavor specifically from President Abraham Lincoln's Administration, such as- even while conducting the Union side of the American Civil War- the Federal Government aiding the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad (even though that rail line was being built and operated by private companies): such a thing "doesn't restrict people's Freedom", Obama claimed. "That enhances it!"
For his own part, Governor Romney responded with his vision that the primary responsibilities of the Federal Government were protecting Life and Liberty (Romney argued that this very thing requires "a military second to none"), "maintaining our commitment to Religious Tolerance and Freedom" and allowing for "the right to pursue happiness as we choose... maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams and not have the Government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals". But, at the end of his own response, Romney chose to repeat his already-stated claims that, under the Obama Administration, 23 million people remain unemployed and the number of people on food stamps had increased from 32 million to 45 million (without directly relating these to the proper role of Government per se).
Romney was brought back to the subject at hand by moderator Lehrer as the discussion period ensued by Lehrer's specifically asking about the role of the Federal Government in Education and, thus, Romney was able to make his case that the States and local school districts had the primary responsibility for Education, although he acknowledged that the Federal Government might well aid and abet this (but Romney would have grants-in-aid to Education "follow the child" [by giving the grant money directly to parents] rather than these being filtered through the States and local school districts to whom the Feds have previously given such grants). President Obama retorted that "this is where budgets matter, because budgets reflect choices", going on to claim that Governor Romney's proposals (and more so those of Romney's running mate, Congressman Ryan) would end up slashing Education in the Federal budget by 20 percent; Romney himself retorted with his own claim that the $90 billion that Obama's Administration gave to "green jobs" would've paid for 2 million new teachers.
Romney went on to say that "the Government is not to become the economic player- picking winners and losers, telling people what kind of health treatment they can receive, taking over the health care system that has existed in this country for a long, long time". "The right answer for Government is to say: how do we make the private sector become more efficient and more effective? How do we get our schools to be more competitive? Lt's grade them! I propose we grade our schools so parents know which schools are succeeding or failing".
I would give this Round to President Obama, if only because he more stayed "on topic" than Governor Romney (albeit at the expense at Romney being able to reiterate claims about Obama's policies he had already made earlier in the Debate); in addition, Romney's statement that Government should "make the private sector become more efficient and more effective" was at least somewhat at odds with much of what the Republican nominee had already opined this same evening: as for grading schools, wouldn't Government doing just such a thing be not all that much different, in kind, from the work of that "unelected Board" Romney had already complained about in the segment on Health Care? Simply put: who would be doing the grading and just who would then grade the graders?
Round 5: Obama 10 - Romney 9
Round 6: What would each candidate do about the legislative functions of the Federal Government being in a state of paralysis as a result of partisan gridlock?
For his part, Governor Romney cited his own experience as a Republican Governor of Massachusetts facing a heavily Democratic legislature: "I figured out from Day 1 that I had to get along and I had to work across the aisle to get anything done"; he claimed that he would do the same thing as President. "We have to work on a collaborative basis- not because we're going to compromise our principles, but because there's common ground... Republicans and Democrats both love America, but we need to have leadership- leadership in Washington- that will actually bring people together and get the job done!"
President Obama retorted with something of a "shot across the bow": "Governor Romney's going to have a busy first day because he's also going to repeal 'Obamacare', which will not be very popular with Democrats as you're sitting down with them". Obama went on by pointing out that "part of being principled- part of being a leader- is being able to describe exactly what it is that you intend to do; not just saying 'I'll sit down' but you have to have a plan. Number two: what's important is that you've got to say 'no' to folks in your own Party and in the other Party... so part of leadership and governing is both saying what you are for but also being willing to say 'no' to some things- and I've got to tell you, Governor Romney, when it comes to his own Party during the course of this campaign, has not displayed that willingness to say 'no' to some of the more extreme parts of his Party".
Because of time constraints, there was no "open discussion" after each candidate had spoken during this particular Round, which gave President Obama something of an advantage as the actual Debate portion of the evening ended on that note. However, Obama was also able to respond to Governor Romney with something of a 'what you might have been able to do as Governor of a State ain't so easy in the White House, buddy!' tone and it was because he could call upon his own experience as the incumbent (and, as a result, was on much firmer ground) that the President won this Round as well.
Round 6: Obama 10 - Romney 9
It is the position of 'The Green Papers' that any Opening and Closing Statements at these Debates, being largely repetitions of the messages of each candidate's campaign and not at all responses to "off the cuff" questions for which the candidates cannot prepare in advance, are not really part of the Debate itself. Thus, the Closing Statements from each candidate are not included herein and do not factor into the
FINAL SCORE: Governor Romney 58 - President Obama 56