Observations on the First Presidential Debate 2012

Last night, I watched the first Presidential Debate of the 2012 General Election. I thought I would share with you my thoughts and observations over lunch.

Strictly in terms of performance, I thought that Gov. Romney did a better job. His responses were smooth with few pauses. He conveyed warmth and sincerity. President Obama also came across as sincere and warm (especially when he flashed the winning smile), but his pauses and hesitations when speaking (what I would call the “um” factor) hurt him greatly.

This, by the way, agrees with the media perception. But then again, the media wants an election to be like the weather report. A weather report that is the same is dull; one that goes from hot to cold to hot is exciting and can be spun for ratings. Same thing with an election: it is rare to have an election where one candidate goes up up up. To the media, amplifying Romney’s performance helps make the election exciting and turns in the viewers. Any non-embarassing performance would have been declared a win (so when you combine that with Obama’s stiff performance), the media is selling Romney as the winner based on performance alone.

But we don’t elect a President on performance alone. After all, who would want an actor as President. Actors belong on the stage, not in the House, Senate, Governors Office, or the Oval Office.*
[*: Grandy, Murphy, Ahhnold, Ronnie. However, comic writers do make great Senators.]

Think about it this way: Expensive foreign sports cars often look great and perform well, but when you look under the hood, you find the flaws in their design that will end up costing you a lot of money in the long run. Sometimes the best engineered car may be dull on the outside. When choosing that car for your family, what do you prefer: the brand-new Porsche or the four-year old Volvo? So let’s look at the candidate’s positions and what they said.

One thing that struck me initially was how similar the positions of Romney and Obama seemed to be. Given what I had read previously about Romney, this came as quite a surprise. It appears that in the last week or two (especially as Romney has gone down in the polls), Romney’s positions have been shifting to the center. Now I don’t expect candidates to pick a position and stick with them. I’m happy to see a politician who can learn over time that their initial positions were wrong, and move to a position that’s better for the country. But I would expect that within a short term (i.e., a single election) their positions would remain consistent. If they can’t keep a position for that long, then I would wonder whether what they were telling me was what they were really going to stick with. Right now, even though Romney came across as very moderate in the debate, I have little confidence that he will remain that way (especially in the face of a Republican House that is being driven by the Tea Party).

During the debate, I listened closely to a number of the positions, and although I thought Romney gave the better performance, I think that Obama had the better positions. So what didn’t I like about Romney’s positions:

  • I do not like Romney’s approach on Medicare. I’m 52; I’m part of that group nearing Medicare age, but young enough that I would be affected by Romney’s voucher approach. I don’t think vouchers are the way to go for Medicare; I think the President is correct when he indicates that insurance companies will cherry pick the healthy seniors, and will leave those with more expensive conditions to burden Medicare. Medicare needs the balance in order to be successful.
  • I do not like Romney’s categorical rejection of taxes or revenue. I do not believe that simple loophole or deduction reduction can obtained the increased revenue to offset the income loss from the rate cuts Romney proposes; if it was that easy, it would have been done. I also do not like Romney’s rejection of the notion of $1 in revenue for every $10 in cuts. That’s a reasonable approach.
  • I do not like Romney’s misrepresentation of existing policies. He indicated he supported the work of the bipartisan commission, while ignoring the fact that his VP was one of the people responsible for torpedoing the effort. He misrepresented the Obamacare commission as dictating what care was permitted, while ignoring the fact that they legally cannot do that.
  • I do not like Romney’s lack of specifics. If Romney is going to be cutting deductions and such to raise income, I’d like to know what they are. If he has a replacement health plan, I want to know what it is. If he has specific approaches on jobs, I want to know what they are. If he wants to roll back parts of Dodd-Frank, I want to know what parts. Presidents should be able to present a strawman proposal to Congress, which Congress will then modify. That’s the purpose of a President — executive leadership. Coming in with a general goal and leaving it up to Congress is not leadership. Leaving it up to Congress to come up with the solution is the mark of a weak President; further, it doesn’t work, for if it did, our problems would have been solved long ago.
  • I do not like Romney’s ignoring the behavior of Congress. Especially with respect to the economy, the President has little power. Although the President could propose ideas, we were dealing with a Congress that refused to go along with anything. If Romney wins, I don’t think that will change (we’ll still have a Democratic senate). I don’t see how Romney would be able to overcome that problem; I can’t see him doing it by moving to the left (if people recall, Obama tried moving to the right, and that didn’t convince Congress). Saying he was able to do it in Mass. is no guarantee it will work at the National level.
  • I do not like Romney’s general approach to healthcare: that is, turning it back to the states. That hasn’t worked before: states have been free to set up their own solutions to the healthcare problem, and they haven’t done it. I see no reason that would compel them to do so after Obamacare is repealed. I certainly do not believe his claims regarding pre-existing conditions no longer being a factor.
  • I do not like that Romney played loose with the facts. They sounded good during the debate, but subsequent checking has shown a number of his statements to be false or exaggerated.
  • I do not like Romney’s threat to cut funding for NPR or PBS. These funds support presentation of the arts to the country, and we’re seeing enough attacks on the arts. Governments have always played a role in promulgating culture.
  • I do not like Romney’s mocking of green energy initiatives. When you are encouraging companies in a cutting edge area, some will fail. Those that succeed will endow America with technology and innovations that will pay off for years to come. I view this as an example of how Romney would view research in new areas as something not worthy of Government investment.
  • I do not like how Romney’s states how he wants job growth, but then cavalierly talks about government cutbacks. Most of these cutbacks… at the local, state, and Federal levels… mean massive job cuts and people losing well paying jobs. Just because someone works for the government does not make their job loss something to dismiss. Further, the cutbacks have impacts on contractors and vendors further down the supply chain. Yes, we need to cut waste in government, but we also need to pay attention to all the good people that support the government, honestly, and who view it as important a service to the nation as those in our armed forces.
  • I don’t like how Romney doesn’t do the math. In relationship to my last point, Romney did say he wants the cuts to be through attrition, but attrition is not that the rate that would actually save money or eliminate duplicity — meaning there would need to be significant cuts. There was similar funny math in his numbers behind his tax proposals, where he couldn’t get the savings he claimed, or in his Medicare proposal which, over the long term, wouldn’t create the savings he claims.

In short, much as I was impressed by Romney’s performance, I don’t believe his positions will move the country in the correct direction. I may not agree with everything President Obama has done, but overall I think he has moved the country onto the slow path of steady recovery. Children want instant gratification; they want Mommy or Daddy to kiss it and make it better right now… and they throw a tantrum if they don’t get it. Parents know that sometimes things take time to heal; much as we might want it better instantly, to heal it in a way that will be strong for the long term takes time and patience. I think we’re starting to see signs that the healing is occurring. At the present time, I see no reason to divert from that path — I’d rather keep the healing progressing than to rip off the bandage and try a different treatment.

[Disclaimer: Of course, this is my opinion, and I respect those of you who have different opinions. I’m always open to well thought out and cogent discussions of subjects.]