Did Obama do a better job of challenging the weakness of Romney’s positions in the second debate? Yes. But it’s hard to revel in that, because what the debate in New York told me was that even if Obama wins the election, the right has already won.
How can that be? How can the right win on a platform that promises to create jobs when they control the government even though government can’t create jobs (in their words), while spending even less on everything in society except the military which never asked for the money in the first place, while promising to cut the deficit by reducing revenue and eliminating tax deductions which wouldn’t make up the difference even if they did specify them (and they won’t)?
For the answer, look to what the supposed liberal said in Tuesday’s debate:
Education and Infrastructure: Yes, Obama talked about investing in schools, alternative sources of energy, and general infrastructure. But these aren’t uniquely liberal; both parties have long supported them to one degree or another. Just because the G.O.P. has nearly abandoned them for now doesn’t make them liberal ideas. Obama walked the center line like it was a tight rope.
“… Fact check — there was no Republican from Texas or West Virginia on the stage that night. No, it was President Obama.”
Taxes: Sure, Obama is fighting the G.O.P.’s insistence that the rich should not have to pay more in taxes, but he’s not arguing for any 80-90% F.D.R.-era tax levels. He’s only asking for a return to the rates the super-rich paid under Clinton: 39.6%. That’s even lower than during most of the Reagan years, when top rates were 50%. And people like Romney need not worry even about that; most of their income is capital gains, and under Obama those would still be taxed at less than 25%.
Energy: The first guy who spoke on this topic touted high production levels of oil, natural gas, and coal. But wait, fact check — there was no Republican from Texas or West Virginia on the stage that night. No, it was President Obama. “We’re actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration and my — the previous president was an oil man.” Yes, Obama boasted about drilling more than George W. Bush.
Sure, he went on to plug efficiency and clean energy, but cheering on record levels of fossil fuel production and parroting the coal industry’s “clean coal” oxymoron are moves I’d expect from a Republican in a ten-gallon hat. As for climate change, it’s true that if Republicans win the Senate, James Inhofe, the G.O.P.’s top climate change denier, would chair the committee that oversees the EPA. We’d hear no plans to fight climate change from the Senate. But 90 minutes of prime time debate and we didn’t hear anything about climate change from the Democratic candidate, either.
Gun control: The horror of large-scale massacres going down in schools, theaters, and other public places is an awkward reminder for Democratic leaders that they’ve abandoned any serious effort to make even the worst guns any less available. While Democrats used to argue for tougher restrictions on the most deadly guns, the Republican response has always been to “enforce the laws we’ve already got.” But that quote on Tuesday was from President Obama. His position? “What I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally.” I’d expect such a milquetoast response from Governor Romney.
As for the assault weapons ban that both parties let expire, the President bravely endorsed “seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban introduced.” (Obama to NRA – “Nothing to fear here.”) And Obama led his entire answer on gun control with Republican rhetoric about the Second Amendment and hunting and sportsmen rather than challenging the pro-gun extremism that tolerates bloody massacres in American towns. It was a battle between the right and the right; the left was not in the building.
Obama stood up for Democratic values in a couple of places, most notably on pay equity and contraceptive coverage for women. And he defended the Affordable Healthcare Act in the first debate, but just because Republicans want to repeal it doesn’t make it a liberal policy. It’s nearly identical to the one Romney himself enacted in Massachusetts. (Obama never floated a single player plan, nor even a public option.)
Liberals watching these debates are resigned to crossing their fingers the president will defend the center-right policies that have marked his first term against the farther-right alternatives of today’s Republicans.
This doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter who wins. A Republican victory would move the Supreme Court even further to the right, making it the most conservative in history. That alone is enough reason for Democrats to ensure Obama wins a second term. But a Democratic White House should be an opportunity to apply progressive alternatives to the current corporate- and military-centered landscape, not just a waiting period before Republicans regain control and drive the country further right again.
The Democrats under Obama have been occupying the center and center-right not just in the campaign but throughout Obama’s presidency. He may well win a second term in November, but judging from the terms of debate Obama has imposed on himself, the right is doing just fine either way.
A sane person might think that in a race for the presidency of the United States, the challengers would be asked about the big issues of the day. Like, “Mr. Romney, what do you think of the big issues of the day?” And if no one thought to ask them, you might think they’d speak up for themselves. But somehow, the Republican party is trying to choose the right wealthy white male to end the tyranny of President Obama without asking a single substantive question on war or the financial crisis.
Like, “If elected President, would you return this great nation to its panicked state of 2008 when insolvency ripped through banks like wildfire and no one knew where the contagion would end?”
Wait, that was a loaded question. How about, “Mr. Romney, you criticize the Obama administration for not having restored the economy fast enough. Yet you’ve called for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank bill, the only serious attempt since the crisis to restore oversight of the banking industry. How would restoring the conditions that gave birth to the financial crisis not encourage the same reckless gambling?”
Instead, debate moderators leave Romney and Gingrich to dance in sideshows — their demonizing of Freddie Mac, for example (the G.O.P.’s favorite housing-crisis scapegoat, whose mortgages were better secured than those of private banks). And when the two admit during the last Florida debate that they’re both investors in Freddie Mac, they snipe back and forth about who earns more interest.
“…It’s easy to see why the G.O.P. won’t revisit the early days of the crisis. It would force the nominees to either oppose the Bush bailouts — thereby losing the confidence of business — or support them, thereby losing the Tea Party and (even worse) having to agree with Obama.”
The current nomination battle is doing nothing to inform voters whether a different president would speed up the economic recovery or hasten the arrival of another crisis.
Imagine the economy is a big ship. In the 90′s and after, investment bankers in the first-class cabins are bribing successive captains (Clinton, Bush Jr.) to deregulate their industry. President Bush is at the helm when the ship hits an iceberg. It starts taking on water fast. He initiates a massive bailout, followed later by a stimulus package, and manages to slow the water gushing into the ship’s hull. Bush’s party is relieved of duty, and Barack Obama takes the helm. The ship is still listing badly, so Obama signs a second stimulus bill, and eventually signs a bill restoring some (but not enough) oversight of the banking industry. Finally the hole is patched (though not fixed), and while there’s still too much water in the hull for the ship to regain full speed, its pace is slowly increasing.
What would a Romney presidency do to the recovery? Let’s ask him.
Mitt, so you want to be president? You’re running on your knowledge of how this ship runs, but before you can reach the helm and challenge Captain Obama to a fight there’s a big Newt Gingrich blocking the passageway! He’s sweaty and mad and he wants to throw you overboard (he’s thrown two others over the railing already and he was married to both of them.) You need to get Newt out of the way by showing the passengers that he doesn’t understand ships and that he’d be a bad captain. The microphones are on and you can expose him for the charlatan he is.
What would you ask him? Maybe what Newt would have done if he were in charge in 2008? Would he have bailed out the water or not? If not, how would he have stopped the ship from sinking? And what would he do to make sure such a disaster doesn’t happen again?
Instead Romney asks, “Newt, you earned money advising one of the corporations that financed some of the cabins on this ship, you’re not a conservative, are you?”
And Newt, for all his “big thinker” thinking, won’t look at the big picture either, preferring instead to attack Romney’s business, as if the cause of 9% unemployment were venture capital rather than unregulated investment banking. (That confusion alone should be enough to disqualify Newt.)
It’s easy to see why the G.O.P. won’t revisit the early days of the crisis. It would force the nominees to either oppose the Bush bailouts — thereby losing the confidence of business — or support them, thereby losing the Tea Party and (even worse) having to agree with Obama. And discussing the causes of the crisis would be even more inconvenient. All the major candidates still support the kind of anti-regulation fundamentalism that allowed the banks to bet on a bubble with taxpayers’ money in the first place.
The nomination battle is just as removed from other big issues. How all the G.O.P. candidates can wave off the most serious long-term threat to the nation’s environment and economy — climate change — is a question no one on Fox (or CNN for that matter) is asking. Climate change only comes up as a tool for Romney to beat Gingrich with in front of conservatives — as in, “See you guys, why, Newt once agreed to work with Speaker Pelosi on something, Newt’s not one of you! (I mean, not one of us!)”
In matters of war, anyone challenging Obama from the right is in the awkward position of finding fault with him for killing Osama bin Laden or bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan towards their long overdue ends. Instead, you’ll hear Romney criticizing the president for “apologizing for America” — a silly diversion that PolitiFact thoroughly disemboweled.
On Libya, Gingrich criticized Obama for not intervening, until Obama did intervene, at which point Newt criticized him for intervening, saying it reeked of opportunism. (Oh irony of ironies!) Obama then went on to assemble a coalition to overthrow Gadaffi with an effective combination of speed, multi-national co-operation, local support, international legitimacy, and low casualties — an operation that today’s Republicans praise in theory only.
It’s a strange election, this race to overthrow a successful (if over-hyped) president. Republican voters tend to agree that the most important thing is defeating Obama (who has been such a “disaster,” they all say), but his challengers can’t verbalize what he’s actually done that’s been so disastrous (besides not more quickly reviving the economy that deregulation destroyed). As for how their fatal allergy to regulation will prevent the next major crisis, no one will say.
Or even ask.
“Life begins at conception.”
It’s not just a slogan. It’s also a bumper sticker.
And now, the state of Mississippi is considering an amendment to change the definition of “person” to include a fertilized egg. By using the constitution to transform blastocysts into people, lawmakers could achieve in an instant what gestating women used to drag out for months.
Across the country, state governments are suddenly seeing the potential to use their own legal codes to push aggressive social agendas. “Mississippi has shown that we don’t always have to allow reality to influence what happens on the ground,” one Texas lawmaker reflected. “We’re now aggressively seeking new opportunities to use the law to dictate reality.”
Here’s a roundup of amendments and ballot initiatives currently on the table in other U.S. states.
God Bless the U.S.A. (Tennessee) Would formally require God, as defined in the King James bible, to lay blessings upon the North American continent (excluding Canada and Mexico), including acreage in the Pacific wrested from the natives of the Hawaiian islands. The frequency of blessings would remain at the Lord’s discretion.
Meat is Murder (Washington) Would designate the consumption, preparation, enjoyment, discussion, and presence of meat as a new class of homicide. Would classify as murder not only the meat of livestock but also any fertilized barnyard embryos which may or may not one day become meat.
Global Warming is a Hoax (Wyoming) Would redesignate all scientific research suggesting the climate may be warming as “elaborate-stunt” research. Would require any climate scientist setting foot in Wyoming to admit their life’s work and paltry scientist salaries are all in the service of a long-running, climate-based gag, and to finally explain why they would waste such time and effort just to get people to change to better lightbulbs.
Life Begins at Copulation (Florida) Would take Mississippi’s designation of life beginning at conception and push it further forward, legislating that for all legal and medical purposes, the act of sex, which only occurs between a man and a woman, constitutes birth. It further defines life as beginning the moment a necktie is loosened or a petticoat is first espied.
Life Begins at Inebriation (Louisiana) Would take Florida’s designation of life beginning at copulation and push it even further forward. Recognizing drinking as a common precedent to sex, the amendment would require the state to increase its population count by one person when the soon-to-be parent’s blood alcohol content meets or exceeds .08. If it is during Mardi Gras and the woman’s breasts are exposed, the state may also declare her unfit as a parent at that time.
Note: We intentionally omitted Minnesota’s failed referendum, “Life Begins at Masturbation.” It bitterly divided the state’s citizens last month, the measure’s backers believing it was a bold move to protect the lives of unborn children, University of Minnesota scientists insisting masturbation rarely causes pregnancy, and the Church denying masturbation’s existence.
In reaction to the recent Republican primary debates and the increasingly specific demands of G.O.P. voters, a group of high-level Republicans has privately requested a change to the format of the next primary debate. Political Relief has obtained a leaked copy of the proposal sent to the Commission on Presidential Debates, and is releasing it here, below.
But first, some background.
Texas Governor and Republican hopeful Rick Perry is reeling from the recent revelation that two years ago, he helped a hispanic woman in Austin who was struggling to cross the street. He was forced to deny this yesterday, and in what analysts said is a move to bolster his support among G.O.P. primary voters, he went on to say that, as a matter of course, elderly hispanic women should be left on their own in the middle of streets, and rivers, where applicable, regardless of their level of need. This drew whoops of applause when he repeated it at his rally in Denver this morning.
“Candidates may demonstrate their ability through one or more of the following tactics: ignorance, negligence, or violence.”
Still it’s not clear this new malicious statement has Perry out of the woods. Challenger Ron Paul points reporters to page three of Perry’s book, Fed Up, where he wrote, “Respectable Americans should generally make life difficult for immigrants and their children, except in cases where a mother’s life is in danger.” Rep. Paul and other Republicans are seizing on the last phrase of this statement as evidence of Perry’s insufficient enthusiasm for oppressing the powerless.
Ok, so the details of this are slightly different, in reality. The real story involved Perry helping the children of illegal immigrants in Texas to gain some basic rights, rather than helping people in crosswalks. But the fury this has brought to him from other G.O.P. hopefuls is similar, all of them clawing at each other to achieve meaner-than-thou prominence atop the current pyramid of Republican characters.
These days, any hint of rationality or humanity by one G.O.P. candidate is an opening for another to exploit. (Governor Mitt Romney is running with a heavy political limp, having helped Massachusetts citizens obtain health care, even though he did it within the current private, ultra-capitlalist system.) Nothing says “presidential material” to a G.O.P. voter like ignorance or indifference.
So rather than serving up the standard debate questions, where there’s nothing to stop candidates from flip flopping or falsely accusing their rivals of being insufficiently mean, the next debate should challenge the Republican candidates to put their money where their brains should be.
Herein is the aforementioned, leaked debate proposal:
Update: Oct. 19
G.O.P. candidates, whose promises about the length of U.S.-Mexico border fence they would build have already exceeded what is practical or affordable (“every mile, every foot, every inch” — M. Bachmann), are now competing on the basis of fence lethality. Herman Cain now promises that his nouveau iron curtain would have an alligator-filled moat and an electrified fence (I am not making this up). If there were any doubt about whether his fence would kill or merely maim Mexican citizens desperate enough to cross the border for work, he added that signs would state, “It will kill you — warning.”