What the Barack? The First Presidential Debate

The first Presidential Debate was last night (3rd October). Everyone seems to agree that Mitt ‘won’, and I don’t disagree. Mitt was prettttttty good, and BO was poor. 45-60% viewers said MR won, 20-25% (somehow) liked BO. More on that later, but first you have to read me rehashing my traditional line criticising live politics. It will be a running theme, so fuck right off if you like.

That debate was pointless.

Mitt ‘won’ by being the better speaker. His body language was more upright and positive. He smiled more. He was bossier to Lehrer, the nominal ‘chairman’ whose control over topics and timings was on the extreme side of ‘soft’. He made more digs, quips and put-downs. He did some rhetoric (although some of it was on the naughty side of logical, such as, when attempting to demonstrate that Obamacare was making healthcare more expensive to families, he discussed how Obamacare might make insurance-provision more expensive for Insurance companies, but concluded that this affected families all the same. Which is ironic, since Obamacare specifically limits how insurance companies can shift this cost.)

Likewise, Obama ‘lost’ through being a pretty bad speaker. He uhmmed and ahhed, he looked at his notes, he seemed underconfident at the start and weary at the end. Some of his answers rambled, meaning quips like, “‘Is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace [Medicare] secret because they’re too good?‘” lost their impact. Pundits criticised him for ‘rambling’, ‘getting swamped in details’ and even ‘using too many figures’. What the fuck do they want him to do? Just keep saying, “Everything will be fine, folks!” as he grins at the camera and waves his limp hands around like a biological metronome? If the man is trying to show why his healthcare plans are more robust than Romney’s, and Romney’s is virtually the same, then you’re inevitably going to get into detail.

Why was Obama so rubbish?

I genuinely want someone to tell me. Preferably David Axelrod, but really, anyone with a clue. I know he has always had weaknesses in speaking off-the-cuff, and has been accused of being ‘professorial’ (i.e. boring) when he gets into policy specifics. Still, a performance as bad as this must have a reason.

I can’t really credit right-wing commentators who say he was scared (of Romney, of his record being torn apart, of everyone seeing him for the vile n*993r commie mooslim homosexual anarchist criminal he is.) He’s ahead in most polls (and polls of polls), especially in swing states. Huffington Post seem to think he’s already won, and only a dire performance can ruin him. His opponent has made numerous gaffes. There are various positive-sounding (or at least, window-dressable) economic figures coming out. Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive. Etc. So why the dud?

For the first 20 or so minutes, I thought the man was sleep-deprived. I have been sleep deprived recently, and the sloooowpoke hodpodge manner of his thought and speech reminded me of me. But no. Surely POTUS’ team must’ve planned this thing down to the tee, and even if he was too nervous to sleep, they can probably afford pills. And caffeine. Or at least Pro Plus.

So I’m guessing, and massively hoping, that the Team is to blame. That this is all some very clever, but apparently risky, ploy. How the ploy would work, I don’t know. Make everyone think you’re weak, so you can…show them you’re actually strong…just like they originally thought? Give Mittletone a false sense of confidence so he won’t notice the Frodo’s actually on the slopes of Orodruin? Make Independent voters pick him out of sympathy?

If this is the case, it’s one helluva gamble. Given the fate of the nation/world is at stake, a gambit of this magnitude would take testicles the size of small children.* There were so many virtually-open goals into which BO could’ve scored rhetorical, or ‘actual’, points. Mehdi Hasan lists them here, but for those of you who are lazy, they include mentioning BainCapital’s outsourcing record, Romney’s “47%” foot-in-mouth moment, Romney’s hazy tax records, Romney having an aircraft hangar in Arkansas full of Nazi memorabilia. To Hasan’s list I would add an explanation for Europe’s woes limiting Obama’s recovery stimulus’ effectiveness, the aforementioned job/GDP figures, an explanation that bipartisanship was difficult when Congressional Republicans explicitly state that their priority was to block BO rather than ‘work for America’, the General Motors line, and more emphasis on the goodness of his student loans plan.  There’s a chance that Obama was warned off attacking any of these topics, in case it back-fired. I don’t see how, but then, I’m a prick.

I can’t have everything.

He said, She said

My main problem with most of this debate was its devolution into a situation wherein both candidates attacked one another’s plans, claimed the other was lying (or misinformed) about their own plans, or did not understand x or y. Without some kind of measure (as suggested by one of my good-looking, perceptive commentators) which acts as a live-updating fact-checker, this was totally pointless. People who were informed enough to know which person was telling the truth gained nothing. People who were not would be presented with theoretically equally-valid truth claims, so also gained nothing.
When people criticise my stupid post-democracy plans, a frequent argument is that politics would become too boring. Well, with this, the central event of the month, I was pretty bored. And I fucking love politics. These were just two people, repeating the same maybe-facts again and again and again and again, often in reference to quite disparate questions. They might as well have argued whether Captain America or The Hulk was better.

The Hulk is angry.

I have, in fact, been on a fact checker. There are lots of facts to check, and I’m not even sure the one I read was comprehensive. I made it 5 – 2 to Romney. As in, Mitt lied or mischaracterised five times, Obama two. There were also a few issues which both seemed to be fucking up.

This is partially a result of…

Slippery Mitt, the best after-dinner party game!

Mitt, as we know, has written off the 47%. He does, however, have serious love for the 6% or so Independents in the ‘middle’. For this reason, he has (perfectly wisely) framed his free-market ideals in populist terms, and claimed far more centrist policies than he did in the Republican primaries. Indeed, there were several timepoints wherein Mitt and Obama were singing from such similar hymn-sheets that a little part of my mind went, ‘Hey, maybe it’s OK if Mitt wins. He is basically just a Moron Obama!”

There are actually TWO jokes here because I am THAT GOOD

But then I remembered he was a lying fucktard. He is hard to pin-down because he really doesn’t have clear proposals. He has his own, very hazy, budget, but at times claims to be following parts of Paul Ryan’s, or of Simpson-Bowles, whose recommendations his own party blocked. Indeed, Mittelstein’s plans seem so delightfully vague that he can claim he isn’t cutting anything, except Big Bird. Not education (despite suggesting it in the primaries). Not Medicaid. Not stuff-for-middle-americans. Certainly not the military!

Romney’s proposal to lower taxes by 20%, abolish estate tax and the alternative minimum tax would reduce revenue by $5tn (£3tn) over a decade. The Romnerator said he would help offset that by eliminating tax loopholes; the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says the sums do not add up. [BBC]. He’s even denying the new 25% rate on the highest income tax-band, and denying it forcefully, which made Barry’s attacks on it seem rather pointless.

How can Barry debate with a man who doesn’t seem to have any stances other than ‘I love the constitution’ and ‘I love jobs’? And how can such a vacuous debate sway anyone but the most idiotic Independent’s opinion?

Aftermath

Someone in the Democratic Party has, apparently, woken up. Obama is urging the GOP to tell ‘the truth’, plus Axe promising strategic ‘adjustments’ before the November 6th Rapture.  It’s a little early to call yet, but I’d assume Rommble will get a 1-2 point jump, BO a 1-2 point loss, which would put them roughly level.

What was my line on all this again?

Oh yeah. It’s bullshit. Somewhere between Shadows & Mirrors, and Panem et Circensem. Anyone who picks either candidate on the back of this performance (without reading up afterwards) is committing a gross slur against the principles of democracy.

Where’s Ralph Nader when you need him…

*Sorry about that. I’m actually really not OK with using various biologically-male attributes to denote bravery. “Man up” vs “Don’t be a pussy”. “Grow a pair”. “Strap on a pair”. “Don’t be such a girl”.
So, I’m a hypocrite. Nothing new to see here.

 

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7 thoughts on “What the Barack? The First Presidential Debate

  1. Colonel Rhett E. Cousineau, Louisiana Infantry, Confederate States Army of the Trans-Mississippi on said:

    http://www.princeton.edu/ceps/workingpapers/228rosen.pdf

    http://www.nber.org/feldstein/wsj08282012.pdf

    Here a couple of studies that disagree with the TPC’s conclusion. Romney has proposed capping household deductions at $17,000. Those who could claim more than this in deductions would all be high-earners according to the President’s definition ($250,000+ a year, although he misleadingly refers to “millionaires and billionaires” on the campaign trail).

    A lying, Yankee, turdbag he maybe, but his tax plan could make sense.

    • Hello Col Cousineau.I’ve made the rather daunting attempt to actually read your links, not just their conclusions, and I have to say I’m not that impressed.
      The Princeton one, whilst very self-conscious saying “we don’t know x and y so we should try a variety of models” still uses (IMO) optimistic estimates (e.g. the Most Pessimistic growth rate is 3% !) and depends on an entirely invented elasticity assumption – he might as well have taken the one he sort-of-cites, which would have made his figures look ludicrously good…He also assumes Half state/local exemptions would be lost on Alternative Minimum Tax, which is a tad silly since Mitt wants to cut AMT. As the WSJ article knows.

      WSJ also assumes “taxpayers do respond to lower marginal tax rates by acting in ways that increase their taxable incomes” which is highly contentious, and the figures he extrapolates are just as ‘uncertain’ as the static TPC assumptions. Moreover, he takes at face value some Romney comments which would mean Romney is SAVAGE (in capitals) on current high-earners’ deduction claims. Like, 30% savage. On all of them.
      Yeah, that’ll happen.
      And if it does, then what? If WSJ’s claims are true, Romney’s tax-plan would make no sense because the readjustment, bringing in the same amount of revenue From the same income demographic, just in a different way (lower overall rate but harsh on exemptions) would have marginal econ impact. They would not, effectively, be being taxed any less…
      Both articles repeatedly raise my own criticism, that proper forecasting is impossible since “Gov. Romney hasn’t specified what he would do.” For the man who is a ‘CEO’ and wants to run a muther focking super powa in one month, this is woefully negligent.
      Oh, and WSJ is written by Feldstein, who is both On the Romney campaign, and a Reagan veteran. Because Reagan handled the economy so damn well…

      • The ‘most pessimistic’ growth rate refers to a growth in revenue, not GDP, as is substantiated by numerous studies cited in the paper. The elasticity number he uses is “conservative”. He cites the value given in the standard reference, a “poll of polls” of the literature, 0.4. He then goes lower just to be sure. Why this should undermine his conclusions, I don’t know. You may think it too right-wing to be true, but the evidence is there. The top 1% paid more after the Bush tax cuts than under Clinton, the bottom 50% less. That’s just the facts.

        This does not begin even to cover loophole closure and ending tax subsidies for ethanol, “green energy”, oil producing, automobile manufacturing etc companies.

        You blast Reagan’s record on the economy, but the federal government’s revenue reached record highs after Reagan’s tax cuts. Let’s also remember that the Reagan-Bush economic era was as much defined by new monetarist orthodoxy of the Federal Reserve under Chairman Paul Volcker, a Democrat. I don’t know why you think Reagan did such a terrible job with the economy given that when he inherited the worst depression side the 1930s, GDP growth was at 4% within 4 years, and he had also dealt with inflation, which Obama did not have to contend with. It makes for quite a comparison with what the results achieved by stimulus, record debt levels and regulatory uncertainty instantiated by the Obama administration.

        I’m sorry that economists tend to be more Republican. I think that tells you something though. What you certainly can’t do is take a piece of scientific argument backed by peer-reviewed studies and hard data and dismiss it out of hand on ad hominem grounds.

        As for the effect it would have, the answer is that it would be massive and positive because these so-called “millionaires and billionaires” are mostly small businesses filing as individuals, not corporations. Making tax rates more uniform for people earning the same amount makes tax policy and the economy more efficient, as no sector receives an outcome-distorting subsidy, and makes certain that the engines of job-creation, small businesses (which, defined as those firms with 100 employees or less, account for 39.2% of job growth over the past two decades), receive the boost they need to finally get America’s employed population to population ratio (which has been flat since ’09) growing again.

        Either way, the crucial point is this: there is *simply no way* that Obama can claim Romney is cutting taxes by 5 trillion on millionaires and billionaires: most of those who will see their taxes cut will actually be business owners who use their income to support their business; the tax cut, if not balanced by deduction and loophole closure, would 5 trillion across the board, not just for supposed millionaires; there are plenty of ways to at least have a good stab at making it all revenue neutral.

      • Colonel, you have overpowered me. I will suspend judgement on this issue.

        I only defend what you call Ad Hom, which I’d argue is more a Perspectivism observation, that someone with a clear pre-existing bent towards A will, if given entirely neutral data, show how that data supports A’s position. I am quite sure that I’m a B, so my evaluations of A are inescapably flawed too. Ho ho.

        For Reaganomics, I recall having read several econ-history books and their conclusions being as disparate as the rainbow. My general impression is that he did not achieve so much as you claim, and what he did was through MIC, but nevertheless he was not Bad for the economy.

      • Ain’t to say I likes the Yankee suvabitch, y’understand? I’m not generally comfortable with carpet-baggin’ Republicans imposing their jackboot the South, but hell, Abe Lincoln at least had principles! The idea that the successor of the man to whom we lost the War o’ Naw’then Aggression is some weird sand shaman in magic underwear looks like a Ken doll and has a first name like a euphemism for an ageing and well-used N’awlins whore’s vagina, well, it just breaks my ever-lovin’ heart.

        Just I’m not sure that principles or no, the clever Mass-ass bastard isn’t probably a sight better with money than a Tamanny-hall/Cermak-Daley Democrat’d sell his own dear mama down the big muddy for thirty votes, but never had to balance a damn budget all his life.

  2. I feel that for this sort of thing to work, there needs to be live fact checking by an independent group, and then at the end of the show, the speakers are asked to respond to criticism by the fact checkers of what they have said.

    How much of a boost to Romney must it be to have the mindset of a performer that can answer any challenge, rather than an accountable politician, because fact-checking reports in the news will be seen by a small minority and will have a relatively small impact even on those that do see it?

    Fact checking needs to be explicitly put into the process so that it’s in a politician’s best interest to tell the truth. The end of the show thing would even be fun to watch, like when the judges on the X factor rip a bad contestant apart.

    Not that any politician (who am I kidding, I mean Romney) would ever agree to appear on a show like that.

    • Quite right, yeah.

      When Cameron went on Letterman, I wondered why he’d bother. I think it’s a secret ploy, so that if Mitt Romney wins, he feels the obligation to go on Newsnight.
      Imagine Romney vs Paxman. Oh God. Why doesn’t Paxman just boss every politics show?

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