Given the President’s disappointing performance during the first presidential debate and Mitt Romney’s approval bounce, it is quite clear that Obama needs to regain his focus. He needs to locate the master debater we witnessed in the 2008 campaign. But what is also clear is the President has to both challenge Romney on the multitude of his false claims and call him out over the Republican candidate’s continual flip-flopping.
While the last debate focused on primarily on domestic issues, the next will undoubtedly revisit some of the same issues giving Obama a second chance to make his case. The subsequent two debates will also give the President another opportunity to confront Romney on his habit of flip-flopping on virtually every issue of importance. In a decade’s long political career Mitt Romney has won only one election, the governorship of Massachusetts. His two most prominent campaigns prior to his two runs for president, were against the late Ted Kennedy for senate and Shannon O’Brien for governor. Both times he shifted towards the middle during the debates. O’Brien was caught off guard by this shift, much as Obama was on October 3rd. She fumbled and eventually lost to Romney. Kennedy, on the other hand, called out Romney holding him accountable for his positions and demanding specifics on his policies. It would behoove Obama to channel a bit of Ted and keep Romney off balance during the remaining debates perhaps resurrecting the moniker Kennedy saddled him with which is even more appropriate now than it was then, “…my opponent is multiple choice”.
For god’s sake man, cite the fact-checkers!
Throughout the campaign fact-checkers have attempted to keep reality in view but they had a field-day with the multitude of false and misleading claims made by the ex-governor spanning the whole 90 minutes of that first debate. Obama, for his part, stretched the truth a few times but when his challenger attempts to bring back the ghosts of Death Panels and government takeover of healthcare, one has to recognize the depths of which Mr. Romney decided to go to prevail. As Romney blamed Obama for repeating something enough times, it may become true, he himself resuscitated the 2009 and 2010 Politifact Lies of the Year.
Romney continued with other claims blaming Obama for the 23 million unemployed, a claim that becomes quite questionable when one remembers the Great Recession claimed 8.4 million jobs and only half of those occurred under the current administration. The five independent studies Romney claims support his tax plan are in actuality two newspaper editorials, one article written by a campaign adviser and the two remaining used data from 2009, an anomalous year for economic data. The $90 million dollar waste on green technology Romney points to as another administration failure is also false given most of the funds have not been distributed yet and 60% of what has been divvied out went to states, local governments and utility companies for energy efficiency, transportation and infrastructure projects. Obamacare will cut $716 million from Medicare is another claim that isn’t any more true than when it was used during the 2010 midterms. In the area of oil and gas production Romney berated the President for cutting the number of permits and licenses in half but that is also off the mark since production from federal lands has actually increased under the Obama administration. And as far as energy security goes, the US is currently a net exported of oil and its main storage facilities are at capacity. Despite this, the Republican candidate continues to insist the US is weaker in this area than ever before.
Run on your record
Paul Ryan during the Vice Presidential debate stated when you don’t have record to run on, you scare voters about your opponents. First, scare tactics have been employed as a political strategy ever since Jefferson and Adams went at it way back in 1800 but the fear mongering seen from the conservative side of the aisle since Obama took office has been truly astonishing. From death panels, to scary socialism to class warfare to the whole birther claims, the Republican Party has utilized fear of Obama and the Democrats at every opportunity. It strains credibility when you try to blame your opponents for the very thing you do yourself.
Second, Obama has to run on his record, something his opponents claim he cannot do. Romney and Ryan like to point to all the jobs lost under the administration, how long the country has withstood unemployment over 8% and how slow the recovery has been. But the derisive points are made in isolation of the Great Recession itself. The numbers would be horrible and quite valid to criticize had Obama stepped into the White House during a stable economy but when a president arrives on the job in the middle of the worst economic crisis in 80 years those figures take on a different meaning.
The majority of job losses under this administration occurred within its first 3½ months when the economy was hemorrhaging 650,000 plus jobs each month. In total 4.2 million were lost under the Obama administration due in no part to any policy they put in place. This is the criticism in isolation mentioned above. But what did happen as Obama and Democratic policies were implemented was the job loss hole was plugged, the free flow stopped and the recession halted. According to Congressional Budget Office congressional testimony in January 2010 it was those policies – primarily the Stimulus Bill – and the actions by the Federal Reserve that “…helped moderate the severity of the recession and shorten its duration…”
Since then the private sector has experienced more than two years of growth. GDP has grown from a rate of 0.4% in March 2011 to 3.0% by the fourth quarter of that same year despite the debt ceiling debacle and fears of a double-dip recession. And of those 4.2 million jobs lost since the end of the recession, 5.4 million have been regained. Where is there room to criticize here? Many on the Right have stated this is all despite Obama’s policies or a swifter recovery would have occurred if conservative austerity polices were in place, if the national debt was the priority. While during most times this would be nothing more than speculation, a bunch of “what if’s”. But we actually have a real world example of where the United States would be if those policies were implemented…Europe. Europe has taken the route the Republican Party wishes we had embarked on. Mitt Romney’s own economic adviser even wrote an op-ed in a German newspaper encouraging them to stay the course. Yet, as the global economy currently sits, the US is one of a very Western World countries not in, or on the precipice of, a double-dip recession. Stepping back and peering at the global situation it is very hard to argue that the policies of the Obama administration are failures especially when consequences of the alternative route are so clear.
Obama has the tools and ammunition to prevail in the upcoming debates. He just has to have the wherewithal to use them. Mitt Romney may have won the first debate of the campaign but if he had to mislead and lie outright to do so was it actually worth it?