Monday, October 8, 2012

The Presidential debates: First round to Mitt Romney

Published in The Daily Sun
Sunday, 7th October, 2012

The first presidential debate at the University of Denver has clearly gone by approval of the pollsters and analysts to Mitt Romney by a wide margin. The spin doctors in the Mitt Romney team were in broad smiles because their candidate not just held against the President; they thought Mitt Romney was more relaxed and did most of the attacking that put the President on the defensive and lose out in making the case against the candidate as a protector of the top 2% Americans against the poor and the middle class.   

In a way, what Mitt Romney succeeded in doing in the first of the three Presidential debates on schedule was to turn the table on the President on what was becoming the major liability of his campaign; that he is against the middle class; a “Richie Rich.”. He in fact succeeded in turning his liability to his advantage; a liability that has pegged his campaign that worsened when his views about the middle class became known to the public following the release of a video taken in secret. In that video, Mitt Romney was caught making disparaging remarks about 47% middle class Americans who depend on the Government.  

The Obama supporters were surprised at the failure of the President to bring the 47% issue into his debate right at the beginning. They were aghast when the President remained silent on it even when Mitt Romney projected himself repeatedly on health care, taxation, job creation, as the champion of the middle class. Some analysts suggested that the President must have been under instruction from his team to be presidential. They felt that as a result, he decided before starting the first debate that he would not bring the 47% issue. Nevertheless, analysts sympathetic to the President failed to understand why the President chose to remain presidential when right before everyone’s eyes, the candidate scored points on the middle class where his campaign was on the defensive till right before the debate. President Obama allowed his opponent to hijack his campaign’s trump card with the nation watching.   

Mitt Romney’s strategy was simple and clear. He attacked the President for running an administration that has been high spending that has inflated the federal deficit, an issue that is of serious concern to the voters. He also attacked the President for failure to create jobs that has placed all Americans, particularly the middle class and the poor in dire economic plight. He defended tax cuts across the board and no new taxes for the rich but stated that the tax cuts and no new taxes for the rich will bring more revenue to the government and will have no adverse impact on the deficit. He explained this by stating that the rich 2% Americans will use the tax breaks to invest more that will create more jobs and with more people getting jobs, the government will earn more revenue from income tax. 

The President failed to expose the weaknesses and the vagueness in the Romney plan. The figures Mitt Romney gave simply did not add up and in some instances like his proposal for tax cuts, he changed figures in the debate from previously stated ones. The President incredibly failed to flag the arithmetic that Bill Clinton had used so effectively to successfully criticize the challenger at the NDC.  He allowed Mitt Romney to describe his administration as one engaged in wasteful government programmes. When Mitt Romney accused the President of spending US$ 90 billion in wasteful projects in developing green energy where the beneficiaries were party supporters where some projects have failed, the President did not defend the attack. It was in healthcare that the President’s performance disappointed his supporters the most. In a turnaround from what he had said before, that he would repeal Obamacare on his very first day in office, Mitt Romney embraced the policy; mentioned that he had succeeded with such a policy while Governor of Massachusetts and promised that he will  improve upon it if he became President. Mitt Romney said that he will also ensure that in his health policy, the elderly who are under Medicare will face no problem; instead they will be entitled better benefits.  

Mitt Romney argued in his debate for an America where the people will see the power of the federal government significantly diminished and that of the private sector significantly enhanced. He said that the private sector creates the overwhelming majority of the jobs in America and provides the major portion of the federal government’s revenue. He therefore argued that the federal government should facilitate the private sector instead of taxing and regulating it more. While arguing against a powerful federal government, Mitt Romney’s proposed strengthening the state governments instead, allowing them more powers and finance in critical areas such as  health care for instance. He did not explain how people will be benefitted when it is the state government holding the powers instead of the federal government. The President did not ask any question to the candidate about it. The President also did not question when the candidate stated that people will be better off negotiating with insurance companies about  their healthcare issues as against the board in Obamacare  although everybody in USA agrees that the insurance companies are the major reason of the prohibitive prices of healthcare as well and the major cause of people’s  sufferings.   

Mitt Romney reiterated the conservative agenda; against big government and more private enterprise although he did not give any clear picture about how less government and more private enterprise will tackle USA’s current economic predicament, the worst in many decades. He also blamed the policies of the Obama administration for miseries of the people without explaining how or what he will do different. President Obama failed to expose the vagueness of Mitt Romney’s case for America. He defended his policies instead but went into facts and figures to maintain that his administration is on right track on governance and on the economy making him look “listless”; “professorial” and under prepared for the debate. In contrast, Mitt Romney was animated, left no one in doubt he was well prepared and appeared like he enjoyed the debate. 

The polls showed that  Mitt Romney won the debate 67% to 25%; a major achievement for him having entered it as the underdog. Nevertheless, in USA’s complex voting dynamics and voters’ mindset; the debate has affected mostly those who have already made up their minds. Despite his impressive performance, Mitt Romney did not say anything new to change the minds of the undecided or the trend that has been building in favour of the President since the Democratic National Convention and particularly his 47% faux pas. The President could have helped his candidature by a solid performance to put more sail into his candidature. In that he failed. With 2 more debates to come, the President must show his worth lest the undecided voters begin to take serious notice of Mitt Romney. 

The writer is a retired Secretary and a former Ambassador.

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