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Round One: Obama vs. Romney

An analysis of Wednesday night's presidential debate.

If Wednesday night’s presidential debate was a boxing match, Mitt Romney may be said to have won the first round on points. He did that by seeming aggressive and animated, and he brought the fight to President Obama. However, as Gail Collins said in the New York Times Thursday morning, "Romney had that funny look on his face whenever President Obama was talking. Somewhere between a person who is trying to overlook an unpleasant smell and a guy who is trying to restrain himself from pointing out that his car is much nicer than your car." Her comment reminds me of the cover of the New Yorker magazine last week. It had a drawing of Romney riding on a horse behind a chauffer who had the reins.

The fight is by no means over. Many a fighter has won the first round against Joe Lewis or Muhammad Ali and ended on his back at the end of the match.

The one Romney zinger for the evening was, “You may be entitled to your own opinion, your own plane and your own house, but not your own facts.” For him to say that required considerable chutzpah. Throughout the debate, Romney denied he supported the hard right’s platform of tax cuts. To quote the New York Times editorial page, “Virtually every time Mr. Romney spoke, he misrepresented the platform on which he and Paul Ryan are actually running. ... Mr. Romney claimed, against considerable evidence, that he had no intention of cutting taxes on the rich or enacting a tax that would increase the deficit."

"That simply isn’t true," the editorial staff at the Times wrote Thursday. "Mr. Romney wants to restore the Bush-era tax cut that expires at the end of the year and largely benefits the wealthy. He wants to end the estate tax and the gift tax, providing a huge benefit only to those with multimillion-dollar estates, at a cost of more than $1 trillion over a decade to the deficit. He wants to preserve the generous rates on capital gains that benefit himself personally and others at his economic level. And he wants to cut everyone’s tax rates by 20 percent, which again would be a gigantic boon to the wealthy."

Somehow, with this tax structure, Romney insists that he won’t reduce the  defense budget, will provide more money for education, and will overturn Obamacare but keep the best parts. Also, he will be kind to the needy and unemployed. If you believe any of that, you believe in the Good Fairy Theory. Keep sleeping but don’t bother looking under your pillow in the morning.

It is not hard to understand Romney’s strategy, especially when you know his history: He flip-flops whenever it suits his purpose. In the primaries, he abandoned all the liberal principles he subscribed to as governor of Massachusetts, a liberal state. He moved to become as close as possible with the Tea Party. Now, in Wednesday’s debate, he once more claimed, in effect, to be a liberal. The fox has once more changed to a pussycat.

Obama’s performance at the debate was disappointing to many of his admirers. His practice of looking down while Romney was speaking in order to make notes made him look like he was pretending to be asleep. But when he spoke, he illustrated the difference between being a would-be president and a real one. His remarks showed his careful concern for his responsibilities. He limited himself to facts, not sharp responses to Romney’s charges. He refused to be drawn into the false debate of big government vs. not-big government. For him, the problem was not size, but what the government needed to do in all areas to benefit the country and, especially, the middle class. Romney’s response to this was the abstract "smaller is better" idea--not a series of specific proposals.

The best moments for Obama were when he passionately defended Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid. It is this Obama who we can expect to see in future rounds. In the long run, it is this Obama who will ensure that Romney’s last flip-flop will leave him flat on his back at the end of the fight.

charles hampton October 05, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Thank you, Mr. Katz, for voicing your opinion, and thank you, Mr. Popichak, for publishing the views of all!
Allan Bach October 05, 2012 at 11:31 PM
You comment about divisions yet you label me a "right-winger". I'd much rather prefer to be called an American - one who believes in his country enough to give a part of me in its defense. My point was not to bring attention to Joel's political slant but rather to make note of this opinion piece being more that of the Times rather than the writer's. Joel Katz is smart enough to not have to use others' quotes to pen his opinion.
Lower Saucon Guy October 06, 2012 at 02:26 PM
@ Allen, my apologies about the right wing comment. We're both Americans looking out for what we think is best for our future.
Steve October 08, 2012 at 01:40 AM
So arthur....it seems that you feel that the way to solve a problem caused by too much debt is to create more debt ? According to Obama's own budget, he calls for our debt to be $19 trillion in debt by 2016. Assuming a normalized interest rate of 6%, our interest expense PER year would be close to $1 trillion or almost 40% of our revenues ? . I assume you realize that we can't tax enough from the rich to make a dent in our deficit....but it sure sounds good for campaigning ....doesn't it ? Are you in favor of a welfare state as it appears Obama wants ? He doesn't want people to help themselves....he seems to want the government to help them....irrespective of whether they want to work or not ? I guess you feel a welfare state makes a stronger government...and nation ..?
Barbara Scherer October 13, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Can someone please tell me what the actual income range is for the "middle" class? Why do politicians say people under $250,000 will pay no more taxes when in fact, those who receive stock dividends will no longer get the 15% tax break? There are alot of people making under $250,000 that will pay higher taxes on those amounts, and I would not consider them RICH! If there are no investors in stock, where do you think our country would be? Companies use those dollars in part, to employ people and also to expand their companies! Think about it...........................

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