President Barack Obama speaks as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and moderator Bob Schieffer listen during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Times Opinion: Romney fails, Obama wins
Though nothing like either of the first two debates, Monday's presidential debate was surprising for other reasons: Mitt Romney largely agreed with the direction of President Obama's policies in virtually every area of foreign policy. He also dialed back the hectoring, aggressive interruptions and rhetoric that made him appear such an overbearing bully in the first two rounds. Still, Romney failed to make the sale for his candidacy.
He simply couldn't endorse Obama's policies and successfully argue, in the same breath, that they were wrong. He never got past that contradictory hurdle. Though he frequently tried, he couldn't convincingly say that Obama's foreign policies — in Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq and other Middle East hot spots muddling through the turmoil of the Arab Spring; or in Israel, or Afghanistan — had failed to reflect effective leadership or a cogent overarching policy, when in fact he was agreeing with Obama's strategies.
Nor, in his alternative argument, could Romney yet pin the economic effects of the deep recession that Obama confronted when he entered the White House — the worst recession in 80 years — on Obama's recovery policies. The most Romney could say, and he said often, was that he could do better going forward.
That convenient promise is not nearly enough to persuade reasonable voters that Romney's rhetoric is credible or believable, especially when he still cannot say how his math for far deeper tax breaks ($6 trillion in all) and spending promises ($2 trillion more for the Pentagon) squares with his other promise of deficit reduction over the next 10 years. He still failed to say, for example, how we would avoid putting new taxes on the middle class — through, say, ending credits for mortgage interest and student loans — if he keeps his promise to apply his 20 percent tax cuts to the nation's top 1 percent, who already own more than a third of the nation's wealth.
In was in this vein, however, that the debate, ostensibly on foreign policy, kept returning to domestic economic policies and issues. About the only clue Romney gave to show how he actually cut spending was his statement that he would turn Medicaid over to the states entirely.
That's a uniquely troubling promise. The federal government now pays two-thirds of Medicaid's cost to pay for health care for the very poor and for two-thirds of the nation's nursing home care for many middle-class elderly people. State governments pay the other third, and its one of their most costly programs. State governments already administer Medicaid as well. Romney plans to slash federal Medicaid spending by nearly a third, and thereafter provide states a fixed block grant, which means states will further slash the program.
Between voucherizing Medicare, cutting Medicaid for the poor and for nursing homes patients, and eliminating Obamacare, which if implemented would provide wage-indexed subsidies for affordable comprehensive health care for all uninsured Americans, it's easy to see the brutually harsh circumstances Romney envisions for America. Less health care, and more trickle down, Bush-style tax cuts for the ultra rich, the crowd Romney hangs with.
Obama's policies are, and have been, immensely more fair, and far more durable and constructive for an economy that depends on the middle-class doing progressively better, and on education, worker training and investments in new technologies and infrastructure. Romney talked about how he would challenge China's currency manipulation and low-wage job strategies, but his record with his private equity company, Bain Capital, shows that he and Bain have been funding investments in China that helped Chinese companies take American jobs.
Obama rightly made the case for sticking to his current foreign policies, which have united dozens of countries in burden-sharing; and to his current education and job policies, which have produced more than 5.2 million private sector jobs over the past 32 months.
If last night's debate stood as a referendum on Obama, then Obama won. If it stood as a sales pitch for election of Romney, then Romney clearly lost.
2012 Third President Debate