President Obama was too cautious in the first presidential debate and Mitt Romney took advantage of the president’s flat-footed performance to rebrand himself as a moderate. But that doesn’t mean Romney should be rewarded for playing fast and loose with the facts.
Who could have predicted that Mitt Romney would turn an about face on the “severely conservative” stances on which he had campaigned during the Republican primary race and make wild misstatements about his policies and Obama’s performance? Well, consider that Romney had told at least 719 documented lies from January through the week before the debate, according to Steve Benen’s tally at MaddowBlog.com, and Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom predicted in March that Romney would pivot after the nomination to appeal to moderate voters, suggesting that Romney’s conservative policy positions were written on an Etch A Sketch. “Everything changes,” Fehrnstrom said on CNN March 21. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” And Romney’s pollster had told reporters at the Republican National Convention they were “not going to let [their] campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”
So Obama’s campaign team in Chicago might have had an inkling to expect Romney’s Etch A Sketch to be cleared at the debate. But, to bend a line from The Sound of Music, what do you do with a liar like Mitt Romney? Do you call him on every lie, or just the really big ones? Obama did call Romney on backing off the promise to cut taxes by 20% across the board, which would cost $5 trillion. But he let Romney repeatedly get away with saying that the Affordable Care Act took $716 billion from Medicare, when most of that money was taken from the insurance companies that were taking excessive profits from the Medicare Advantage program. (Under Romney’s reasoning, we suppose Obama also cut Medicare when a federal strike force on Oct. 4 charged 91 people, including a hospital president, doctors and nurses with $430 million in fraudulent Medicare charges.)
When Obama noted that corporations took advantage of tax deductions to move American jobs overseas, Romney — who as head of Bain Capital actually moved American jobs overseas — countered that he’d never noticed such a deduction in the tax code. “I maybe need to get a new accountant,” Romney said. Obama let it pass until the next day, when he joked that the “very spirited fellow” he met at the debate was “not the real Mitt Romney ... The Mitt Romney we all know invested in companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing jobs to other countries. But the guy on stage last night he said he’d never heard of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. Never heard of them. And he said, if that’s true, he must need a new accountant. So now we know for sure that wasn’t the real Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney is doing just fine with the accountant he already has.”
Obama’s campaign team in Chicago doubtless will harvest Mitt’s misstatements and policy pivots and deploy them in advertisements for the battleground states, but it would be nice if Obama had bloodied Mitt a bit for the national TV crowd and stood up for progressive programs such as Social Security and Medicare and done a better job defending the Affordable Care Act. Of course, then he’d have the Fox Noise bloviators complaining about the angry socialist black man in the White House — but he got that treatment anyway.
Thom Hartmann suggested on his radio show that it was more than a coincidence that a few days before the first debate the rightwing DailyCaller.com and Fox News dug up an old speech then-Sen. Obama delivered at Hampton University in 2007 — which was covered by the news media at the time — in which Obama gave a shout-out to his old United Church of Christ pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and suggested that racism played a role in the shabby treatment of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina — which is not exactly a radical view. Then, during the debate, Romney compared Obama to one of his “boys,” who were inclined to lie to him “but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it.” Hartmann noted that the line undoubtedly was prepared in advance and it’s hard to believe that none of Romney’s advisers saw the racial implications of calling the first black president a “boy.”
Obama was wise not to respond to Romney’s race-baiting, but the President cannot let the challenger’s lies go unchallenged in the remaining debates.
As if to underscore the racist dog whistles that were being employed, the day after the debate, Romney campaign co-chair and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (R) on Fox News described Obama’s performance as “babbling,” “lazy” and “disengaged” and dismissed the possibility that he could do better in the future. “When you’re not that bright, you can’t get better prepared,” Sununu said. Later, on MSNBC, he again called Obama “lazy and disengaged” and said the debate revealed his “incompetence.”
Republicans should be ashamed of the way their campaign is being run, but they are long past embarrassment.
As the general election campaign enters its final weeks, some progressives may have to overlook their disappointment at the performance of President Obama and the Democrats in some areas — particularly in continuing the war in Afghanistan and continuing and expanding terror-inspired restrictions on civil liberties. We know many were outraged that Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law with the provision for indefinite detention, even with his statement that he would not use the power. A judge appointed by Obama Sept. 12 threw out that indefinite-detention provision as flying in the face of the Bill of Rights but a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 2 allowed the provision to remain in place while it is appealed. But progressives should not only re-elect Obama; we must elect more progressive Democrats who will stand up to Obama, if necessary, to strip the indefinite detention provision from next year’s NDAA and restore civil liberties.
We shouldn’t trust any president with the power to detain anybody indefinitely without recourse to the courts. But the Bill of Rights needs popular support that is not apparent at this time.
However, election of Romney and/or Republican members of Congress will put us further in the hole. Charlie Savage reported in the New York Times Sept. 27 that Romney’s advisers, who mainly are retreads from Bush Junior’s administration, have urged Romney to “rescind and replace” President Obama’s executive order banning torture of prisoners and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum. And Romney, who believes corporations are people, can be counted upon to nominate judges that will be well to the right of Anthony Kennedy, creating a conservative bloc that not only will defer to executive authority but also will set in stone pro-corporate decisions such as Citizens United and threaten generations of progressive court precedents.
If Obama doesn’t light your fire, despite the many good things he has accomplished in the past four years, progressives can get excited about candidates for the Senate such as Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Shelley Berkley in Nevada, Martin Heinrich in New Mexico, Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Chris Murphy in Connecticut, as well as re-electing progressive populists such as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). And progressives ought to get excited about electing 25 more Democrats to the House, which would give the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi and put progressives in charge of key committees now helmed by right wingers. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2012
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