And a debate is a perfect place to spit out numbers and plan names without a moderator fact-checking you.
— Paul Ryan’s Word Salad, David Weigel, Slate, today
I was absolutely dumbfounded to read yesterday that the MSM is now buying Lehrer’s idea of what a debate should be. Do they not understand that these are not actually debates—that they are instead simply statements by each of the candidates? Yes, both candidates are on the stage. But they don’t get to talk to each other. They don’t get to question—to cross-examine—each other.
How, then, is it a good idea to have a format in which the moderator just says, “Your turn to talk about your plan on taxes, Mr. Romney,” and lets him spout off nonsense, unabated by questions from anyone about specifics and about how what he says could possibly add up?
Do tell, MSM pundits. Also tell, MSM pundits, why you are so stupefyingly gullible.
I mean … good grace.
In fact, Jim Lehrer did win the debate. The one last Wednesday. That doesn’t seem to me like a recommendation for his method, though.
ROMNEY: Look, the revenue I get is by more people working, getting higher pay, paying more taxes. That’s how we get growth and how we balance the budget. But the idea of taxing people more, putting more people out of work, you’ll never get there. You’ll never balance the budget by raising taxes.
Spain — Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government. We’re now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don’t want to go down the path to Spain. I want to go down the path of growth that puts Americans to work with more money coming in because they’re working.
LEHRER: But — but Mr. President, you’re saying in order to — to get the job done, it’s got to be balanced. You’ve got to have…
Romney doesn’t want to go down the path to Spain? Oh? Well, since, actually, the percent of Spain’s total economy that they spend on government has nothing at all to do with Spain’s situation now, and instead has everythingto do with the fact that they had a huge, huge housing bubble, worse even than ours, and since their housing bubble is—like ours—the main cause of their economic problems, and since Romney wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Mortgage-lending regulations and replace them with regulations that favor Wall Street … then, yes, Romney does want to go down the path of Spain.
Or at least down the path we took during our deregulation juggernaut.
OK, here’s the thing: Romney and his campaign aides recognized that that debate forum would present a perfect opportunity for him to just rattle off statements without any challenge. Just a steady stream of nonsense, without any real risk of being confronted with actual challenges to any of it. They knew, as I did, that Lehrer—I still remember his nauseating role in the first Bush/Gore debate in 2000—does nothing but ask the candidates to state their positions on whatever. Open-ended questions in which each one is supposed to state his policy proposal on, say, taxes, or “jobs.” There’s no actual questioning about the proposal. None. None.
So, Romney gets to state, free and clear, a completely false inference of fact about the cause of Spain’s economic problems. And he gets to say, free and clear:
Look, the revenue I get is by more people working, getting higher pay, paying more taxes. That’s how we get growth and how we balance the budget. But the idea of taxing people more, putting more people out of work, you’ll never get there. You’ll never balance the budget by raising taxes.
Really? You’ll never balance the budget by raising taxes? Oh? Didn’t we do exactly that during the Clinton administration?
And, the revenue he gets is by more people working, getting higher pay, paying more taxes? Oh? Through the same policies as George W. Bush did? Really?
And so forth.
Like, that Romney is going to cut tax rates across the board by 20%. But he’s not going to lower tax revenue from the wealthy at all. And so forth.
What Obama needs to do—really, really needs to do—is put up a series of ads juxtaposing Romney’s earlier statements with his gibberish from last night. (I strongly urge using a clip from Romney’s speech to the Detroit Economic Club in February, and a similar speech that same week in Arizona; Michigan and Arizona had their primaries on the same Tuesday.) But rather than just suggesting that Romney is a slippery liar who’s trying to trick voters into putting into office a team that would put in place drastic, basic changes that he knows a substantial majority of the public doesn’t want, Obama should pretend that Romney just doesn’t know the facts and can’t do simple math. He is, in other words, not very smart, or at least not very well-informed.
The public, of course, will recognize that Romney’s a sleaze bucket. But Obama can just say, for example, that if Romney doesn’t know that during the Clinton years, we had a balanced budget, he’s too ill-informed to be president.
And, about that Spain thing: The final debate will be about foreign policy. Which, Obama should point out, requires some knowledge of such things as what actuallycaused Spain’s economy to crash. And then he should educate the public about it. He can do that in two or three sentences of medium length. If he wants to see how it’s done, he can read any one of several Paul Krugman columns in which Krugman did exactly that. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even economic science. It’s simple, established fact. Of exactly the sort that not long ago Romney’s pollster said the Romney campaign wouldn’t trouble itself about, and that it would instead continue to make up its own facts.
Speaking of good way for the Obama campaign to get a message across in an ad ….
The bottom line: Obama can easily turn Romney’s performance last night into a plus.