Even On The Wrong Side Of Facts, Mitt Romney’s Style Wins Over Truth In First Debate (CROSS-POST)

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama shaking hands before the debate.(Originally published at OneWhiteDuck.com)

Unfortunately for this country, the American political system is often judged on style rather than substance.

Last night, during the first 2012 Presidential debate between President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, (former Massachussets) Governor Mitt Romney, the president’s seemingly docile and managed demeanor was to most viewers no match to Romney’s hyperactive offense. Pundits across the board — from Fox News to NPR — gave the “win” last night to Romney, despite an accurate measurement (or lack thereof) of his key talking points throughout the debate.

Where Obama relied on a more precise, controlled yet arguably lackluster approach to his counterpoints, Romney shot from the hip; hitting the president hard in tone and tenacity while scoring points with viewers who simply tuned in for the best-show-possible; seeing as how their usual sitcoms, melodramas and reality shows were on hiatus for the evening.

“The results of Wednesday night’s first presidential debate are in and it’s official: Mitt Romney won round one. He was aggressive, he was decisive, he delivered. Of course he also lied through his teeth for most of the debate.” — Barbara Morrill, The Daily Kos

What Mitt Romney successfully accomplished was a broad stroke of innuendo that ramped up the same, tired arguments against the Obama Administration. Spark-terms like “free enterprise,” “Obamacare” and “principles of our founders” that resonate with Obama nay-sayers flew freely on camera in rapid-fire succession, often at the belittlement of moderator Jim Lehrer’s oratorical “authority.” And yet, what Romney failed to do as a potential and self-described “leader” is not only provide any backdrop of truth – any factual data at all – to even one of his claims against Obama, but at the same time managed to downplay or outright ignore his own campaign narratives from the days, weeks and months prior to last night’s debate. Instead, he opted to offer up promises that relied on the preconceptions of a vastly misinformed populace while snarkily (and at times noticeably uncomfortably) grinning for camera — as if warning the country of the impending Obamacolypse was either tickling his prostate or giving him gas pains.

For example, in response to President Obama’s description of Romney’s tax plan, in which he famously favors a $5 trillion tax cut that undermines the middle class and reduces the responsibility of the country’s highest earners, Romney claimed: “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don’t have a tax cut of the scale you’re talking about.”

In Romney-speak, this is the near-equivalent of the stuffed-mouth cat saying “Canary? What canary?”

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney (R) at the first 2012 Presidential Debate.

“I think we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class,” said Romney. “But I won’t reduce the share of tax paid by high-income people … I’m not looking to cut massive taxes and to reduce revenues going to the government. My number one principal is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that no tax cut that will add to the deficit.”

According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center (TPC) and other analysts, Romney’s insistence last night that his plan will be “deficit neutral” while not ever, ever increasing taxes on the middle class simply does not make financial or mathematical sense, and flies in the face of both his and his running mate Paul Ryan’s campaign stump speeches over the past few weeks. Even if Romney/Ryan were to magically manage to eliminate ALL loopholes and deductions for high-income earners (like themselves), they still would not be able to account for all the lost revenue due to the rate cut.

The majority of the evening’s ninety minute broadcast was much of the same. Romney insisted that, regarding his proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, “pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan,” even though they are they are not. He repeatedly said to the camera that President Obama had “cut Medicare by $716 billion to pay for Obamacare,” even though he did not.

He claimed that the president “added almost as much to the federal debt as all the prior presidents combined.” Not even close, yet still a common talking point on Fox News. When Obama took office in 2009, the national debt stood at $10.626 trillion. Now the national debt is just over $16 trillion – a $5.374 trillion jump used to kick-start the economy and invest in infrastructure, jobs, energy and education and nowhere near as much debt as all the other presidents combined.

Romney glossed over energy independence, tax rates on “small businesses,” and “job creation” (as if he was actually concerned or experienced with either). He regarded “sending jobs overseas” as if he was against it, despite his personal business records as well as both past and planned legislation to the contrary.

He lied about the Obama Administration’s efforts to promote investment in green energy — claiming that “half of [the green firms], of the ones have been invested in have gone out of business.” In actuality, only 3 out of the 26 firms that received funding under the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program actually went out of business. He also criticized Obama’s efforts toward military funding, claiming that Obama wants “dramatic cuts to our military.” Meanwhile he is actually referring to a plan that his running mate Paul Ryan supports. On the contrary, Obama opposes the military cuts and has asked Congress to formulate a more balanced approach. (Republicans are either really, really bad at math or just pretend to be on T.V.).

“OK, so Obama did a terrible job in the debate, and Romney did well. But in the end, this isn’t or shouldn’t be about theater criticism, it should be about substance. And the fact is that everything Obama said was basically true, while much of what Romney said was either outright false or so misleading as to be the moral equivalent of a lie.” – Paul Krugman, The New York Times

Romney side-stepped Obama’s accusation of wanting to force a voucher-based system on Medicare recipients; basically agreeing with the President but carefully selecting his words as to make his bad idea seem somehow the fault of Obama’s supposedly anti-American vision of healthcare for seniors.

“The idea of cutting $716 billion from Medicare to be able to balance the additional cost of Obamacare is, in my opinion, a mistake,” said Romney, adding that he supports “no change for current retirees and near-retirees to Medicare.” Really? Romney’s Medicare plan (and subsequent repeal of “Obamacare”) will force a cost increase on 16 million seniors receiving preventive benefits without deductibles or co-pays. It would also eradicate the nearly $4 billion in savings they have been receiving on prescription drugs. Premiums for existing beneficiaries will increase under Romney’s plan as private insurers lure healthier seniors out of the traditional Medicare program. It also lowers Medicaid spending –  shifting federal spending to states and beneficiaries — while increasing costs for the 9 million Medicare recipients who are dependent on Medicaid.

And as for the now-notorious $716 billion benchmark, that exact amount is actually being saved primarily via over-payment reductions insurance companies under Medicare Advantage, not payments to beneficiaries. Paul Ryan’s budget plan actually keeps those very same cuts, but re-directs them toward tax cuts for the rich and deficit reduction.

Free-wheeling and fast-talking, Romney hit these points with expert precision and dutifully “won” the debate on a campaign of untruths and outlandish, disproven rhetoric; sadly dishonest and painfully telling of the political chicanery that has been combating the Obama Administration since its inception.

The following morning, President Obama said:

“We had our first debate last night. And when I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. But it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney — because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn’t know anything about that.

“The real Mitt Romney said we don’t need any more teachers in our classrooms. But the fellow on stage last night, he loves teachers — can’t get enough of them. 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 that he doesn’t even know that there are such laws that encourage outsourcing—he’s never heard of them. Never heard of them. Never heard of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. He said that if it’s true, he must need a new accountant.

“Now, we know for sure it was not the real Mitt Romney, because he seems to be doing just fine with his current accountant. So you see, the man on stage last night, he does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney’s decisions and what he’s been saying for the last year. And that’s because he knows full well that we don’t want what he’s been selling for the last year. So Governor Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be President, you owe the American people the truth.”

It will be interesting —  to say the least — to see what fictional standards this election drops to next in the coming weeks.