Grading the Debate
My Scoring of the 1st 2012 Presidential Debate
With an important post-script about Syria & Turkey
I score President Obama the winner over Governor Romney by a score of 26-10.
How did I arrive at a score? I flowed the debate, as best I could. Even though this was not actually a debate in any sense of the word, I scored it as if it were and to that end, I took each candidate at their word (leaving my own pre-knowledge outside the room and leaving fact checking to others).
Clash is the debate concept that each debater meets the issue(s) raised by their opponent directly and responds, with evidence rather than with mere assertion. Mostly what I ended up scoring was clash or the lack of clash. This approach was in order to capture, as best I was able, the content of what each candidate had to say in relation to what the other said, which is the essence of debate. If there weren't an opponent in the room, there would be no debate.
Round 1 - The economy and jobs: Obama claimed to have created 5 million new jobs, to have saved the automobile industry, that housing is on the rise, and that money saved from the two wars the US has been involved in will be used to ‘rebuild America’, and a plan to close tax loopholes regarding overseas investments, none of which Romney responded to. 5 points Obama. Both agreed on a need to invest in skill building of the work force and education. Obama specifically referenced Race to the Top educational reform, the plan to invest in 100,000 additional math and science teachers and to keep tuition affordable, none of which Romeny addressed. 1 point Obama. Obama referenced developing new energies, increasing American energy production and increased oil and natural gas production, which Romney countered with the fact that energy prices have increased under Obama, public energy leases have been cut in half under Obama and increased development has occurred on private lands, to which Obama did not respond. 1 point Romney. Romney’s tax savings plan was attacked by Obama with specific figures ($5 trillion in tax cuts, $2 trillion in increased military spending, e.g.), saying that these could not be offset by eliminating tax deductions. Romney countered with the assertion that it isn’t true, to which Obama responded that the math is clear and it can’t be done without other cuts or tax increases to the middle class. 1 point Obama. Assuming a nexus between taxes and job creation (as both seemed to do, at least part of the time), Obama claimed to have lowered taxes 18 times to the benefit of small businesses, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama. On Obama’s proposal to raise taxes for those with an income above $250,000, there was clash about what is a small business, how much employment the top tier of small businesses generate, and finally, Romney’s claim that the top tier of 3% of small business owners employ 1/4 of the work force and enactment of Obama’s tax increase would result in a loss of 700,000 jobs, to which Obama did not respond. 1 point Romney. On the big picture, there was a bit of a tie: Romney’s claim that in the last 4 years, 24 million people have been out of work; and Obama’s claim that under the Clinton/Democrat model, there was record prosperity and under the Bush/Republican plan, there was record financial crisis - 1 point each.
Round 2 - The economy and the deficit: Obama urges the elimination of corporate subsidies to the oil industry, which Romney countered with the fact that the same subsidies were extended by Obama to alternative energy companies, to which Obama did not respond. 1 point Romney. Obama urged eliminating deductions for corporations such as for corporate jets, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama. Obama claimed a record on deficit reduction of eliminating 77 government programs, 18 educational programs, saving tens of billions in eliminating Medicare fraud and 15 billion in waste, taking 1 trillion out of the budget, a 4 trillion deficit reduction plan, a plan to increase revenues by $1 for every $2.50 in spending cuts, to none of which specifics Romney responded. 1 point Obama.
Round 3 - The economy and entitlements: Noting a problem with the usage of the word ‘entitlements’, Obama said that Romney’s voucher plan is estimated to cost each person covered an average of $6,000 per year, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama. Romney proposes shifting to needs-based coverage, to which Obama did not respond. 1 point Romney. Romney overall attacks the expense of provision of these benefits, to which Obama responded that Medicare has less administrative costs than private insurance, which also adds in the expense of its profit for doing business. 1 point Obama. Obama cited AARP claiming that Obamacare extends the life of Medicare by 8 years, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama. Obama said that repeal of Obamacare would cost on average an additional $600 per year in prescription drugs, increase in co-pays, and benefitting only the insurance companies, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama.
Round 3a - The economy and government regulation: Romney said that while some regulation is necessary, it can also become excessive and actually do unintended harm, citing Dodd-Frank banking regulations as an example. Obama did not respond directly to Romney’s challenge about excessive or over-regulation. 1 point Romney. Obama specifically linked the recent economic crisis to an absence of regulation, with which Romney either agreed or did not expressly refute. 1 point Obama. Romney said Dodd-Frank hurts the economy with provisions like protecting banks deemed ‘too big to fail’, to which Obama responded that the banks had paid back the monies loaned to them by the government with interest. 1 point Obama. Romney said that he would keep ‘some’ of the provisions of Dodd-Frank (used as an example of government regulation). Obama charged that Romney had previously said he would repeal Dodd-Frank, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama.
Round 4 - Health Care Romney asserts that Obama cuts Medicare to pay for Obama care and that Obamacare will kill jobs because businesses are less likely to hire workers because of the additional burdens it imposes, to which Obama did not respond. 2 points Romney. Romney charged that a private unelected board would be making medical decisions for patients under Obamacare, to which Obama responded that the board did not deal with individuals but with industry best practice standards, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama. Obama claims that repeal of Obama care will result in 50 million people without health insurance, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama. Both claimed the provision of health care to be an important goal, but when challenged by Obama to reveal what his plan is, Romney did not respond save to say he would have one. 1 point Obama. On the Obamacare model and its workability, Obama asserted that it is the same model as that enacted by Romney while governor of Mass. Romney shifted the argument to say that Obamacare did not have bi-partisan support, to which Obama responded that it was a Republican idea using the same plan as that in Mass, with actually the same advisors helping craft it. 1 point Obama. Romney asserted that according to the CBO, Obamacare would result in 20 million people losing their health insurance, to which Obama did not directly respond. 1 point Romney. Obama claimed that the rate of growth of health insurance premiums has slowed, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama. Romney asserted that the (federal) government is a bad bet as an organization or institution for saving money, to which Obama did not respond at this point, although Obama had earlier made the case that Medicare administrative costs are lower than private insurance, which when added to profits private companies received, results in savings to the consumer. No point to either candidate. Obama challenged Romney’s plan as failing to provide for coverage of pre-existing conditions. Romney denied that was true. Obama responded with an explanation of Romney’s plan (which sounded like COBRA), which would not provide universal coverage of pre-existing conditions, to which Romney did not further respond. 1 point Obama. Romney’s health care policy foundation is his statement, “the private market and individual responsibility always work best”, to which Obama challenged him to explain how he would enact to provide health care and why keep it a secret, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama.
Round 5 - The Role of Government - what is government’s ‘mission’? After outlining their general principles about the role of government, the debate focused on education and the question of whether providing education or improving the quality thereof is a role of the federal government. It is to that portion that I addressed my judgments, making no score on the two men’s statements of principles. Obama alleged that Romney would cut the education budget by 20%; Romney said he wouldn’t. No points. Romney offered his school voucher proposal, to which Obama did not respond. 1 point Romney. Romney attacked Obama on things like investments in green technologies and an implied attack of corruption (saying that Obama gave federal green monies to campaign contributors). This was off topic, as Romney never tied it to education. No points. Obama cited his program of linking community colleges with industry, providing training for students, who are guaranteed a job at the end of the program as an example of the role the government can play in education, to which Romney did not resopnd. 1 point Obama. Obama also cited his program which eliminates banks as ‘middlemen’ in student loans, saving students on the cost of repaying their loans, to which Romney did not respond. 1 point Obama.
Round 6 - Governing and gridlock Both men spoke about their aspirations and approaches. No points.
On the substance of any debate, which is comprised of the often boring details and minutia of an issue, the winner was clear on my flow chart. Mr. Romney tended to speak in broad terms. That does not mean what he had to say was either unimportant or untrue. It does mean that when it comes to debate, there was often little upon which to judge his performance.
Some general observations about the style aspects and other random thoughts
1. Pundits asked for a substantive debate. Even observing that Gov. Romney spoke more generally, both men in fact gave a substantive debate, outlining their worldviews when it comes to governing and at least some of their particular ideas about how we go about achieving their vision for the United States. The sadly ironic thing is that it was that very provision of substance that results in many claiming Mr. Obama ‘lost’ the debate on style points, which simply demonstrates that we apparently have absolutely no interest in how we are going to be governed and are only concerned about whether we like the person, or think the person is most like us, or some other such ephemera.
2. Here’s my take on who you should vote for, for whatever it’s worth: if you believe that government should get out of your way, be the least intrusive as possible in your journey towards your dream, leave it entirely to you to choose, whether you choose badly or well, vote for a Republican. If you believe government should help you and provide for the common good, even if not your own particular good, then vote for a Democrat. It is a philosophical difference. It does not mean that one is necessarily morally superior to the other. And the fact is that most of us believe government should land somewhere in the middle of these two poles.
3. Both men ran roughshod over the moderator. Mr. Romney was more obvious, interrupting Mr.Lehrer often, even talking over him. Most seemed to have found that appealing, as Mr. Romney was assertive, like a president should be. I thought it was just rude. But Mr. Obama ignored Mr. Lehrer as well; he was just more subtle. One female commentator noted last night that maybe it’s a gender difference, but she didn’t like it. I agree. If you’ve agreed to a format beforehand, honor it. If you haven’t, don’t tell us you have.
4. I just googled ‘judging the presidential debate by content rather than style’ and got 65 million+ hits, but not one of them was about the debate that actually happened last night. Not one. That, I think, is an incredibly sad commentary on us as a people.
Finally, in my blog yesterday, I had a couple of questions I wanted answered. Mr. Romney answered the questions I had for him:
Mr. Romney, if you wish to eliminate or substantially change the approach of progressive taxation, as your talking points suggest, upon what basis do you claim that this shift actually results in an increase in prosperity for everyone? And as a subset of that question, if you have to sacrifice one of your taxation goals in order to achieve a balance to the budget, which goal is the most expendable from your point of view?As I understand his position, Mr. Romney believes that lowered taxes on the wealthy (the job creators, as he describes them) generally frees up more capital for them to invest, which creates more jobs. He did not say those words. What he said was, “taxes slow growth”. I extrapolate the rest, but I think I understand his position. The second aspect was much more clear: what would Mr. Romney sacrifice to achieve a balance to the budget? Everything – when it comes to government spending. Everything except military spending. And social security. And education. And Medicare for those currently receiving it. But Mr. Romney made it very clear that under no circumstances would he increase taxes.
My question for Mr. Obama was answered as well.
Mr. Obama, given that as president, you are required to work with Congress, how do you propose to enact your economic programs (or any of your programs, for that matter) in the face of organized, concerted congressional opposition? It is not enough to merely blame Congress. What do you plan to do about it?He said that he would take all ideas on board when it comes to solving our problems as a nation, whatever the source. He said that he would take care to well-describe his plan so that there was understanding about what it is and what it is not. And he said that occasionally, he would say no, to both friend and foes.
I believe them both.
Now to the hard work of citizenship and deciding where that takes us as a nation and what I intend to do about it when I enter the voting booth.
An important post-script
Yesterday as these two men were preparing to meet and debate, one of them had some other things on his mind, no doubt.
Yesterday Syria (or someone from Syria’s opposition groups) bombed Turkey. This isn’t the first time. But it is the first time that Turks were killed. Five people, including a mother and her three children were killed. Turkey responded by bombing Syria. NATO weighed in as did Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
And Turkey’s military asks its parliament today for the authority to act against Syria. Early indicators are that this is more symbolic than an actual precursor to outright war between the two nations and thus far, Syria has taken a conciliatory and apologetic approach with Turkey, promising to investigate how this could have happened.
But the border between the two countries is a tense place as Syria’s civil war continues and rebels move into Turkey for cover.
And lest we forget, Syria counts among her allies Iran, Russia and China.
World wars don’t always or often begin in the obvious place. They begin with a skirmish there, an insult here, a death or two, revenge killings, drawing in of allies, and escalation.
Thus far it seems that in the aftermath, both Turkey and Syria are seeking ways to avoid war with each other – a good thing. But allies are also being pulled in.
If you do nothing else today about world politics, pray for Syria and Turkey, pray for world leaders, that cooler heads prevail and that escalation is avoided. In the U.S., pray that the man who you think didn’t have such a great debate last night be filled with wisdom and vision and the courage to resist violence as a problem-solving technique. Pray like the world depends on it.