web analytics
Currently viewing the tag: "2012 Election"

I have always been kind of curious about the famous 1980 debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which has the historical reputation of being a completely one-sided Reagan rout that may singlehandedly have handed Reagan a close election. Since the popular historical recollections of debates seems to be very hit-and-miss (did you know that Kennedy beat Nixon by basically out-hawking him, and that Nixon was arguably more liberal on domestic issues?), I decided to go find it and give it a watch.

Here’s a link to the debate, which is not embeddable.

Anyway, it’s definitely interesting to watch it outside of the original context, and with 32 years distance. Nothing at stake, no high inflation rate, no hostage crisis. I think it’s safe to say both that Reagan’s performance has aged quite poorly, especially in terms of substance, and that Romney appears to be trying to copy it note-for-note. Some observations:

  • In the first exchange, Reagan presents the (now cliched) idea that the deficit could be cut solely by tackling waste and fraud (Reagan doesn’t mention abuse, which would eventually complete the cliche). He is unable to really explain how the numbers are going to add up because they didn’t, there’s some handwaving about a five-year plan, but no real answer for how to pay for a large tax cut and new defense spending without major cutting. I guess “dynamic scoring” wasn’t a thing yet. We all know now that he wouldn’t bother to try to balance anything, of course. Hearing Reagan say almost exactly what Romney said in both debates is eerie. Also, Reagan’s answer that a deficit-financed tax cut wouldn’t be inflationary essentially proves how little economic knowledge he had–inflation is caused by too much money in the economy, which is what a deficit-financed tax cut would have (and did) cause–and his reputation wasn’t helped by when he tried to search for the figure of how much waste there was, couldn’t come up with it, and just shrugged and said tens of billions of dollars.
  • It’s pretty amazing that a question on minority issues came up in a presidential debate once, but it did. Reagan’s response was hilariously perfunctory: he literally said that he would use the bully pulpit to help minorities get ahead, and that’s about it. No different from Romney’s responses on, for example, immigration or women’s issues in substance. (Carter’s answer, on the other hand, talked about his history beliefs on race, his policies, and on the ways he’d directly contributed by making minority appointments. Substance, yes, it can be shocking.)
  • Reagan’s famous anecdotes make a few appearances here, and perhaps because the rhetorical technique has been worn out in the 32 years since this, they mostly fall flat. I find it hard to believe that a black man in Detroit went up to the man who opened his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, MS, and asked him to please give him some hope. It’s a pretty absurd picture, though I suppose it’s not impossible. At his best, Reagan’s “real people” anecdotes were both plausible and on point. Definitely not the former here.
  • The question on the Iranian hostage crisis and terrorism generally is fascinating. Carter audibly gulps before answering the question and the follow-up, for one thing. But Reagan essentially says he can’t say anything because he doesn’t want to do anything to compromise secret negotiations, out of patriotism, and then calls for a post hoc investigation. Admittedly, the Libya “controversy” is nowhere near the same league as the Iran hostages, but there’s a similar circular argument here to Romney’s, only Reagan is more skilled at pulling it off. (Also, this is kind of irrelevant, but Barbara Walters was seriously hot.)
  • On the other hand, Reagan was pretty cogent on the arms control treaty question, though the point that the treaty couldn’t get through a majority-Democrat Senate (it would have needed 2/3) hearkens to Romney’s point about how Obama failed to get through the DREAM Act despite majorities. They didn’t even have the filibuster back then to the extent it exists now.
  • Reagan makes an identical point about drilling about public lands to the one Romney did. I was wondering why he kept pounding that issue because it seemed like an esoteric detail. Now we know where he got it from. (Interestingly, Reagan touts his environmental record and hits Carter from the left there–I wonder how much longstanding right-wing dismissal of environment and energy efficiency is due to Carter’s association with them.)
  • Then he just flat-out lies about his history on Social Security and Medicare. Again, very Romney.

No doubt that Reagan performed better here, since Jimmy Carter has the energy of someone tired of getting punched in the face. Which I suppose he was in 1980. But it’s appalling how little Reagan gave the people he was asking for votes–guess after four years of Carter they didn’t need much from him at all. Still, seeing this now, independent of all the awfulness of the ’70s, it’s no mystery why the GOP and its standard-bearer is so contentless now. Romney is merely carrying on the glorious tradition of Ronaldus Magnus.

Now that’s more like it.

What does make me wonder is just how often trade agreements were mentioned. I realize that in D.C. and in economic circles, there isn’t any significant opposition to free trade, but this is decidedly an unpopular position with the public, which sees free trade as destroying American jobs. Obama didn’t really draw much of a contrast there, but Romney mentioned them more. Wonder how blue-collar Ohio folks think about that? Romney says certain things that don’t make much sense politically, which makes me think he actually means them (see also: China bashing). That doesn’t mean they’re good ideas.

Anyway, Obama won this one clearly. Romney was on the business end of a few pretty tough potshots, and got positively owned on Libya, but I really wonder if the “Moderate Mitt” facade didn’t chip a little today. Vagueness and a lack of substance is nothing new for him, but is he really going to be able to ride such a superficial rhetorical surge all the way to the White House? Doubt it, considering it ebbed and flowed even today. After a certain point, people are going to expect more than “not as awful as we thought,” and his current avatar is not undergoing any further development. Onto the next debate, where Romney will spend much of the debate attacking the president’s strength with his weakest point. Should be fun.

I think Chait captures a lot of the “liberal debate hysteria” story, but not all of it. To a large extent, the problem was one of meeting expectations. Romney is an acknowledged debater of some skill, and he certainly has had a lot of experience doing them at this level. His performance was “as expected,” perhaps a little better. Obama’s performance was far worse than expected, so that was the story. (Romney’s lies were, sadly, also quite expected, and thus not a story, which is a statement in and of itself.) It would be one thing if only Obama had been uninspired and low-energy. But he wasn’t, the debate was also a strategic catastrophe that allowed Romney to change his image drastically with minimal pushback. That OFA didn’t hit back the day after the debate on Romney’s evasions was a sadly missed opportunity that allowed the president’s loss unlimited room to become a durable major story. Had Obama aggressively pushed back against Romney’s evasions even with the same demeanor and energy level, the fallout would have been minimal, perhaps even nonexistent. Perhaps not aiming for a tie would have been advisable. And until Democratic pols realize that what liberals say they want (i.e. sober discussion of the issues) doesn’t entirely match with what really makes them act (optimism, tenacity, hope, even bombast), this sort of thing will keep happening. What they really want is this:

Which Obama is never going to give you, naturally. But that’s the wish fulfillment fantasy.

Anyway, I’ll undoubtedly be darkening your door with some form of post-debate analysis. I fully expect Obama to be solid in a town hall setting, and now that he has Something To Prove* I’m sure he’ll show up to play. And I wouldn’t count on Romney being flawless either–followers of the primaries no doubt remember how Romney got cocky every time he started to win, and promptly came up with enough gaffes and PR disasters to let Gingrich or Santorum back into the game. I don’t think he’s changed. We’ll find out.

* Which is a silly conceit, but that does seem to be the consensus view going in.

Anyone think this will generate more than a relatively minor chirp amongst our esteemed pundit class?
A new study [] by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation confirms [that] the Romney-Ryan Medicare plan would result in six out of ten seniors paying substantially more for the same Medicare benefits they receive today.

A pretty clear win for Biden, IMO, and one that effectively sewed seeds of doubt about Ryan’s readiness on foreign policy. Biden seemed to be full of facts–I wouldn’t be surprised if one of his goals was to simply rattle off more numbers than Ryan, which I would guess he accomplished quite easily. He was both tougher and more sensitive than Ryan, funnier and more aggressive. Damn near a command performance, really.

Ryan was…not nearly as bad as Obama was last week, to be fair. Very flat, I think. Biden, though, was much better than Romney was last week. And the format really revealed the limitations of Ryan’s communication skills. I kept noticing how aptly Biden was able to switch tone, pacing, and approach depending on the topic. Ryan, however, was monotonous. His tone was the same no matter what the subject was, whether he was talking about taxes, contraception or Iran, even when he was getting “personal” at certain points. Biden’s attacks on the “47%” comments were delivered in a very different manner from his discussion of his religion, while Ryan’s act was more of a drone (though my wife listened to the thing on radio and had a higher opinion of it than I did, for what it’s worth). The clenched jaw and occasional bug-eyes really didn’t make him look terribly composed either. Republicans desiring Ryan to be a future presidential candidate ought to be deeply concerned by this debate, which showed him to be an uncertain communicator outside his metier (fawning journalist interviews?), though these sorts of problems ought to be fixable with experience I suppose.

In any event, I must confess the thing was just what the doctor ordered. Let’s hope O can keep it up…I have a good feeling about the town hall meeting format.

{ 1 comment }
Lev filed this under: , , ,  

This is a pretty able explanation of the current state of affairs:

The apparent split between the national vote and the electoral college has some analysts, like Nate Silver, groping for an explanation, but the answer seems fairly obvious to me: Swing states have been soaked in political information for months, with round-the-clock advertising, campaigning, and local news coverage of candidate love-bombing. The non-swing majority of America hasn’t. New information from the debates is more likely to change your mind if you just tuned in to the Denver debate than if you had been hiding under your sofa while Obama and Romney pounded down your front door.

The one (possibly only) argument in favor of retaining the electoral college at this point is that it keeps the megabuck spending confined to a few states, some of which are pretty small (New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada, for example). In a popular vote system, it would be like that everywhere, which would mean a hell of a lot more corporate money in the system in order to blitz the L.A. suburbs and such. Republicans would advertise in California because getting 5% more of the vote here (a plausible goal, IMO) could swing the national election. This is, I think, the only real argument that the EC ought to stay, though I’m not sure I fully buy it.

This is a pretty able explanation of the current state of affairs:

The apparent split between the national vote and the electoral college has some analysts, like Nate Silver, groping for an explanation, but the answer seems fairly obvious to me: Swing states have been soaked in political information for months, with round-the-clock advertising, campaigning, and local news coverage of candidate love-bombing. The non-swing majority of America hasn’t. New information from the debates is more likely to change your mind if you just tuned in to the Denver debate than if you had been hiding under your sofa while Obama and Romney pounded down your front door.

The one (possibly only) argument in favor of retaining the electoral college at this point is that it keeps the megabuck spending confined to a few states, some of which are pretty small (New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada, for example). In a popular vote system, it would be like that everywhere, which would mean a hell of a lot more corporate money in the system in order to blitz the L.A. suburbs and such. Republicans would advertise in California because getting 5% more of the vote here (a plausible goal, IMO) could swing the national election. This is, I think, the only real argument that the EC ought to stay, though I’m not sure I fully buy it.

 

Your Vintners