As an avid observer of national politics I’ll be honest and admit that President Obama’s last debate performance was nothing short of abysmal. What I find particularly frustrating about Barack Obama in general, and in his performance in the last debate in particular, is that he continues to fail to counterpunch with some very basic facts when challenged by his opponents on the right. Here are just a few suggestions that should be taken to heart, if the president wants to win the last two debates.
1) Nature and Size of Deficit Spending: Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the rest of the conservative community need to be called to account for misrepresenting the reason why the deficit is where it is at the present time. Obama’s critics on the right have never been honest when it comes to analyzing the current economic downturn. Rather than addressing the Great Recession for what it is, the worst downturn since the Great Depression, they’ve routinely portrayed it as a garden variety downturn made all the worse by Obama’s policies trying to link those “failed” policies with the growth in the national debt. Obama’s counterpunch here is obvious, during the next debate, and thereafter, he needs to ask Mitt Romney why he doesn’t understand that when the economy falls into a deep recession, government spending goes up as a result of increased outlays for unemployment, food stamps ad infinitum, while tax revenues decline and that those factors have played a large part in the growth of the deficit. Moreover, he could ask Romney what he and the Republican’s would have done differently and to what effect. That’s pretty easy to understand and rather straightforward yet Obama and his surrogates have failed to throw these very obvious and elemental counterpunches much to their own detriment. The second counterargument that Obama needs to make is that this administration, unlike the last, put the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the books so that those costs were reflected in deficit spending more accurately than had previously been the case. That in and of itself would have resulted in a dramatic increase in the deficit regardless of the state of the economy.
2) Medicare: President Obama needs to make it crystal clear that there is a fundamental difference between reduced outlays for Medicare that result from reduced payments to insurance companies and health care providers compared to reduced funding levels for the Medicare program per se that would result from conservative proposals. After establishing this factual difference Obama needs to press Romney on whether or not he understands this fundamental difference and to prove that it isn’t true.
3) Attacking Success: Obama needs to challenge the notion that he’s an enemy of success and that should start with the statement, based on his own life, that he himself is the embodiment of American success. Secondly, he needs to point out that asking the very wealthy to pay a little bit more in taxes isn’t the same thing as attacking success. Obama isn’t attacking the American system of private property and private initiative, he’s merely asking for a readjustment of tax rates that are now skewed to the benefit of a few in what many economists have called the greatest upward realignment of wealth since the 1920s. President Obama should ask Mitt Romney to cite a specific example where Obama conceptually, theoretically or figuratively has come out and denounced the American value of success.
4) Role of Government: President Obama needs to publicly disabuse Mitt Romney of the notion that almost everything that has ever benefited America is a function of private enterprise. Obama needs to give Mitt Romney a history lesson in the role of the federal government in fostering growth in the American economy that began in the early years of the Republic with nationally funded roads, canals and aids to navigation systems and continued through to the development of the Internet as detailed in Free Market Fantasies, referenced below. Obama needs to point out the critical fact that generally government builds infrastructure as individual companies rarely if ever ban together to build highways, bridges, dams and airports, without which there will be little in the way of an environment fostering economic growth. He also needs to point out the percentage of developmental research and development that is funded by government. President Obama needs to point out that Romney’s own proposals related to funding technical and occupational training for today’s unfilled jobs as well as those of tomorrow are unlikely to come about with out government funding and involvement. Lastly, Romney needs to be brought to understand that there isn’t a developed economy in this world that didn’t get to where it is today without significant economic policy input from it’s national government.
5) Foreign Policy: The time for Barack Obama to call out Mitt Romney on his Neoconservative power trip has long since arrived, particularly as it pertains to the Iranian nuclear program. To listen to Romney and Ryan speak of Iranian nukes one would think that the Iranians made their most dramatic advance since Obama took office. This however is factually incorrect. Foreign policy writer David Sanger pointed out that Iran made great strides in developing nuclear capabilities during the eight years of the Bush administration, while American foreign policy was distracted in the quagmire of Iraq. An analysis of the timeline of Iranian nuclear development contained the references below reveals that Iran made great strides in nuclear development from 2002 through early 2009. Barack Obama needs to put Mitt Romney on the spot and ask him how a military solution would effectively cripple Iran’s nuclear program, given that Iran’s military capabilities are considerably more formidable than where those we faced in Iraq or Libya and that much of Iran’s nuclear facilities are either underground or near population centers and that makes such a strike far more complicated.
Obama needs to ask Mitt Romney to square his implied muscular foreign policy rhetoric with the fact that the vast majority of the American people are beyond tired of overseas military involvement and want the money spent on war to be spent here at home. Obama needs to make the point that the foreign policy failures of the Bush administration have real consequences and will affect our foreign policy options for years to come. President Obama needs to distinguish between what military power can and can’t do, a point laid out by the Neoconservative Robert Kagan in an NPR interview: “Well, a lot of what people think is decline is based on a very faulty memory of what things used to be like. People have a sense that America used to call the shots, used to be able to dominate the world, get everyone to do what we wanted them to do. And of course that’s ludicrous. Anyone who remembers even the early Cold War years knows that we couldn’t do anything about the revolution in China. We couldn’t do anything about the Soviets getting a nuclear weapon, etcetera, and etcetera. So we’re making a bad comparison…In terms of military power, even with defense budget cuts that I think are unfortunate, the United States is still by far the most powerful nation in the world. So I think the United States remains tremendously influential.” Kagan, who is himself a Romney advisor, goes on to question the Romney campaigns notion that Obama believes that America is in decline. Look at this interchange between the NPR moderator Steve Inskeep and Kagan:
“STEVE INSKEEP: This is a hard question for you, because you are an adviser to Mitt Romney, the leading Republican presidential candidate at the moment. But your analysis suggests that perhaps Republicans have been mis-describing the last couple of years. Because actually they have a narrative of decline, that president Obama’s foreign policy has dragged the United States down. You’re suggesting that actually there’s been a rebound in the last couple of years…
ROBERT KAGAN: I actually think that’s what Republicans are arguing, and certainly what Governor Romney is arguing, is that some of the policies that the administration is undertaking could lead the United States into decline; certainly the defense budget cuts, the shift in defense strategy. There are things to worry about and things can go in the wrong direction. What I am trying to push back against is this notion that we need to manage American decline – that it’s inevitable. I think that can lead us to take some very unfortunate actions. And I’ll be perfectly honest. I’m delighted that the president liked my essay because it suggests that he doesn’t believe in American decline. And he does believe in American leadership.” So much for Obama’s having presided over a decline in America as a world power. Obama would be well served during the remaining debates by putting Romney and the rest of his critics on the spot, in front of millions of viewers in challenging him to prove his allegations. Likewise the same thing can be said of Romney’s baseless accusations that Obama has a habit of apologizing for America. Quoting a Washington Post piece: “In a lengthy article on the Fact Checker blog, we tracked down every statement Obama uttered that partisans claim was an apology, and concluded that each one had been misquoted or taken out of context.” Thus once again, another easy to dismiss claim, made by Romney and the wider conservative community that Obama needs to publicly challenge during the upcoming debates.
I’m sure if I wanted to I could continue to find additional talking points that the president and his surrogates could use to deflate and defeat so many of the factually inaccurate attacks that are sure to be leveled against him in the next two debates. Yet for the life of me I can’t believe that his campaign staff hasn’t pointed out the very things that I have above and that Obama himself hasn’t been clued in by them so as to effectively address same. Are they just not paying attention, not up to the game? Or is it a case that they are asleep to the fact that outside of the world of the political junkie many Americans fall into the category of “low information voters” who can’t be assumed to know the facts and the arguments upon which the election turns. The Obama campaign is fooling itself if it thinks that every voter is aware of the facts that political professionals live and die by. It’s fooling itself if it doesn’t understand that the average voter needs to see Barack Obama stand on a national stage, in front of millions of viewers, and counterpunch conservative fallacies with established facts. There won’t be any other big venue surrogate speeches a la Joe Biden or Bill Clinton to right another unsteady debate performance by the president. If the Obama campaign doesn’t wake up and smell the coffee and quickly they can kiss the election good bye. Another performance like the one we saw on October 3rd will probably doom Obama to defeat, baring some October “surprise” that goes in the president’s favor.
Steven J. Gulitti
Free Market Fantasies; http://open.salon.com/blog/steven_j_gulitti
THE INHERITANCE: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power By David E. Sanger – Harmony Books.
Timeline of Iran’s nuclear programme; http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/04/201241410645752218.htmlTimeline of Iran’s controversial nuclear program
Timeline of Iran’s controversial nuclear program; http://articles.cnn.com/2012-03-06/middleeast/world_meast_iran-timeline_1_nuclear-program-iran-signs-iran-s-natanz?_s=PM:MIDDLEEAST
Robert Kagan – No Doubt: U.S. Remains ‘Tremendously Influential’; http://www.npr.org/2012/02/03/146330699/no-doubt-u-s-remains-tremendously-influential
Romney’s claim that Obama apologizes for U.S. is based on distortions; http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/romneys-claim-that-obama-is-an-apologist-for-us-is-based-on-distortions/2011/12/01/gIQAdDpXlO_story.html
Video: Obama an apologist? Paper checks the claim; http://allnewsblend.com/2011/03/07/video-obama-an-apologist-paper-checks-the-claim/