It was out of sheer curiosity that I was compelled to watch the presidential debates this year. As I am hardly a political junkie I forced myself to endure the tediousness of observing both presidential candidates attempt to sell themselves to the American public.
Over the years I have increasingly shied away from these forums as they tend to be contrived in their presentation of candidates' positions on issues important to voters. This year however being generally unmoved by either candidate I watched the debates in order to find some contrast between them, as the last few administrations have shown little distinction in the policies of either party.
In other words over the last couple of decades, except in name, there is markedly little difference between major policy positions of Republicans or Democrats. Consequently the US has become a Uni-Party state as each administration has tended to follow the precedence of it antecedent, leaving voters with a choice between the 'lesser of two evils', which are quite homogeneous in practice, if not in presentation.
To my surprise I found that the (at least in person) the two candidates have very divergent views on a number of issues including taxes, military spending, abortion, medicare and foreign policy. While four years of the Obama administration has raised many concerns about the direction the country is going, certainly his positions are fairly well known.
Mitt Romney on the other hand was something of an enigma. Certainly it came as no surprise as that his policy positions seem to echo much of what America endured under the past decades of Republican rule, as most of them are synonymous with the positions put forth under the Bush dynasty.
Needless to say as a candidate for President, Mitt Romney leaves much to be desired in the area of credibility as his positions tend to change according to his audience.
The following is a summary of a few ideas I gleaned from the debates in regard to Mr. Romney's policy initiatives, in his own words. In case you missed it intentionally, as did most people I know (I found myself alone on the couch, the last lonely loner) I jotted down a couple of highlights which stood out as fundamental concerns for the "other 47%" who will be profoundly affected by his narrow and at times radical support for the 2% of American elite which controls 90% of the wealth.
In all fairness, while I chose Mitt Romney as the subject of this article Obama certainly did not escape critique. Unlike Obama however Romney has not had 4 years of analysis, and criticism from the global media, therefore unlike Romney Obama's flaws, failures and virtues are quite well known to most of those who have paid attention.
Having little information on Romney's persona, manners and views I have made him the subject of this critique as he raised many concerns in my mind during the course of the debates. Although many critics argued that Obama did poorly in the first debate, certainly Mitts salesman like performance failed to come across as convincing... well contrived, but certainly not candid. If I could sum up his performance in one word I would have to coin him as "desperate". Considering how much money is at stake for his interests, it is no wonder as to why.
In other words Mitt is very well packaged and superbly eloquent, much like a polished and bejeweled Baptist Preacher, however when one gets down to the nuts and bolts of his "5 Point Plan" (the core of his sales pitch), one walks away slightly queasy and with a nagging sense of unease, much in the same way you may feel after giving your credit card number to a telemarketer... and then realizing just a moment too late that you made a mistake.
When Romney Stole the Show...Literally
I generally shy away from reading too much into body language or over analyzing poses and Freudian slips, etc. Certainly the debates were at times quite heated which added to their entertainment value. In the second debate however one particular incident caught my attention. The candidates were debating and Mitt wanted to respond to an accusation the President had made but was denied the floor as his time had expired.
The moderator begged him to please refrain and suggested as he would have the next question certainly he could use that time to clarify his position, but rather than wait his turn, he literally stole the show for about two minutes simply pirating the stage and running over the mediator...without shame.
Whether or not this was done because of his disdain for her as a woman or simply because he was rude, it stood out as an example of his lack of self control, and respect for authority. While I tried to call foul on Obama, as he did squeeze in a statement or two over her objections at a couple of points, in all fairness he never stole the floor. I really felt bad for the moderator who was as she seemed at a loss... although in retrospect she could have cut the sound to his microphone.
I found this incident to be indicative of Mr. Romney's general tendency behave as a person who has little respect for the rules, and who if given the chance will take hold of power and run rampant over the objections, and opinions of the American public, much in the way of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush.
In fact this incident illustrated one of the Presidents essential observations about Mr. Romney: that he sees the American system as a place where there are two sets of rules: those for the rich and powerful, and those for everybody else.
As he has already expressed in his infamous 47% quote, he has no concern for changing the opinions of the majority of voters as they are already decided, but rather it is an exclusive 10% of Independent swing voters that he's focussed on. Essentially this was a subtle reference to his view that the wealthy and powerful should be governed by a different set of rules as they are the ones that will make the difference in a close election.
Not surprisingly my initial assessment of Mitt Romney (before the debates) was correct, he actually is as rude person, he's vain, narrow minded, unacquainted with the struggles of the "middle class" (which he constantly evokes), and at times blatantly double sided. When he lies he has no shame. Unfortunately Mr. Romney really does not work too hard to hide the fact that he is not from around here... "?" wherever "here" is.
Mitt Romney's Fundamental Views In A Nutshell
To start off with Governor Romney promotes something he calls a 5pt plan. Essentially this is a plan which he claims is a solution to turning around the US economy as follows:
1. Make the US energy dependent in 5 years. This is an absolutely intriguing point, especially if you are an economist (which I am not) or simply have an idea how much Oil the US consumes every year (52% of global production) however one tends to wonder how serious he is about this statement, as he opposes several industries which are notably developing alternative fuels, in favor of the traditional status quo (George Bush cronies EXXON, Halliburton, KBR, Chevron, etc). It's hard to see how he plans to replace Saudi Arabia with Alaska and coal.
2. Increase trade with Latin America and China, but "don't let them cheat". To this Obama responded that Romney's history is one of working with China, shipping jobs over seas, and supporting companies which have records of horrible human rights abuses. For instance Romney's group is currently working with a company developing technology to help China spy on its population. Ultimately Obama stated that Romney's position was double sided, and I would tend to agree in light of his business interests. In fact for Romney to penalize China would certainly be a conflict of interest, making this argument somewhat 'oxymoronic'.
3. Balance the Budget. To which Obama responded that Gov. Romney has no plan to pay for these proposals except to decreases taxes for the highest income earners. Certainly this would be a feat of incredible proportions as his military proposals alone suggest huge increases in spending at a time where America's costs have become overwhelmingly disproportionate to its earnings.
4. Increase Training programs. This didn't get much traction in the debate at all. Of course both candidates called for "better education", more access to higher learning (standard pro education stuff), yet Romney didn't offer a substantially new suggestion, in fact his stance on immigration suggests he will certainly be opposed to at least some of the US population getting grants and loans. Obama also emphasized his own efforts in the area of increasing pell grants, but certainly this initiative and others like it predated his administration so one is left to wonder exactly how much access to higher education has improved under Obama. (possibly I will find out when I go to enroll next semester for the first time in several years)
5. Help to Small Business... to which Obama responded Romney's definition of "small businesses" are millionaires like Donald Trump. Certainly Romney is fanatic about this point and did not object to Obama's argument, which makes sense as he is a billionaire businessman.
One feeling you are not left with is a sense that there is anything dull or dimwitted about Romney, and when you're listening to this guy spout off numbers and statistics you get the feeling that when it comes to money your are talking to a banker (which in itself is a little scary). On the issue of business he's all snap, tossing out numbers and making analyses, and analogies in one breath. So there's no question on where he stands in relation to giving more tax relief to businesses...the size of that business on the other hand is the question?
6. Romney wants the Affordable Care Act repealed completely. "Cut Obamacare..." actually this is a direct quote which he repeated several times in both debates. Romney's position is that repealing Obamacare and placing control of healthcare in the hands of the states will improve health care overall, as the government has fumbled the ball. In response, Obama stated that he is proud of Obamacare and partial to the name. In addition he stated that he is opposed to a voucher program and cuts to care given to upper income earners.
7. Calls for an extreme form of immigration control and "self deportation". Once again this is a major policy position wherein Mr. Romney stated that he would veto the Dream Act which reforms immigration and helps people become legal citizens. Also he stated that he supports Arizona's controversial immigration act, specifically the "E Verify" portion of the law, and sees their initiative as a model for the country.
He seeks to enact federal laws that (in his words) make make life so miserable that people will voluntarily ask to be deported. In fact his top advisor on immigration helped design the entire Arizona anti immigration legislation. This is one of his more blatantly racist and scary positions of which he certainly makes no apologies.
8. Mr. Romney calls for lower taxes on companies expanding opportunities in Latin America. Does not note that this will result in jobs lost here in the US, nor does he explain the relationship to growing the economy in light of the lost job opportunities.
9. Calls for a massive increase Military spending by 2 Trillion $, but does not particularly justify the increase nor does he argue with Mr. Obamas statement that the Military has not asked for any more money, and is actually downsizing in light of the withdrawal from Iraq, and planned withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. Also his position is one which is completely supportive of the Israeli position on Iran in spite of the tragic and lethal consequences of a potential nuclear conflict of global proportions.
10. He insists on encouraging "small business growth" by lowering their taxes, however the size of these "small businesses" is relative. While Obama flatly stated that Mr. Romney's idea of small business includes millionaires like Donald Trump, Romney did not object but rather went on to explain that this is how you "grow the economy" and create jobs.
11. Anti entitlement.
12. Anti abortion.
13. Anti govt spending (except military).
14. Would repeal parts of Dodd-Frank Act (this was the act created to reform Wall Street after the financial crash).
15. Against more regulation in the marketplace as this "slows economic growth". Mr. Romney stated that he was not opposed to regulation in principle, however this regulation must be curtailed as he argues that it became excessive and out of date during the Obama term.
He cites as his primary example Dodd Frank: which designates a number of banks as too big to fail. Suggests that parts of the act are killing regional small banks. While he agrees with Dodd Frank on qualifying mortgages, he goes on to argue that there is no definition of a "qualified mortgage", stating Dodd Frank needs to be changed in order bring back the housing market and get good jobs.
16. Says Obama has a failed foreign affairs strategy. This one is pretty easy to sum up as he is diametrically opposed to just about every aspect of Obama's foreign military policy. No new ideas, and in fact his accusations lack depth or authenticity. He seems to be reading from the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld playbook.
17. Criticizes Obama for "putting daylight" between the US and Israel. While he jabs at the President for his statements on Israel, he does not offer any alternate action or ideas other than the traditional staunch support position espoused by the Republican platform. Once again this is standard stuff taken from decades of US foreign policy followed by both parties and all administrations. In all fairness Obama also fails to offer anything new in this area.
18. Mr. Romney criticizes Obama for not preventing or dealing with the Libyan ambassadors death correctly. He takes issue with the Presidents statement of the Libyan attack being an "act of terror" and then taking part in the ongoing confusion as to the actual causes. This gained little traction in the debate as in substance is was an issue of semantics which in the Presidents words attempts to politicize the deaths of 4 Americans in order to score political points. This became obvious during the debate to Mr. Romenys discredit.
17. Mr. Romney says Obama's record does not match his rhetoric in terms of his economic policies. He cites for example the increased deficit, higher taxes, the cost of Obama care, lack of jobs... essentially every economic woe one could think of and blames it on the Obama administration.
18. On assault weapons: "I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on guns, and taking guns away or making guns illegal, of course we don't want automatic guns, and those are already illegal". Stated that schools, parents and families need to take more responsibility.
In addition he stated that the greatest problem with guns was the operation "Fast and Furious" run by the ATF that ultimately gave these guns to drug lords that killed Americans, and for what reason he cannot fathom. Interestingly Mr. Romney did sign an assault weapons ban while Gov. of Mass. however has since changed his position. In defense of this change he stated that the pro and anti weapons lobbies came together to sign mutually agreed upon bipartisan legislation. Once again Mr. Romney seemed to be reading directly from the NRA's Republican play book offering no new solutions to increasingly tragic situation of gun violence in America.
19. Mr. Romney says the culture should promote marriage and families. To his credit few could disagree with this statement however in substance he offered no solutions or proposals to bring about a change in this area.
20. Says that on day 1 he will label China a trade manipulator allowing him to place tariffs on its goods, pushing up the costs of its goods and increasing demand for cheaper US goods. He states that he will strictly make China play by the rules, yet seeks to give tax breaks to companies moving overseas and offshore.
Also he argued that China has been cheating over the years by undervaluing their currency, pirating US goods and cyber crimes. This argument is suspect for several reasons, least of which being that it makes no sense in light of the current global economic crisis. In light of the fact that China buys increasingly more US debt, and is the number one producer of inexpensive goods sold to American's his policies if enacted would immediately boost inflation possibly setting off another global economic crisis.
21. Insists "government does not create jobs". I would take issue with this statement as it is well known that government initiatives create jobs in many areas of the economy, least of which being that the government is the largest employer in America. In fact much of the argument underpinning the 2008 bailouts and stimulus spending was based on the premise that the government can and does create jobs.
The Lesser of Two Evils
Bottom line, if you make more than $200,000 a year this is your guy as he plans to make life much easier for the 10% that "make this country run" and in whose debt we all should be. His fast track to better economy is to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, while at the same time slashing government spending in the areas of entitlement programs, which go to people he deems "irrelevant".
In his words this is called "growing the economy" and creating jobs. Not surprisingly he fails to explain exactly where he is going to make up for this lost revenue (actually he mentioned entitlements such as Obamacare ie. Medicare/Medicaid several times as his number one target).
At the end of the day we must ask ourselves: is this the kind of guy we want entrusted with the keys to the US Treasury? Are we letting the fox into the hen house, so to speak? Is this the person we will trust in the most powerful political office in the world? A politician whose plans conform to the standard Republican party line reeking of nepotism, cronyism and big business top down economics?
The worst part of the debates is that they were limited in time and scope allowing for very little analysis or rebuttal from the public. As usual the politicians escaped being nailed down on the issues or in the case of Obama being called to account on truly controversial issues such as: his failure to close Guantanamo prison, his continued use of illegal and extrajudicial assassinations throughout the world, his continued expansion of military operations into Africa and the Middle East, his failure to keep millions of Americans in their homes during the housing crisis, and his failure to require companies that received bailouts to be accountable to the public for the Trillions of dollars they stole from the US taxpayer's pocket, possibly the biggest theft of taxpayer money in history.
While Mr. Romney was shiny and polished his views are blatantly elitist and narrow in their scope, much in the manner of George W. Bush, and quite out of touch with the day to day struggles of increasingly desperate American voters.
What makes it even more worrisome is the fact that he intends to reverse much of what is arguably progress that has been made in the last 4 years, creating greater fear and instability in a time of economic chaos, interrupting the continuity which Americans crave in government.
The good news is that most of the voting public will probably see through his transparent charade and barely concealed contempt for the 47% of voters whose opinions he deems quite irrelevant.
The bad news is that once again the playing field has been narrowed to the point that we have no real choice, as "change" has become a slogan and "hope" an illusion. Consequently we, the voters, are compelled to 'choose our poison', personified by desperate politicians willing to say whatever they think the public wants to hear.
Failing to propose real, creative or unique solutions, both candidates seem to present an amalgam of refurbished and bland ideas tailored by think tanks and special interest groups, essentially giving us more of the same.
To my dismay the presidential debates reminded me of the fallacy of choice as our unipolar system presents us with options that fail to inspire either hope or change, but rather a sense of dread as we the voting public are once again compelled to select the lesser of the two evils.