Live-Blogging the 2012 Town Hall Presidential Debate

The President has got a score to settle.  Will he wake-up and tell the assembled audience at Hofstra University that Governor Romney’s tax and deficit-reduction plans are mathematically impossible?  Will the Governor’s missionary good cheer avail him after his 1st successful direct clash with the President?  What sort of moderator will CNN Political Contributor Candy Crowley be?  These questions, and more from an undecided audience, shall be answered forthwith!  The Liberal Ironist humbly submits himself as a partial (but hopefully comprehensive) guide…

I’d say the President won this debate, but it certainly wasn’t decisive. Governor Romney was much more-brittle than he usually is.  The President’s talking points, I think, helped him more than the Governor’s did.  The “quotable” moments of the debate were generally unflattering missteps by Governor Romney.  By nature I really think the Governor is the better debater, and he is usually much more-subtle in the way he dominates the discussion; tonight he became testy when the President proved more-diligent than last time in parrying his statistical manipulations and prevarications.

Then there is the fact that swing State polling still favors the President 3 weeks before the election.  On that account, after tonight I give the President a win by default.

I don’t think Governor Romney can restore his momentum in the remaining 3 weeks.  He’s out of ammunition.

10:37 pm: Both candidates have been asked to set the record straight on who they are, and to try to provide examples.  Governor Romney calls the question “an opportunity,” and says he “appreciate(s) it.”  He notes his record of charity and his mindfulness of the needy.  President Obama probably did more to help himself politically; he specifically addresses the charge of Conservatives that the President is a Socialist in all but name, that he believes “that government creates jobs.”  He explained that his policy goals are about lifting people up, and investing in the nation’s economic vitality.  Somewhat remarkably, he went on the offensive against Governor Romney in the last few seconds of the debate, calling his challenger out for his notorious leaked comments from a meeting with rich donors in May in which he said that 47% of Americans didn’t pay taxes and thought they were victims, essentially living off of government benefits.  It was a surprise parting shot, and Governor Romney has no way to clear it from the air.

But then, several things have happened over the past hour and a half that Governor Romney would probably prefer we forget.

10:32 pm: Both candidates have retreated into their talking points.  The President’s talking points actually have some analytic depth, at least: Among other things, he notes that without government investment in basic science research and educational opportunities, the United States will lose its competitive economic edge.  Governor Romney isn’t able to do much better than to say that he will call-out China for its unfair trade practices (which the US Chamber of Commerce thinks is too risky) and cut taxes (which President Obama has actually done).

10:12 pm: 3/4 of the way through the debate, someone asks the President about the terrorist attack on our Foreign Service personnel in Libya on September 11th of this year.  The President’s initial response is a bit formalistic, but interestingly he does say that he is ultimately responsible for taking the proper measures to ensure our embassies, consulates and Foreign Service personnel abroad are secure.  What is interesting is the response.

Governor Romney has a sober start, but eventually launches back into an attack on the Obama Administration for supposedly lying about the nature of the terrorist attack on our consulate.

He screwed up big-time leaning into this attack again.  1st, Governor Romney claims that the Benghazi attack marks the 1st time our Foreign Service personnel were attacked since the Iranian Revolution and Hostage Crisis of 1979.  He has completely forgotten the 223 killed (including 2 CIA operatives) and 4,000 wounded in the massive bombing attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.  Wow, this guy wants to cast himself as an authority on national security and foreign policy, and he has completely forgotten about those simultaneous incidents.  That isn’t very confidence-inspiring.

In his response, President Obama accuses the Governor of making political hay on a tragedy.  He also asserts that he referred to the deadly attack on our consulate in Benghazi as an “act of terror” the day after the incident; Governor Romney says he has the President on the record and insists that the President didn’t call the attack in Benghazi an “act of terror” until 14 days after the fact–and the moderator corrects him.  Ooops.

10:08 pm: Governor Romney just had a very ungainly outburst in defense of his investments.  It may be the President has ribbed him unfairly for investing money in China, but his response was to curtly and repeatedly ask the President if he has read his own personal investment reports.  Both candidates have been on-edge in this debate, but to an extent that I may not have seen before, Governor Romney has lost his cool here.

10:03 pm: President Obama insists that he tried to promote comprehensive immigration reform.  He notes his support for the DREAM Act, which was a good but partial reform.

For me, the best proposal we have heard for immigration was President George W. Bush’s proposed immigration reform of 2007.  He had proposed letting undocumented immigrants apply publicly for temporary legal status and to begin, contingent upon working in 2-year periods, to apply for citizenship.  Since that failed, only half-measure reforms have been possible.

9:59 pm: We are 2/3 of the way through the debate, and a Hispanic woman just asked Governor Romney what he will do to reform our immigration system.  1st, Governor Romney spoke positively of our legal immigration system (as almost all Republicans to the left of Michele Bachmann are wont to do), and even advocated giving Green Cards to international graduates of American universities to give them a chance to remain in the United States.  He did double-down on “shutting off the magnet” in enforcing immigration laws and punishing businesses that hire immigrants without papers.  He seemed open to the DREAM Act; it isn’t clear why he makes this 1 allowance, and the President subsequently notes that Governor Romney publicly spoke-out against the DREAM Act previously.

9:56 pm: Governor Romney notes that “The economy is growing slower this year than it grew last year, and it grew more-slowly last year than the year before.”  Hmmm…Well, it’s true that 2010 was our recent best year for economic growth; the Governor’s complaint implies that it was a mistake to elect the Republicans to Congress and the State houses in such massive numbers late 2010.

9:50 pm: Governor Romney is asked how he would differ from George W. Bush.  Nothing he has to say is quite as pithy as when President Obama notes that George W. Bush didn’t want all undocumented immigrants to “self-deport,” or promise to eliminate Planned Parenthood.  He says that Governor Romney has promised to be different from George W. Bush on economic policy, but that he has made more promises to be different (as in, more-regressive) on social policy.

9:47 pm: The more Governor Romney draws on his personal business experience in order to argue that he would be better than President Obama at managing the national economy, the less confidence I have in him.  He almost never gets into particulars about what he wants to do to stimulate economic growth besides calling for tax cuts (he can’t even discuss the deductions), advocating more free trade agreements (something George W. Bush campaigned very aggressively for but in which he never passed a free trade agreement as significant as Clinton’s NAFTA), and calling out the People’s Republic of China for unfair trade practices (something that government is certainly guilty of, but which could compromise other aspects of our diplomatic agenda and which the US Chamber of Commerce opposes).

9:37 pm: On the subject of pay equity, President Obama refers to a real example of a woman who hit the “glass ceiling” of stunted corporate ambition; he also mentions the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a statutory response to a Supreme Court decision against a major pay equity lawsuit.  Governor Romney focuses most of his response on (reasonable but inoperable) personal sentiments and then shifts to our relatively-high unemployment rate.  A friend asks, “Um, what about equal pay?  What about the question?

President Obama, in response, notes that when Governor Romney was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, he said “Let me get back to you about that.”  “These are not just women’s issues.  These are family issues, these are economic issues.  Everybody benefits when more people have an opportunity (to prosper in the workforce)…”  President Obama’s defense of pay equity between the sexes is the most-passionate single moment of this debate thus far.

9:36 pm: Governor Romney, you can only interrupt and/or argue with the moderator so many times before people start to suspect you are a jerk, whether that is a fair impression or not.  You’ve been warned (figuratively-speaking).

9:34 pm: President Obama has added up Governor Romney’s most-basic commitments:
A $5 trillion new tax cut;
$2 trillion of new Defense spending (as much as a $300 billion underestimate, by the way);
About $1 trillion in extended Bush tax cuts for the rich.

The President finds $8 trillion in new deficits the Governor has committed to the Federal Government (I find more like $9 trillion with a more-aggressive Defense spending figure and $716 billion in inessential Medicare spending the Governor has promised to restore to that program).  Oh, and then the President mentions that Governor Romney has also promised to cut Federal deficits by trillions.  Will Romney say anything to get elected?

That’s not a rhetorical question; what wouldn’t he say if he thought it looked good?

9:28 pm: President Obama points out that President Clinton’s 39.5% top marginal income tax rate was our last period of sustained real economic growth, and the last time at which we had balanced Federal budgets.

Governor Romney says he can reduce income tax rates by 20% across the board and still reduce tax deductions to the point that the top 5% of income tax payers pay 60% of Federal income tax revenues.  He cannot do this.  He’s sticking a little more to his talking points.  He has said that he has long private sector experience and wants to use tax policy to help small businesses; President Obama already said he has lowered taxes on small businesses and the Governor didn’t say anything to gainsay this.

9:27 pm: Everyone wants to cut taxes on the middle class, apparently.

9:20 pm: Governor Romney is trying to win points through statistical manipulation.  He said the Federal Government has reduced the number of mining and drilling leases on Federal land; the President explained that the Federal Government has been terminating leases by energy companies that didn’t use the lease to obtain resources in a timely fashion.  Governor Romney said that the price of gas in Nassau County has nearly doubled since President Obama’s inauguration; the President points out that this is true–because gas prices were deeply-depressed in the midst of recession in January 2009.  Romney has become very brazen in his dishonesty in this debate; he is also becoming visibly more-impatient when the President draws attentions to these half-truths and untruths.

9:16 pm: Keep an eye on Governor Romney’s promises.  He has promised to create 12 million new jobs in his 1st term through his tax plan; 12 million new jobs is the default job creation anticipated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Romney has promised to make the United States “energy independent in 8 years,” which in such a large consumer economy is probably not quantitatively possible at this time.

9:14 pm: The 2nd question was pretty good, too: Should the Department of Energy be in the business of lowering gas prices or no?  The President touted both the success and the future prospects of our domestic natural gas supply to alleviate pressure on other fuel sources.

Governor Romney decries the costs supposedly imposed by Federal regulations on American energy companies.  It’s weird that Republicans have made such a political fuss on this issue, considering Republican Governors frequently tout their own ability to exploit their State’s fossil fuel resources; all of that was authorized by Federal agencies.

9:10 pm: Governor Romney now tells us that his plan for Detroit was no different than President Obama’s successful bailout!  Governor Romney is trying to establish equivalence between his own call that General Motors and Chrysler experience the hard lessons and discipline of bankruptcy and the President’s active capital investment in and restructuring of those companies!  This is hilarious!

Oh, I hope Governor Romney continues with this sort of shoddy, slippery reasoning.  He should really be careful with this kind of dissembling if he knows what is good for him.

9:04 pm: The 1st question is a straightforward one, if difficult to answer: When I graduate from college, what sort of work could be available for me?  This borders on an existential question for all of the educated but unemployed young Americans today.

Governor Romney goes 1st.  Damn, he is working on connecting with this young man.  He emoted, he expressed his commitment to Pell Grants, he talked-up programs like those in Massachusetts or run by Yale University that guarantee top-placing students admission to local colleges.  He has some good ideas (and on a cosmetic note Governor Romney has clearly internalized warnings that he is too distant), but he cannot get past talking points in actually addressing the issue of the economy.

President Obama focuses on 5 million jobs recently created.  He also proposes greater domestic energy production and energy efficiency and talks up the importance of deficit-reduction.  I’m a little surprised he scooped Governor Romney in advancing these ideas.  Not surprisingly, he emphasizes the idea of spending more money on domestic infrastructure development rather than spending it on a massive Defense buildup.

9:01 pm: The Gallup polling organization selected 82 undecided voters in the New York metropolitan area to offer questions to the candidate.  Having many years of experience with very-decided Democrats and Republicans in this region, I ask myself: Just who are these people?

8:48 pm: Stuart Rabinowitz, President of Hofstra University, said that 6,550 students registered for the preferential lottery to attend the Town Hall Debate, which is being hosted by the University.  The University was only able to provide several hundred seats in total; so, now you know why the Liberal Ironist gave up on trying to get seats early.

President Rabinowitz has generously offered to give his seat to a student, and watch the debate by video link from elsewhere on-campus.


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