It surely wasn’t the candidate who early this year flexed his “severely conservative” muscles at Republican primary debates. That man could only turn the steering wheel of policy in one direction — rightward.
It wasn’t the arrogant and clueless politician recently caught on videotape writing off nearly half the country as lazy bums.
It wasn’t the candidate who, along with his running mate Paul Ryan, has made unwinding the country’s social contract a bedrock of the campaign.
No, the Republican challenger on the stage opposite the incumbent was forceful, rapid-fire in his responses and dominating of the entire proceedings. Unfortunately for the Republican in the contest, the election is weeks away, and Wednesday night’s version of Mitt Romney is seriously at odds with his own record and the facts.
Of course, debates aren’t judged by fact-checkers. The voters decide, and based on his commanding presence on stage, it’s clear that Wednesday night belonged to Romney.
The rest of the election may be a different story, especially as Romney must reconcile his recent past with Wednesday night’s spinning. The bottom line is that the 2012 election remains very much winnable for either candidate.
Before we get to Election Day, Romney owes Americans some clarification.
The former Massachusetts governor said he would kill Obamacare, yet he has not precisely outlined exactly how he’d insure the millions of Americans without coverage or what he would do to protect those with pre-existing conditions. Wednesday night, Romney said his plan would protect those with pre-existing conditions, a claim his campaign later admitted was false. Previously, Romney recommended the uninsured are fine because they could depend on emergency rooms, a non-solution that unnecessarily strains both hospitals and poor families.
On taxes, Romney distanced himself from his tax-cut proposal, an initiative that would cost $5 trillion over 10 years. “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut,” Romney said Wednesday, even though his proposal to reduce tax rates by 20 percent would have the effect of reducing revenue by, you guessed it, $5 trillion. Sounds like Romney was debating math, not Obama.
On a deeper level, Romney was putting a confident air and happy face on policies that are deeply flawed. A prescription of budget cuts, low taxes and minimal regulation was tested as recently as 2001 through 2009. It did not work as promised. If Romney is offering something similar (but presumably better), then he owes Americans more specifics than de-funding public broadcasting.
If Romney owes clarification, Obama owes the nation passion.
During his term in the White House, we’ve unfortunately seen the fellow sharing the stage Wednesday with Romney. As president, Obama has made a habit of slipping into dispassionate caretaker of his own policies. Wednesday it seemed someone needed to nudge the president so he might realize he’s at a presidential debate and not an informal meeting of the faculty senate.
It’s telling that former President Bill Clinton’s defense of Obama’s first term was more persuasive than anything the president has said on the stump during this campaign.
The lesson for Obama is that he must fight for his policies. Health-care reform was never going to be easy and the enemies of progress have demonstrated a blood-lust for killing it before it reaches maturity. Passion and a vigorous defense are required; passivity won’t work.
Romney proved he’s the better salesman Wednesday. Though Americans would be wise to recall the advice of “buyer beware” while awaiting the details on his promises.