Sunday, October 07, 2012

A Night Of Blown Chances

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For Obama supporters, Wednesday's debate was a frustrating exercise as we watched the president let one easy pitch after another go by him without taking a swing that could have let him hit the ball out of the park.
For instance, during the debate over taxes, Mitt Romney continued to make his absurd assertion that he could make his plan to lower tax rates "revenue neutral" by eliminating unspecified "loopholes and deductions." Obama could have turned to him and simply asked, "So which of these deductions and loopholes do you plan to close, governor?"
In the past, Romney has tried to weasel his way out of answering this question, saying only that he'll have to "negotiate with Congress on that" (in other words, we have to elect him and pass his tax reform bill to see what's in it). But nonpartisan tax policy analysts have stated that the only way to make up the revenue would be to eliminate popular tax breaks like the deduction for home mortgages and the child care tax credit.
President Obama did bring up that study, and made a reference that the "arithmetic" didn't add up, but when Romney intimated that his "plan" didn't include eliminating those middle-class tax breaks, he failed to press him to be specific. Romney hates being specific, largely because the more specific he and Ryan get about what they really want to do, the more horrified voters become.
Likewise, the president missed an opportunity to point out Romney's hypocrisy on the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. "The president should have grabbed that," Romney said. But Obama could have easily pointed out that Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, voted against sending the final proposal of the Simpson-Bowles commission to Congress. "Their proposal is a serious and credible plan, but I cannot support it," Ryan said at the time. Obama just let that one go by.
On health care, President Obama forgot the wise words of Sun Tzu that the best policy in waging warfare is to "attack the enemy's strategy." Mitt Romney's strategy is based entirely on lying through his teeth.
Remember, this is the campaign that said they weren't going to let the fact checkers dictate to them, and Obama let him get away with some whoppers.
For instance, Romney hearkened back to Sarah Palin's mythical "death panels" when he talked about "an unelected board that's going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have."
But as fact checkers, including The Associated Press, have pointed out, the health care law "explicitly prohibits" the Independent Payment Advisory Board "from rationing care, shifting costs to retirees, restricting benefits or raising the Medicare eligibility age." So the board doesn't have the power to dictate to doctors what treatments they can prescribe.
Romney also continued to double down on the thoroughly discredited claim that Obama is "cutting $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare." As the fact-checking site Politifact points out, Obamacare "does not literally cut funding from the Medicare program's budget." They go on to say that "the cuts are from future spending, not the program's current budget" and that 'the spending reductions were mainly aimed at insurance companies and hospitals, not beneficiaries."
This has been debunked so many times by so many fact checkers that for Romney to keep bringing it up is an act of sheer outrageous chutzpah, but I can't imagine that, as commentator David Gergen put it, Obama was caught by surprise by Romney telling a bald-faced lie. And that is exactly what it was.
Romney wasn't expressing opinions upon which reasonable people can disagree. He said things that were factually untrue, and the president let him get away with it.
I don't know what this was all about. Maybe Obama went into this debate assuming he could coast on the lead he has in the swing states. Maybe he thought going for Romney's throat (metaphorically, of course) would look "unpresidential."
He may have thought Romney would do the job for him by saying something egregiously stupid, like dismissing half of the American people again (another thing he inexplicably failed to mention). Maybe he was just unhappy because he was having to do this on his anniversary.
But Obama needs to get his head back in the game here. You give Mr. Etch A Sketch the chance to weasel and lie, he'll take it. Please, Mr. President, don't let it happen again. Next time Mittens serves up a slow pitch, you need to pound it over the left-field wall, then go upside his head with the bat.
Metaphorically, of course.