In an effort to be as unbiased as possible in evaluating who won this evening’s debate, I have assigned weights to the major topics covered at Tuesday night's second presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In addition, a number based on a 1-10 scale has been assigned to each candidate for each topic. Romney clearly edged out the president on Tuesday on the vast majority major topics addressed.
The president insists his opponent “has a one point plan,” yet even a casual observer of the last two debates cannot help but realize Romney presents a multi-faceted policy agenda of energy independence, tax reform, and entitlement reform. While the president once again attempted to characterize the Romney tax plan as skewed towards the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, the governor reiterated that (1) the proportion of the tax burden paid by the top 5% will not shrink and that (2) taxes on the middle class will not increase. Although the president himself advocates lowering the corporate tax rate while eliminating deductions, he claims incredulity when Romney suggests similar methodology be applied to the individual income tax code.
However strongly Romney presented his tax arguments, he did fail to sufficiently articulate how eliminating deductions and preferences results in a more efficient allocation of economic resources — and thus more economic growth. In addition, while Romney did make an attempt at explaining the pragmatic benefits of simplifying the tax code, he failed to make a moral argument for diminishing the extent of wealth confiscation by the federal government through the tax code. For many voters, the moral argument in favor or against an even more progressive tax code is highly important.
Overall, Obama failed to successfully counter Romney’s argument that a simpler code will increase efficiency, spur job creation, and maintain progressivity.
Rather than explain how government subsidies and a student loan system awash in government funds contribute to ever-increasing educational costs, Romney chose to proclaim his support of growing federal funds for higher education. However, little time was spent on this aspect of education policy.
The president did not discuss specifics either, merely mentioning support for student loans, community colleges, and jobs retraining.
The president refused to answer Romney’s pointed question regarding whether production of oil and gas has increased on federal land during the last four years. Romney also scored points by adamantly declaring the Keystone Pipeline will be approved under his administration.
When responding to Romney’s reminder that gas prices have doubled over the past four years, the president provided a weak and contorted excuse that gas prices were lower four years ago due to a weak economy. Considering the myriad of other factors contributing to inflation within the commodities markets, this response appeared weak.
Job Creation and the Economy
Romney successfully diminished the positive aura behind the dip in the unemployment. Romney explained that although the unemployment rate dipped in recent months, much of this dip is simply due to the government’s way of defining unemployment. When job seekers cease searching for employment, they are no longer counted as part of the labor force. Thus, the employed percentage increases in part due to a smaller workforce. Romney correctly pointed out that once those who have left the job market due to discouragement are counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate exceeds 11%. He could have also pointed to the U-6 unemployment rate, which includes unemployed individuals who have stopped looking for work, and those seeking full-time employment but only have part-time jobs.
Romney also belittled the jobs created over the past 32 months by pointing out that population growth exceeds job growth. He furthermore drew attention to the fact that median income per household has decreased by $4,300 over the last four years.
The president simply could not counter the analysis and facts behind Romney’s arguments. As Romney said, “When we’re talking about math that doesn’t add up, how about $4 trillion in deficits over the last four years..?”
The president crowed about his support of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, while Romney drew attention to the fact that more than 500,000 fewer women now are working compared to four years ago. In addition, Romney told of his efforts to bring highly qualified women into his administration as governor of Massachusetts. This stymied any possibility of painting the Republican nominee as indifferent towards eliminating the glass ceiling.
However, the discussion veered into contraceptive care. Obama forcefully reiterated his support of mandatory contraceptive coverage within insurance policies. Although Romney claimed he believes every woman should have access to contraceptives, Obama’s mischaracterization of Romney’s views proved convincing.
However, all in all, Obama’s attempts to paint Romney as hostile towards women’s rights failed. After all, for all of Obama’s rhetoric on “equal pay for equal work,” fewer women are working and more women live in poverty compared to four years ago.
The president attempted to paint Romney as an extremist on immigration policy, pointing to Romney’s alleged support of “self-deportation.” Romney succinctly explained that self-deportation involves immigrants living here illegally voluntarily choosing to leave the United States as opposed to “rounding them up.” In addition, Romney drew attention to the president’s failure to achieve broad-based immigration reform when his party had large majorities in both houses of Congress.
Romney also differentiated between granting amnesty to adults who chose to enter this country illegally versus providing a pathway to citizenship for children here illegally. Although Romney successfully applied a softer edge to his views on immigration, the president reminded the public that a proponent of the controversial Arizona legislation serves as a Romney advisor. Romney’s opposition to full amnesty but support for a limited enactment of legislation similar to the DREAM Act may have earned him hostility from activists on both sides.
Romney articulately explained the troubling nature of both the attack on our Libyan embassy and the administration’s response. The administration blamed the attack on a spontaneous protest regarding an anti-Islamic video. In fact, the attack on the embassy was a planned act of terror unrelated to any “offensive” religious video. As Romney pointed out, the recent attacks are evidence that the president’s foreign policy strategy is “unraveling before our eyes.”
Romney also caught the president telling an outright lie during the debate. The president claimed to have labeled the Benghazi attack an “act of terror” just a day after the tragedy. In fact, the president for days continued to attribute the attack to a spontaneous response to a religious video. Given an opportunity to correct this error, the president declined — telling Romney to “get the transcript.
Romney’s performance proved especially exceptional when discussing issues most easily addressed by hard numbers. On the issues of gender equality and immigration reform, the president gained a slight advantage by twisting the facts on these highly charged issues. However, with the situation unfolding across North Africa and the Middle East, many citizens are becoming aware that the president’s foreign policy strategy indeed is imploding. The distinctions between the two candidates are clear — spanning temperament, competence, policies, and philosophies. Romney bests the President in every category.