Thursday, October 11, 2012

Biden Rides to the Rescue

The vice-president had a lot to overcome in this debate.  Paul Ryan is smooth, well-informed, a competent liar, and doesn't sound crazy.  The crowd at Center College, Kentucky was heavily Republican.  The moderator asked biased questions intended to help Ryan, saying "we all agree Medicare and Social Security are going broke," "nobody wants defense cuts" after winding down two wars, and implying that Biden may not be a good Catholic if he is pro-abortion.  Given this scenario, Biden did a superlative job.  He couldn't counter every lie, most notably Ryan's riff at the end when he misquoted Obama repeatedly trying to make it seem like Obama is as bad a liar as Romney.  There were also issues Biden could have handled better.  In general, though, he got across the reality of the cold heartless mean core of the Republican party on domestic issues and their failures on foreign policy.  His riff on the 47% didn't quite hit home as well as it should have, but the policy discussions on taxes made it clear that Biden was giving the facts and Ryan was obfuscating. Overall, I'd say a big win for the Democrats,  The press tried to make it a "tie," with Republican Anderson Cooper, a gay Quisling, trying to smash Biden for "interrupting" Ryan, which he had to do because of the sheer weight of Ryan's lies and because Romney had done that to the president.

The main problem was the odd discussion of the elephant in the room, Romney's defense buildup.  The reason why it's an elephant in the room is that the Republicans probably don't really intend any kind of defense buildup. It is a political calculation, and it runs thusly.  The Pentagon since World War II has protected its budget by spreading its facilities across the United States with a view to giving Congress a vested interest in the military budget. Romney and Ryan know as well as anyone that people want stuff from the government.  They say Obama's "stimulus" didn't work and "government can't create jobs," but they also say they want to stop defense cuts and build the defense budget to an arbitrary 4% of GDP, making no cuts in the wake of the Iraq withdrawal.  (Actually, Romney says this.  Ryan assents, but he has voted for defense reductions and would do so again). Their reasoning must be strictly electoral.  They believe the Pentagon knows how to win elections by spreading jobs across the land, and if vaguely promising a buildup will get them those votes that the Pentagon has already mapped, they will win too.That's the game. It is strictly an effort to leverage the Pentagon's political expertise. They probably have no intention at all of maintaining or increasing military spending.  I don't how the president should respond to this particular theme of Romney's but I suspect pointing out its political aim would be more helpful than just shaking the head in wonderment of why they are doing it.  It takes away the "we have a secret plan" kind of argument.

It's the same for Romney's lies about not giving tax cuts to the rich.  Why would he come out in a debate on October 3 and change the positions he's been running on? Calculation. The president is calm and collected and knows his facts. The only way to throw him in the debate is to present new positions, and unless he has been doing nothing but campaigning, an impossibility for the president, he will wonder if his staff has given him accurate briefings on Romney and that hesitation will lose the debate.  It worked.  That was it. It was a clever idea about how to win a debate. It had nothing to do with moving to the center, still less of changing Romney's mind.  It was a tactic with one aim: winning.  Winning is not policy, and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have no fixed policies beyond the success of their gang and the failure of Obama, but their cynicism about things like the Pentagon's political expertise do not bode well for the future.

Ryan's rant at the end about Obama's lies was itself a lie: Obama's plans weren't lies  but promises. They couldn't be kept, in general, because of Republican opposition.  For example, the deficit would have been cut in half if the Bush tax cuts had been rescinded as Obama wanted in 2008.  Taxes have gone down on the middle class during his time in office (and the claim of 21 new "hidden" taxes in Obamacare is a silly, easily tossed off lie, the kind that says Romney made "18 tax cuts" as Massachusetts governor when his main contribution to fiscal policy was raising 750 fees that fell mainly on the poorer end of the public).  Unemployment would have gone down if Obama could have gotten a bigger stimulus and adjustments to the tax code to stop outsourcing.   The 7% per year medical cost growth curve has stalled.  True, insurance costs are too high, but again it was the Republicans who blocked the public option, for the simple reason that Medicare Advantage proved that private companies cannot compete with government on cost because they are not more efficient. They don't have the economies of scale, they have marketing and executive costs and profits to price in, as well as political contributions to their Republican politicians, all of which the government does not have... It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone that Medicare Advantage is 12% more expensive per person than Medicare but offers no more benefits, and that's even with "preventive care."  Republicans do not believe in privatization because they want to reduce costs. They just want opportunities to turn tax dollars to private profit.  That is their only "rhyme and reason."

Ryan's efforts at "sounding stupefied" failed.  When Biden pointed out that 97% of small businesspeople make less than $250K per year, Ryan said 3% is one million people! Of course it's not.  3% of 2 million small businesspeople is 60,000 people.

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